Tag Archives: reading

New Year’s Resolution Time! {2016 edition}

OH HEY. Long time, no see, blogging world! I started last year by writing down a list of my resolutions for the new year and at that time I promised a check in of sorts around the end of it. So this post is going to be both addressing last year’s resolutions and how well I did in keeping them and putting up some new resolutions. LET’S SEE HOW I DID.

Last year’s resolutions:
1. submit writing more places: I actually did really well at this in the first few months of the year. Before 2015, my poetry hadn’t seen much more than the inside of my filing cabinet, and now it’s been published in a few excellent journals online. (you’ll eventually be able to see a list of places my poetry appears on the MY POETRY page here, once my ass gets around to it). I wish I’d kept this up for the whole year, but alas, I did not.
2. keep up with this blog: once again, after the first few months, this one went to the wayside (as you might’ve been able to deduce from the complete lack of activity on here).
3. read 100 books: I don’t even want to talk about how hard I failed here. I not only didn’t make it to the goal, but I read less than I’ve read any other year since I started listing my yearly books read (nearly 10 years ago, before I was on goodreads). My grand total was 21. I WEEP.
4. Eat healthier: didn’t take this one seriously until the end of the year, when I’d had it with feeling like total shit all the time, some of which could be attributed to my total shit diet (who knew? lol) and now I do a bit better with it. Not much to report, I’m no health guru by a long fucking shot, but hey, sometimes I snack on fruit instead of cupcakes so I don’t think I failed utterly here : )
5. Get dressed every day: nope. Nope. noooope.

Now, to be fair, 2015 was astonishingly successful in some ways that never showed up in my resolutions. I 1: finished the first draft of one novel and wrote an entire first draft of another novel, 2- began driving on the highway. This is a big breakthrough for me, as I’ve always had a lot of anxiety surrounding driving and highway driving in particular. 3- summoned the courage to participate in open mics for poetry and a couple book promotion events. These things are SUCH A MAJOR WIN for me.

Now, instead of going straight into listing my 2016 resolutions with bright-eyed and bushy-tailed vigor, I wanted to take a moment to pay tribute to something I ordered completely on impulse this year along with a new wall and desk calendar, which is THIS BOOK (pictured below and available for purchase here  by Lisa Jacobs )

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I waffled about whether to buy this for a while before getting it, but MAN am I glad I did. It starts off with a section for review of the past year, filled with prompt questions, then moves on to plans for the new year, and then the final section is set up like a monthly planner in order to keep track of the stated goals, complete with a midyear review section and quarterly reflections. The questions are so pertinent to my craft too, which I was a little surprised at- I don’t know why, though, writing is after all a ‘creative business’. It’s so well-organized and thorough that it helped me put my thoughts in order in a way I’ve never done before. I always thought ‘sure, I know what I want to get out of this year’, but this book really is effective in peeling back vague ambitions to reveal concrete goals (also, may I just say that when the author uses her own workbook every year, you know you’ve struck gold). If you work at anything creative with any real seriousness and struggle due to being completely in charge of your own schedule/fitting that around the rest of your life, this is for you!! (I wasn’t paid to advertise this book, I’m just hella enthusiastic, guys.)

Okay, anyway. One of the things the Your Best Year 2016 book prompted me to do was to actually write out not only the things I failed at last year, but WHY it was that I failed and examine how not to make the same mistakes again.

For example, when I planned to submit more writing, I ultimately failed due to giving myself too much of a structured schedule to follow for submissions/hours spent working in general. When an event would come up in my life and I missed a day, everything went to hell because of this bizarre brand of perfectionism. This has been a character flaw of mine for a long time, something I’m trying to erase this year. When I planned to keep up with this blog, I did really great with weekly posts, until I got over-enthusiastic and decided I wanted to try and post 3 times a week instead of one. Don’t remember that? That’s because it didn’t fucking work. I tried to do too much and the stress on my mind burnt me out before I got too far at all. When I planned to read 100 books, I failed because I wasn’t being serious about placing restrictions on any other type of media that would get in the way of enjoying reading. Once I got down to the root of the reasons I missed the mark here, I was able to make some clearer 2016 resolutions.

So, without further ado, here they are, my new and improved resolutions for 2016:

  1. Get the rough draft of a book I’ve had laying around edited and acquire an agent. – The biggest, most daunting goal, probably, and the one I spent the most time mapping in Your Best Year. As a self-published author, I’ve had little experience with traditional publishing, but I want to give it a shot for the first book in the rough trilogy I finished last year. The rough draft of the first book has been finished for nearly a good four years now and this has always been something I wanted to ‘try doing eventually’ but never initiated. Game on!
  2. Limit time spent online unless it’s for work purposes – this resolution helps out my “read 100 books” goodreads challenge goal, which I’m giving another go-around this year. I know if I successfully limit my time wasted doing god-knows-what-I-do to eat 500,000 hours a year online, I will read more books in my spare time as a direct result (I’m not a TV person). It will also kill off my biggest distraction to getting writing/editing/you name it done. Your Best Year gave me the excellent idea of giving myself a little chunk of time faffing on twitter, instagram, youtube, wherever as a reward if I spend a bigger chunk of time devoted to working and keeping away from checking my phone.
  3. Show up at office as many days as possible- This one’s exciting mostly because for the first time I have a real office space, separate from the place I sleep, and even five days into the year, it’s really helping. I’m not going to give myself a stringent, impossible-to-follow schedule. Instead I’m going to endeavor to 1- wake up at a reasonable time. I do my best work earlier in the day, and 2- show up for however many hours or tasks I’ve allotted that day. Even if it’s a day I have to be at my other, paying job, I want to get in maybe an hour in the morning.
  4. Get a chapbook of poems together- The original resolution was going to be something more vague like “get back into writing fresh poetry”, but I came out with this one instead. I’ve always wanted to pull a collection of poetry together, and a chapbook is a great place to start. Over the past few months, I’ve been attending poetry open mics and I’ve been honored to meet and hear and be inspired by so many amazing fellow poets, and yet… I still feel blocked when it comes to my own writing. If I resolve to have a chapbook out this year, I will HAVE to write new things.

That’s about everything! Well, there are more small goals, but these are the major writing-related ones at least! If you’ve stuck with me this far, thanks, I wish I had a cookie to give you because you really deserve one. What’ve you got planned for 2016? Do you enjoy planning resolutions out or do you like to take it as it comes? I’d be interested to know!
Until next week!

{C}

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Review- The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

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The copy of this book I bought smelled INSANELY good. I ate half the pages while reading. JUST KIDDING! (…or am I?)

4.5 stars

Warning: the ‘things I really really liked’ section gets a tad spoilery, so read at your own risk ; )

Description from the back cover of the book:
“On a dark road in the middle of the night, a car plunges into a ravine. The driver survives the crash, but his injuries confine him to a hospital burn unit. There the mysterious Marianne Engel, a sculptress of grotesques, enters his life. She insists they were lover sin medieval Germany, when he was a mercenary and she was a scribe in the monastery of Engelthal. As she spins the story of their past lives together, the man’s disbelief falters; soon, even the impossible can no longer be dismissed.”

This book was addictive reading. I started it for a book club, and the description on the back cover drew me in, but I still didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. The Providence Journal apparently said this “reads like the mad spawn of Anne Rice and Stephen King” and I am inclined to agree. Considering I love both Rice and King, this is a good, good thing. The way the narrator talks to himself internally and his personification of the ‘snake’ in his spine after the accident makes me think of King, and his experiences with Marianne Engel and her eccentricity and lifestyle make me think of Rice. Like, really, that was spot on. 😀 DERP. Anyway.

This book is graphic, especially in describing the narrator’s burns and the treatment thereof, but I didn’t think it was nearly so graphic as some reviews complain, and I actually enjoyed these details, as they taught me a lot about the subject that I didn’t know. Then again, I’m not a squeamish person, so…eh!

Things I really really liked:

  • The fact that the narrator is not named throughout the entirety of the book, even though much of his life story up until his accident is described, never once is his name mentioned. Also feel I should mention it’s so flawlessly and effectively done that I DIDN’T FREAKING NOTICE until I FINISHED THE FREAKING BOOK, and went back to look for his name. Ohhh boy.
  • you never quite get a “case closed” conclusion as to whether Marianne Engel is or is not schizophrenic or “crazy”, but by the end you do get the sense she was probably not and the narrator made the right decision by BLANK BLANK BLANKETY BLANK (spoilers, lol)
  • PAST LIVES. I love anything involving the concept of reincarnation. Yess.
  • The fact that the narrator starts out as an atheist and ends, not in the same place, but not on the complete other end of the spectrum. Because of his love for Marianne, and because of her hyper-religiousness, I felt sure there’d be some type of “And then he FINALLY believed the same way she did!” type thing near the end. I’m so glad that shit didn’t happen. I mean, he comes to believe certain aspects of everything he’s told, but it’s natural and he retains his own outlook to a large degree while still making a personal transformation. It makes the story more powerful that they were able to be on the same spiritual level anyway through their love alone.

Hopefully that last one’s not tooooo much  of a spoiler, I just wanted to make that known in case anyone started to read and stopped because they thought it might end up cliche. This story is really anything but cliche, can’t believe it’s a debut! Wow. Just, wow!

In conclusion, I would definitely recommend this book. The ending brought tears to my eyes. There were a few parts where there was more meat maybe than there needed to be, but it was such a surprisingly quick read because I got so entrenched in it every time I picked it up again. I found myself upset I couldn’t read more sooner due to other obligations, a sure sign of a good book!!

{C}

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news, reviews, and recommendations!

First, some good news. It is TWO-FOLD.

  • I had A Dewdrop Away reviewed on Reader’s Favorite and I managed to wangle a five-star out of them! (I should clarify that this does not mean I bribed them, just that 5 stars was a pleasant surprise) ❤ Here’s the beauteous review in all its glory: https://readersfavorite.com/book-review/a-dewdrop-away
  • I had two of my poems published in Verse-Virtual, an online literary magazine/community of writers. Look at my stuff here:  http://www.verse-virtual.com/ca-allen-2015-april.html  (also, check out the rest of the April issue, there are some GREAT poets contributing this time around.) What makes Verse-Virtual really special is that with each accepted submission, you’re given a little author bio of the poet and an email address, and then encouraged to contact them to tell them what you think of their work. I think this is AWESOME, and there is far too little of that type of community among writers.

Now to the task at hand. Fact of the matter is, I got up this morning and finished a book, popped on Goodreads to review it and realized I am a staggering 10 or so books behind my goal (100). NOOOOO. This is not acceptable. I’ve read only 14/100 books and 10 of those were manga (which, let’s face it, don’t take a very long time to blow through) So, I’ve sucked at reading so far this year. WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT. That’s when I had the brilliant idea to actually act on my idea to review books here more frequently.

I’m aiming to review whatever books I’ve read during the week, once a week, on this blog. This is to encourage myself (kick my ass) into trying to get through at least a book a week. Though no one should be expecting my reviews to be ‘professional’ by far, I would like to have at least some sort of rating code to refer to. Which brings me to this:

I hate rating books.

In fact, for a very long time, I stayed away from Goodreads BECAUSE I hate rating books. What a book means to me is so hard to define and sometimes even shifts with time. It is also, so, so SUBJECTIVE. All the same, since I do a lot of reviews of books I read here, I decided to formulate a rating system that works okay for me. Remember, this isn’t really objectively about how good the book really was, how ‘quality’ in terms of literature, just about how engaged I got with it and how I personally felt. I make no claims that you’ll like every book I rate high—what was a five star for me might be a two star for another person, and so on.

Also, you will find that I never rate a book below 3 stars. This is because quite frankly, if I don’t like a book on at least a three star level, I won’t continue reading it. Life’s too short, and there are so many books on my too-read list already, it gives me anxiety, which would only be amplified if I felt like I had to finish every book I started.

So every book I rate/review here is a book I personally liked on some level, though I will also give any negatives as well in order to make it well-rounded. ALSO, there will probably be spoilers, though I’ll try to keep them of more of a minor nature.

Here’s the key to what each rating means for me:

3 stars: May have been a bit cheesy/cliche, and perhaps had more 2d characters than anything else, but was overall a good, swift read with a decently intriguing plot.

4 stars: Might be slow-paced or clunky at times, but very emotionally resonant and/or thought-provoking and keen. Usually a few good well-rounded characters at least with an intriguing plot.

5 stars: can’t put it down, resonant and thought-provoking, will think about this book for a long time after reading. Lots of excellent, interesting characters, fantastic plot.

I also rate 3.5 (between a 3 and a 4) and 4.5 (between a 4 and a 5) : )

Poetry is a little different and a lot simpler. I don’t rate half-stars.

3 stars: LOVED several of the poems, liked a few more

4 stars: LOVED about half of the poems, liked a lot more

5 stars: LOVED most of the poems

I am wide open to reading suggestions– To give you an idea of what I like, I read a lot of fantasy, a lot of ‘contemporary’ fiction, some memoir, some horror/speculative stuff, psychological thrillers, and poetry. I’m not super into sci-fi, teen/YA fiction, crime thrillers, or nonfiction, but hey, there are always exceptions. If you read a book, any book, and fell in love with it, and maybe want to hear my blathering thoughts on it, shoot me an email at the address I’ve mentioned below!

Also, if you’re an independent author and you’ve written a book you feel I might like, go ahead and rec. it to me! I’ll try and give anything I’m recced a shot, and I’ll review everything I finish reading here. If you don’t see a review of your book here, it could be because a) I haven’t got to it  yet. My reading list is monstrous, OR b) I tried it and it just wasn’t my thing (this does NOT mean it was bad, just that I wasn’t personally digging it). Please don’t inquire about it. If I do read and review your book, I will let you know right away when the post with the review is up! : )

Please send any recs to c.a.allen@cox.net with the subject line “BOOK RECOMMENDATION YOU FOOL” in all caps so I don’t miss it (I consider the “you fool” part necessary, though “knave” and “scoundrel” are also acceptable, as well as other villainous titles- points for creativity!). All I need in the actual email is the name of the author, the title of the book, and maybe a link of where I can find it. A brief summary of why you recommend it is great if you’re feeling inspired but it’s absolutely not necessary. Also include the best way I can reach you to let you know if I’ve reviewed your recommendation.

Disclaimer: I can’t promise any review I write will be particularly professional or polished. They are my thoughts as a nosy, nerdy reader first, a writer second… and a critic third. But at the very least I hope they’re amusing for you, and if I do review a book YOU wrote, I’d be more than happy to repost it to any media/sites you like (Goodreads, Amazon, etc.), just ask!

And finally: You will also find I’ve put all this info up on a separate page, entitled “MY REVIEWS”, so that it can be referred to for….future reference?

{C}

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Fanfiction: a tribute

“There’s a time and place for everything, and I believe it’s called ‘fan fiction'” ~ Joss Whedon

“Fanfiction isn’t copying- it’s a celebration. One long party, from the first capital letter to the last full stop!” ~ Jasper Fforde, One of Our Thursdays Is Missing

In my teen years, I used to write fanfiction. In fact, fanfiction was pretty much all I wrote. I’d started some original stories before my fanfic era, but for a good three years of high school, those stories went on a perpetual hiatus while I occupied other peoples’ worlds.

Fanfic is to some the lowest category of the low; it’s embarrassing to admit you write it, and it exists for fanservice purposes only. But for me it served another purpose as well.

All writers are big readers. At least, every writer who feels the calling to write in their bones, is a big reader first. I went through a lot of periods where I wasn’t writing, but one thing was constant: I could never stop reading. If I go a month without reading a book, I feel wrong. Weird, like there’s a piece of me missing, a phantom limb itching to be scratched.

I was falling in love with other people’s worlds and words long before I ever found or fell in love with any of my own. Sometimes my love of another person’s creation would get to such gargantuan proportions where I’d think There is NOTHING I could write anywhere near as good, as perfect, as beautiful and enticing as I find this story. There are no characters I could create to rival these. Of course, I still feel all these feelings when I read things I love, like I could never measure up, like I’m burning from the inside out with jealousy at the same time as I’m savoring every minute of the tale. And that’s what we want as readers, isn’t it? A story that not only gets us so fully immersed we forget when our last meal was or what time of day it is, but a story that we might resent just a little because we wish we’d written it ourselves.

Through all of my teenagerhood, I had one such crush on the Harry Potter series, (I mean, don’t get me wrong, that fire’s still burning, but there was a point when it was an absolute inferno ). Not a unique obsession, I know, especially considering I am the “Harry Potter generation”- I was Harry’s age when the books picked up and Harry’s age again when the last one came out. There were (and are!) HORDES of people writing fanfic for these books, and I was one of them for a few years. I’d been having problems with writer’s block and my writing changing and growing and not knowing my exact style or voice so well anymore, and then on top of this I fell so much in love with J.K. Rowling’s world that I stopped thinking about my own worlds entirely. I could never write books like these, I could never write characters as vivid as these.  But even though I had generally grown to fear all writing, I still felt the itch to write *something*. So I wrote fanfic.

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the Potter books, holding a prominent place on my shelf 🙂

I wrote either angst-filled fanfic or silly, cracktastic parodies for the most part, and while most of the time I felt weird about not writing anything original (in fact, I can remember wondering during that time if I’d ever feel like writing anything original again), I also started to notice the good it was doing me. Fanfic took my mind off of world-building. I started writing with a world already pre-built, conditions already set, and a whole cast of side-characters to choose from, already fleshed out to an extent by canon. This left me to focus on story and characters. Whether I was writing an original character or shading in one from the canon in my own interpretive way, whether I was making up my own story or doing a parody or parallel plot to a pre-existing story, I was able to focus so thoroughly on these things without having to worry about building a foundation first or having a place for these characters and stories to roam. All of my stories today are very character driven, and all of my favorite stories were always character driven as well; I think fanfic helped me to achieve this quality I emulated. And because fanfic was not a place to take yourself too seriously, I felt I could relax a little more writing it, which allowed the words to flow.

There’s fanfic out there that’s pretty ridiculous. I might even say the majority of it is pretty darn ridiculous, including most of what I’ve written in the past ;). But it’s damn FUN. As a reader, it’s a virtual playground, and as a writer it helps you to concentrate on and exercise areas of your writing. It can even help you to find and strengthen your own voice at the same time as you try on and imitate the voices of others. I know writers have differing opinions on this, but if someone were to write fanfic based on my work, I can’t help but think that no matter how bad the writing, how out of character the characters, I would be pretty darn flattered. Because I know the feelings that inspired me to write fanfic, and those are feelings I think every writer hopes someone someday will feel about their books.

I hope you’re all well and I’ll see you next week!

{C}

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January reading ~ Hellsing

I don’t typically read a whole lot of manga- actually, I’ve only read two in my life- Death Note a couple years back, which I loved, and now Hellsing.

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Hellsing. Whoa. I really am embarrassingly head over heels for this series.  It all started when my friend Kasi lent me the anime series. She thought I would like it, and boy was she right (she may have even grown to regret it in light of my subsequent obsession xD) I had heard of Hellsing before this, and the dark art style had really grabbed me from the beginning, and I was already really feeling the opening theme (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHyqB4y-vtk – waaatch it!!). I tried to reserve judgment since this was a series centering around vampires, and as much as I love vampires (note: I really love vampires), I often feel disappointed in vampire novels/shows these days…they all try to be tres sexy and just end up…silly. But honestly, somehow I knew this was going to be awesome and non-sparkly from the outset.

I really liked how Kohta Hirano’s vampires were a mix of the classic (Alucard’s character and past is loosely based on the story of Dracula- as his name signifies if you flip it around) and the new (as the story progresses, there are numerous inhuman characters introduced aside from vampires. In addition, true vampires can only be created under specific conditions; otherwise the person bitten turns into a ghoul, a braindead zombie with a lust for flesh. Also found the way Alucard shapeshifts and unlocks power levels in order to fight to be, uhm, pretty fucking cool). The plot was constantly engaging and the cast of characters was no less so. My favorite character, hands down, was this lady:

jan2015 426I’m not going to beat around the bush: Integra Fairbrook Wingates Hellsing is a total badass and I may or may not be crushing on her to an unhealthy degree. The fact that she took over the Hellsing Organization at the age of 12 (12!) is slightly impressive to me. Integra’s still very young (22) when the series starts and it shows her grow and learn to be a better leader under the pressure of the war that erupts. She is so dedicated to her cause and fiercely proud to be human in the midst of this craze where every other person lusts to be immortal. Her relationship with Alucard is also very interesting, more complex than your average master-servant bond.

I did read a couple other books this month, but Hellsing was overwhelmingly the flavor of January, and apparently I had a lot to say (HA), so I’m going to leave it at that. I’d like to talk about what I read every month here, not exactly in ‘review’ format- since I hate summarizing plot and rating work on a scale makes me nervous- but in a freer format comprised of impressions, favorites, and just overall uncensored feelings on the stuff I read. Also, there may be spoilers. I will try really hard not to put them in, but I can’t promise anything except to warn you when they’re present.

Hope everyone is well, and see you next week!

~C

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