February in Review

Once again, I haven’t been posting much. Don’t worry. I’m still here. I’ve just been busy. Mostly the usual stuff (swim, work, read, write, repeat). Except, this month, I’ve been watching TV and movies a bit more than I’ve been reading.

Books I read this month (links take you to my reviews on Goodreads):

February2016

I’m not making any big reading promises for March. I have exactly one book that I really want to read/finish (The Story of a New Name). But, this is my full March TBR:

March2016TBR

You can see, I’m off my non-fiction kick and moving towards some serious sci-fi, with a little fantasy and contemporary romance to balance things out.

TV and movies I’ve been enjoying:

  • The 100 is back! Yes! Okay, fine. Maybe you gave up on this show sometime in the middle of the first season. But, something made me stick with it, and I love it. There’s just something about the world-building and the story that keeps me coming back. It scratches an itch in my story-writing brain, and the plot keeps going in different directions. Some people may think that’s a bad thing, but I like that it’s not entirely predictable. Like, I have no idea what they’re doing with this whole City of Light thing, and what the hell, Bellamy? And the languages! Did you know it’s the same guy who does the languages for Game of Thrones? He’s so awesome.
  • The Magicians show is so much better than the book. I almost never say that, but there it is. That said, I’m only a few episodes in. I really need some time to catch up on this show, but I started watching it with my husband and now I feel bad watching it without him.
  • I still love Supergirl. I may only be watching it for the Ally McBeal business woman truth bombs, but Calista Flockhart is amazing in this show, and that’s more than enough for me.
  • I watched the first episode of Fuller House. Nostalgia! That one episode was all I really needed, but I’ll probably watch a few more to see where they go with this.
  • Have you seen the movie Dope? It is everything. I loved it.
  • And the movie Chef almost felt like an ad for Twitter (in an awesome way), but it also made me want to pack up and hit the road following my dreams.

Swimming:

I swam more miles in February than I have in any of the past three years, but I swam fewer days than I’d planned.

I didn’t go to any swim meets this month. I haven’t wanted to sacrifice my weekends when I know I’m tired from training hard and not likely to swim as fast as I’d like. I’m going to do a mid-season meet in March, and based on that meet, I’ll decide if I’m going to travel to North Carolina for Nationals.

Writing:

I’ve been editing and polishing my YA fantasy novel and my NA paranormal romance novel. And, I’m getting ready to dive into something new in April. Originally, I thought I would finish “Augmented” or “Falling” (my 2014 and 2013 NaNoWriMo novels) before I wrote something new. But… I’ve had a story in mind for a while now, and I really want to write it. So, I’m thinking I may use the April Camp NaNoWriMo as a motivator and start work on a new WIP.

And there you have it. That was February. 🙂

Book vs. TV/Movie: Game of Thrones

After last night’s season finale, I’m pretty much done with the Game of Thrones HBO series.

*** Warning! this post is full of spoilers for season 5 of Game of Thrones… ***

Originally, the thing that I loved about GoT the HBO series was how the two dudes writing and directing the show were able to streamline GRRM’s detail-bloated novels.

Granted, I’ve only read the first four books, so far. I’m waiting until the release date for book six is announced before I read book five because I hate long gaps between books in a series — especially when memory of details is important.

But, through the end of last season, I noted with approval the small changes they chose to make in order to streamline the plot, mostly by omitting some minor characters here and there. No big deal. I became convinced that maybe I would just need to watch the HBO series and not have to bother plowing through three more epic fantasy novels of door-stopper girth.

*** Spoilers are coming! You’ve been warned… ***

Then came the pre-season five rumors… There were going to be major deviations from the books. Major, beloved characters might/would die, etc. Immediately everyone feared for Tyrion’s life.

Then the season kicked off and things were going relatively well — until the first major deviation from the books was revealed. There would be no “fake Arya” wife for Ramsey. No, he would marry “real Sansa.” Hmm… Still, this felt like the other, small changes. I thought this could be okay. This could seriously streamline things. Potentially a good move. Judgement withheld.

And then there was the wedding… and the reaction to the post-wedding scene ignited much uproar on the Interwebs. Not Sansa! they said. You’ve taken your rapey-bit trope a little too far this time, they said… I wasn’t pleased with how that episode played out, but also, I wasn’t surprised. It was my lack of surprise, my sort of shrugging and saying, yeah, I guess we should have seen that coming, that was my first hint that this season might have jumped the shark.

Then, the week after that there was that weird “most beautiful girl in the world” prison strip tease thing with Bronn and the Sand Snakes… Basically an excuse for some more female full-frontal nudity. Again, not in the book (at least that I remember…). But that’s not all, we get another not-in-the-book scene where Sam and Gilly get it on. Because we just couldn’t leave “Sam the Slayer” a virgin, now could we?

Then, the following week we got an extended final scene (seriously felt like half the episode) of Jon and the Wildlings battling the Whitewalkers. Also invented — also not from the books. The show writers took a chance to let their imaginations run away with them, again. Okay, whatever. I’m not watching for the battle scenes, but meh, fine. Except… the writers go and introduce a badass female Wildling. And just when I think we’re going to have a new character to love, she sends her kids off on a boat telling them she’ll be along on the next one, and we know she’s going to die. But HOW she dies is what made me want to throw my laptop across the room (yes, I don’t have a TV). As I said on Twitter the next day:

That one nearly did me in. But the following week redeemed itself with dragons. Because, dragons!

And then, last night, the finale… Okay fine. Finally we have our death of a main (and beloved) character that was hinted at in the pre-season rumors. And there were some more deaths. Because, Many Faced God and Valar Morghulis and all that. For what it’s worth, I’m in the “he’s not dead yet” camp. Because fan theory. (This is something I also guessed at from reading the books). And Melisandre’s timing was WAY too coincidental otherwise.

But that death didn’t really bug me much (probably because I don’t believe it). What bugged me were 1) Theon’s completely unbelievable pivot into “hero” from “whipping boy” and 2) the extended scene of Cersi’s trek through the streets of King’s Landing in her “birthday suit.” Hello, more female full-frontal. Granted, it was EXTREMELY well acted. She nailed that scene. It was just weirdly long and extremely uncomfortable to watch. And without a solid and/or satisfying resolution. At first she appeared truly shamed. Truly repentant. Then, what? Zombie Mountain to the rescue, carrying her off into the sunset to avenge her against her enemies? Moving character development. Then, psyche! Just kidding!

What is up with this season? It seems that any time the writers are left to their own devices and allowed to make stuff up that’s not in the books, they immediately go to some misogynistic trope-like crap. They spin the wheel and see if it lands on 1) meaningless death, 2) naked ladies, 3) rapey bits, or 4) damsel in distress! Or some random combo of all of the above.

Game of Thrones has some great characters (male and female). Even though GRRM takes a lot of crap for making his fantasy world a pretty awful place for the ladies, one of the cool things is that they are still out there, running things, despite the environment. The women in his books are some of the smartest, most strategic, and resilient characters in the books. But the TV show seems intent on undermining their power, and missing much of that nuance. Which is really disappointing.

I’ll keep watching. But I’m going back to reading the books. Because I no longer trust these TV show writers to handle the narrative and be true to the story.

Book to movie: Insurgent

Oh crap. I just watched the trailer for Insurgent. I stopped reading that series after Divergent, because I thought Divergent was just “meh.” But, that trailer makes Insurgent looks awesome. Is the book really that good? Do I now have to go read Insurgent before I see the movie? Or do we expect the movies to be better than the book and (just this one time) I can skip the book and just see the movie? Like I need more books on my TBR pile. Crap.

In related news: I also love that she’s rocking a pixie cut in this movie! We need more pixie cuts in sci-fi movies. Your practical female bad-ass is not going to be taking time out to wash and blow-dry her luscious long locks. Let’s get real.

Reading: inbox-outbox for 15 Nov

There is a book blog called Book Riot that does this cool weekly feature called “Inbox/Outbox.” The column, as described by them:

In Inbox/Outbox, we document the rhythm of readers’ lives by sharing books we acquired, books we finished, and the next books we plan to read each week.

I thought this was a pretty cool idea, and I wanted to give it a try… so, here goes…

Inbox (books acquired)

  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Kindle) — This book is next up for my book club at work. I’ve been wanting to read it for a while and one of my friends just gave it a five star review on Goodreads. So, now I’m looking forward to it even more.
  • Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann (used Hardcover) — This book has been getting a lot of good press and I wanted to check it out. The first three sentences of the book blurb had me hooked: “Every little girl goes through her princess phase, whether she wants to be Snow White or Cinderella, Belle or Ariel. But then we grow up. And life is not a fairy tale.”
  • Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates by David Cordingly (used trade paper) — I have a story idea that may or may not involve pirates and I wanted to do a little research. This looked like a good place to start.

Outbox (books finished)

  • For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund (Kindle) — I started this on a five hour plane ride to Atlanta, and then stayed up after dinner in the hotel to finish it, even though I had to be up early the next day. The romantic story arch is copied from Jane Austen’s Persuasion, but the story is set in a futuristic, sci-fi world. There are so many reasons I wanted to read this book, and it didn’t disappoint. I was impressed by how rich of a world the author created while still remaining true to the basic plot points of Persuasion. The characters were complex and well-developed, as well. I gave it four starts on Goodreads and will probably read the next, companion book (not a sequel, but set in the same world).

Queue (what I’m reading next)

  • Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed (Kindle) — I started this one on the plane ride home from Atlanta. I want to read it before I see the movie, but originally I bought it because, since I first heard of the PCT back in the early 2000s when I was living in Seattle, I have harbored a romantic desire to hike all or at least a significant part of it. Maybe someday… we’ll see how I feel after reading this book.

In other news, I’m still working hard on my NaNoWriMo story, but I’ve fallen far behind the word count par line. I’m about to start a writing blitz with the hope I’ll catch up by the end of the weekend. In addition to reading and a business trip, I’ve been distracted by two TV series on Netflix: The 100 and The Bletchley Circle.

Now… back to work.

New music binge…

After having a conversation with some coworkers yesterday about concerts — mostly them sharing which ones they’re going to or have attended — and trying to explain why I don’t go to concerts (partly because I’m a cheapskate, and partly because it’s rarely much fun to listen to music in a huge crowd of sweaty strangers while standing on a stale-beer sticky floor… for additional reasons see also the article “Concerts? I’ll Pass” which I may have linked to before…), I decided to just check to see if any bands I like were playing any reasonably priced concerts near me soon. This led, as you would expect, to a long trip down the music rabbit hole on the Interwebs. The result is, I now have tickets for two to an upcoming concert (not until November), and I’ve purchased eight new albums (digital) on Amazon (with gift card money… Thanks, Mom!).

I’ve been obsessing over this band called First Aid Kit for the past month, or maybe more. I heard their first release off their second album (“My Silver Lining” off Stay Gold).

I bought the album as soon as it came out, and I’ve been listening to it over and over. It’s so good. And, they’re on tour. So, I decided we’d better go see them live. Hooray! First concert since going to see The Infamous Stringdusters for my birthday last year!

Next up, I decided to branch out a bit and get some new music. I remembered a band that John Richards from KEXP‘s morning show (Seattle, 90.3 FM) has been going on about for the past week or so — French Style Furs. So I listened to the samples from their (newly released) album (Is Exotic Bait) and decided to buy it… along with:

  • Lost in the Dream — The War on Drugs (currently playing while I write this…)
  • Turn Blue — The Black Keys
  • Let’s Be Still — The Head and the Heart (plus their first, self-titled album which I never bought even though “Lost in My Mind” is one of my favorite songs)
  • Too True — Dum Dum Girls
  • Instinct — Niki and the Dove (also Swedish, like First Aid Kit, and I’ve been obsessed with “The Fox” and “DJ, Ease My Mind” for what seems like forever…)
  • Trouble in Paradise — La Roux

Music geeks, or people familiar with my music taste, might notice that this is a very Sub Pop heavy list… There is just something about that “Seattle” sound (and apparently also Iceland and now Sweden), that sounds good to me. Maybe it’s because my formative music years were 90s grunge. That, plus “classic alternative” — which explains why my favorite Sirius XM station is “1st Wave” (we got a free trial of Sirius XM with our new car… Millions of channels and I gravitate towards two, Lithium and 1st Wave).

Now that I have hours and hours of new music to listen to, and a concert to look forward to, I should probably get back to work on that writing project, huh? Procrastination, my old friend…

By the Numbers: December 2013

Books

Total read since January: 39
(target is 36 total in 2013 — to be on track I should have read 36 books by now)

I’ve been devouring books this month — maybe to make up for the lack of reading time last month… I’ve already posted about the first three of these, so I’m just going to provide a link to my Goodreads reviews for those and be done with it.

Here is a summary of the books I finished in December:

  • Suddenly Royal — Four stars. See the review on Goodreads (linked) or read my “What? Me? Read Romance?” post for more thoughts.
  • Night of Cake & Puppets — Five stars (novella length). See the review on Goodreads (linked) or read my “What? Me? Read Romance?” post for more thoughts.
  • Eleanor & Park — Five stars and one of my “best of” 2013 books. See the review on Goodreads (linked) or read my “What? Me? Read Romance?” post for more thoughts.
  • These Broken Stars — Finally! A YA Space Opera! Yes! Where are the others like this one? Give me more! Actually, there is another coming by this author that takes place in this world, but not about these characters. Some reviewers have been lamenting that, but I’m more than okay with stand-alone books. Seems like everything these days has to be a series. I found this one on a Huffington Post list of best YA of 2013, where I realized that I hadn’t read most of the list. This book was selected as “best overall” and after reading it, I’m only a little surprised. The heroine started off kick-ass and then got a little annoying through the middle, but recovered by the end. The hero is definitely cut from the tall, dark, and handsome romance hero cloth. Even if these weren’t my favorite characters, the plot is solid and unique — something I appreciate. It’s not the best overall YA I read this year (that distinction goes to Eleanor & Park), but it is the best YA Sci Fi that I read this year (Blue Remembered Earth is still better for overall Sci Fi space opera).
  • Legend — I had high hopes for this one. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic world where the West Coast has separated from the rest of the United States. Right from the start the tension is high and the action is packed. I definitely wanted to keep reading to see what happened next. Unfortunately, I kept getting disappointed by two things. First, the two main characters (each chapter alternates perspectives between the two) are way too similar. In order for this to work they needed distinct voices / personalities, but they kept thinking and doing the exact same thing as the other one did in the previous chapter. Second, the plot stands on slightly shaky ground. I won’t give more away, but the premise for why the baddies are doing the bad stuff didn’t have enough weight for me. Then again, this is YA, and I may be getting burnt out on this genre… Overall, it was good enough and I liked it, but I am not chasing down the rest of the series, yet.

Writing

I didn’t do much writing this month. I am taking a post-NaNoWriMo break and relaxing for the holidays. I posted a bunch of end of the year summaries (books, music, feminism, and movies) on this blog. And I did a tiny bit of editing on the first 7500 words of my NaNoWriMo novel. Now I’m gearing up for next year, which I anticipate will be a big writing year for me.

Swimming

My US Masters Swimming FLOG (Fitness Log) says I swam:

  • 17 of 31 days (target was ~20 days)
  • 27 miles (target was ~30 miles)

The first week of December was ridiculously cold in the Bay Area and made swimming outside challenging. I opted for a cross-training workout on days when the temps dropped below 40 degrees (F). Luckily, we found a place to stay on our vacation that has an indoor lap pool. So I was able to swim as much as I wanted over vacation.

I’ve mostly been taking it easy for the last two months. Spring racing season starts next month and I am going to have to seriously step up my training (and rein-in my non-stop noshing) to make sure I’m in tip top shape for USMS Nationals in May. Oh boy!

Movies

Here’s what we watched this month…

  • Bounty Killer — this will either become a cult classic, or it will fade into the sunset. One of my high school friends co-wrote and co-produced this movie. So, I mostly watched it for that. But if you like cheesy, Mad Max, post-apocalyptic stories featuring bounty hunters and an anti-corporation theme, check this one out — bonus: it’s available on Netflix instant streaming.
  • Red 2 — I am definitely not the target demographic for this movie. But, I really like Helen Mirren, and I surprisingly enjoyed the first movie, so I thought I’d check out the sequel. This movie has no real plot. It’s the weakest excuse ever to throw these actors and actresses together and let them play action heroes. It almost seems like the actors know that too. Basically, don’t go rent this one unless you are actually in the target demographic, you just can’t possibly miss a movie featuring this “star-studded” ensemble cast, and/or you have absolutely nothing else better to do.
  • Love Actually — this was the year that I *finally* watched Love Actually. I know. I can’t believe that I managed to live this long without watching it, either. But I did. And it was cute. And I can see why it’s a holiday favorite. And it has Alan Rickman in it. I liked it and it made me smile, but I didn’t *love* it.
  • Done the Impossible — documentary of how the fans of the TV show Firefly (one of my all-time-favorite TV shows) saved the series
  • The Killing — We watched the first four episodes of season one because I saw this on someone’s “best of 2013” list and it looked interesting. I love that it’s set in Seattle, but I’m not really totally into it yet.
  • The World’s End — British humor, pub crawl, aliens… I expected this to be funnier than it was… it was funny, and weird, and I liked it… I think I just over-hyped it in my head before watching.

And that, readers, is one year of monthly “By the Numbers” posts completed. If you’re interested, check out my 2013 summary post and my 2014 preview post

Happy New Year!

Best of 2013: Movies

By rough count I watched around 55 movies and/or TV or web series in 2013.

In an attempt to select my “top five” movies of 2013, I decided to only consider movies (not TV or web series), and only movies that I watched for the first time in 2013. That brought the list of contenders to just under 50 movies.

Picking my “top five” movies from that list of 50 was not easy. I ended up with eight favorites and considered making this a “top eight” list instead. But, after careful consideration, I realized that three of these movies were not like the others. You see, sometimes I really enjoy things because they are cheesy, fun, feel-good movies. Other times I am blown away by a more serious or tense drama because of an excellent story and/or casting and filming.

When it came down to it, five movies stood out as the “best” movies I watched this year, and the other three were good, but I realized that I primarily liked them because they fell firmly in the feel-good camp. So, I dropped those three movies from the list (as painful as that was for me).

But, before I give you my “top five” list, I want to highlight the best TV and web series I watched this year…

I don’t watch actual TV. I don’t have time for it and I don’t have the patience to tune in every week to catch the next episode. I really only watched two TV series in 2013: Season 2 of Game of Thrones and Season 1 of House of Cards. As much as I like Game of Thrones, I’m going to have to give this year’s win for best TV series to House of Cards. (Season 2 comes out on 2/14/2014!)

The best (and only) web series I watched in 2013 was The LIzzie Bennet Diaries. This is a modern “video-blog” version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and the creators / actors just nailed it. Check it out if you haven’t already.

Now, what you’ve been waiting for… here are the “top five” movies I watched in 2013 (with the reviews I wrote in previous “By the Numbers” monthly update posts):

  1. Argo — How did I miss this one when it came out? This movie was so good. I absolutely loved it. And now that I’m thinking about it, I want to watch it again.
  2. Much Ado About Nothing — Just watch this. Shakespeare’s words in a modern day setting. It’s so good. And I’m not just saying that because Joss Whedon made this.
  3. Winter’s Bone — resisted watching this for a while because I wasn’t sure I would like it, but boy was I wrong! This was a really good movie.
  4. Star Trek Into Darkness — You have to see this if you like “Space, the final frontier.” It is a really good movie. And not just because brimming with hotties. I love space. The effects in this movie are so good. We saw it in 3D which made it even better.
  5. Salvador — (for some reason I never posted about this movie and Hubby had to remind me of it… this was a mid-eighties movie that Hubby and I were too young to watch at the time it came out, so it was new to us…)

And, in case anyone is interested in the three movies that were left behind as close runners-up to my “top five” movies… they are: Galaxy Quest, Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Pitch Perfect. The funny thing is, even though the movies on my “top five” list were better movies than these three, I’ll probably end up re-watching these three movies more times than any on the top five list (except for Star Trek Into Darkness).

By the Numbers: November 2013

Books

Total read since January: 34
(target is 36 total in 2013 — to be on track I should have read 33 books by now)

I read only one book this month: Fangirl. I started it on the bus after work on a Friday and stayed up until the wee hours of the morning finishing it. It’s true that I was starved for a story because I was participating in NaNoWriMo and I’d been devoting all my outside of work free time to writing. But this is also one of those books that you’ll want to devour in one sitting. The characters are well crafted and the romance is really well done. The plot is very “new adult,” focusing on the classic transition to adulthood — going off to college — and all the drama that can contain for someone not so keen on leaving home.

Theme-wise, I found it fitting that I chose to finally read this book (that I’d been hearing so much about) smack in the middle of NaNoWriMo because the main character in the book is a writer, and most of the story revolves around her writing lots and lots of words. For additional inspiration points, the author wrote most of this book during NaNoWriMo. In my world, this makes this pretty much the perfect thing to read for inspiration during NaNoWriMo.

Even though I read only one book this month, I’ve been buying books like crazy. Several hundred (it feels like…) books on my “to read” list ended up with their Amazon Kindle versions on sale this month. So, I’ve used up the last of my birthday gift card buying ALL THE BOOKS. I have a two week vacation at the end of December and I plan to get some serious reading time in. Here are some of the titles I bought this month:

  1. Suddenly Royal (a little sugary “new adult” romance never hurt anyone…)
  2. Three Parts Dead (urban fantasy, weird combo of demons and lawyers…)
  3. The Book Thief (have to read it before I see the movie)
  4. The Amulet of Samarkand (magicians in London? sound familiar to anyone else?)
  5. Legend (I have ridiculously high hopes for this book, it hits all my buttons: dystopia, military, heroine, Western US States break off from the country to form The Republic…)
  6. Outlander (the girls at my last job could not stop talking about this time travel Highlander romance… +1 for ginger beards)
  7. The 5th Wave (alien invasion, sci-fi fiction)
  8. Lean In (it was on sale… I’m extremely skeptical, but decided to see what all the hype is about)
  9. Leviathan (steampunk, WW1-era fiction)

I won’t even get into my whole TBR pile (virtual and/or physical) in this post because it’s grown so large I am sure I have enough books right now to meet my 2014 reading goal and still have some left over.

Writing

This has been a HUGE month for writing. I finished my second-to-last UC Berkeley Extension program class (Developing the Novel), I found an awesome writing group, and I participated in NaNoWriMo. I probably wrote more words this month that I had for the entire year leading up to November.

I spent most of the month behind on my word count and actually only wrote on 21 of the 30 days this month (~2,381 words per day on average). Going in to the last 3 days of the month I had about 11k words left to write to “win” NaNoWriMo. I made it across the finish line, but didn’t really get to a full resolution on the story. I have quite a bit more work to do to fix it up. More world-building, more plotting, more characterization, some continuity editing, and crafting a satisfying ending — all that plus just general editing… As I said, a LOT of work still…

But, I like the bones of this story. And I am slightly in awe of the fact that I basically pulled this completely out of my ass. I had a rough idea for some characters and a world and a kind-of, sort-of plot when I started. But no outline, no details, and each time I sat down to write I had no idea what was going to happen. New characters appeared out of nowhere, new ideas, a slightly more concrete plot, drama… And I “finished” something. Or at least got it to the point where I can see the finish line. Which feels pretty good.

The story I “won” NaNoWriMo with back in 2007 was a crazy hodgepodge of about four or five different story ideas I had, all mashed together. I basically sat down and said: what would happen if I tried to connect all these different characters / scenarios into one story? And I did that. I went back and read it earlier this year and it’s not terrible. It’s a hot mess with no clear main character and a plot supported by some very hazy details, but there are some nuggets of goodness in there. Maybe 2014 will be the year of novel editing… until November 2014, at least, because the novel writing fever in November is excellent for creating new things.

Swimming

My US Masters Swimming FLOG (Fitness Log) says I swam:

  • 10 of 31 days (target was ~20 days)
  • 18.65 miles (target was ~30 miles)

My original swimming goal for this year was 250 miles and I’m now at just over 300 miles for the year. I have a slim chance of making it to 350 miles by the end of the year depending on how many miles I can squeeze into December.

I meant to get more swimming days in this month but this turned out to not be a good month for swimming. I got sick early in November and was out of the pool for a week. Then I took it easy when I got back in. Then the pool was closed for three days over Thanksgiving. I’m REALLY looking forward to getting back in the swimming groove in December. I signed up for my first race of 2014: the Santa Rosa Flower Power meet. So it’s time to put the training into high gear so I’m ready for Nationals in May.

Movies

Not a big month for movies… pretty much all free time spent writing.

  • Francis Ha — wasn’t sure about this movie at first and almost bailed on it a couple times, but needed a break from writing and got excited when I saw it was on streaming on Netflix. ended up being a good movie. nice evolution from uncomfortably awkward to heartwarming and rewarding, yet still quirky.
  • Epic — Pixar movie. Had this for weeks before I finally watched it on Thanksgiving. Cuter movie than I expected. Great wilderness scenes that sort of overwhelmed the plot. But it was cute and surprising. I liked it.
  • Hunger Games — re-watched this on Netflix streaming so it was fresh in my mind when I went to see the sequel. Forgot how good this movie is.
  • Catching Fire — A movie in the movie theater! This was an excellent follow-up movie, except for the ending. I know that’s pretty much how the book ends, but it’s still got a little “middle movie syndrome” with the whole non-ending, ending… but overall I can’t complain. And that thing that Jennifer Lawrence does with her face when she’s processing the destruction of District 12… that’s some good acting.

Today is the first day of December… is it really the last month of the year already? Wow.
Almost time to check in on how I did against my personal goals for this year, and set some new ones for next year… And, I should probably do a “best of” post (at least for books) because everyone else is doing it. 🙂

Happy holidays, blogverse!

By the Numbers: October 2013

Books

Total read since January: 33
(target is 36 by December, to be on track I should have read 24 books by now)

Big reading month! I am just three books away from hitting my goal for the year and I have two more months! Probably a good thing, too. I don’t think I’ll be doing much reading next month… November is for writing! Anyway, here’s what I read:

  • Outlining Your Novel — I forgot I’d purchased this one. Then one day I decided I needed an outline for my work in progress project and dug this up on my Kindle. If you are working on a writing project that is feeling like it’s getting a little complicated, or if you are not quite sure where you are going with your story, I highly recommend checking out this book. Even if you are devoted to the “pantser” camp… you may just discover (as I did) that life on the other side really isn’t that different — it’s really just organized notes, not a soulless, Roman Numeral dotted doc that you must then follow mindlessly. The author of this book has some excellent advice that you can put to use immediately. (Longer review on Goodreads…)
  • Booby Trap — My manager at my previous job is a breast cancer survivor and she wrote and published this book about her experience. She wrote most of it while she was undergoing treatment, and based this book on blog posts she was writing for her friends and family. The book provides an inside scoop about the breast cancer experience and manages to be light hearted and even funny. I recommend it if you or someone you know is going through something similar. Or if you’re just curious. I’ve always had a lot of respect for Allison, and knowing more about what she went through and how she handled it (I could totally picture her and her husband and kids while I was reading this) just added to that respect.
  • The Great Gatsby — re-read this for the first time since high school. I remember loving this book in high school, so much so that I kept my copy of the book (instead of returning it to the school at the end of the class). I’m now tempted to go dig up the paper I wrote about this book in high school so that I can see what “deep thoughts” I had as a teenager about this book.
  • The Girl of Fire and Thorns — I had been thinking about getting this one for a while and it ended up on a Kindle Daily Deal, so I pounced on it. I think I tore through it in a weekend. The story is a bit of a twist on your average epic heroine fantasy adventure. The heroine, for one, is not your typical heroine. She’s very devout, and pretty much eats her feelings. But she’s “chosen” so you know there’s gonna be an adventure. There is also some romance, but no love triangle (thank you! so sick of the damn love triangles!). One of the main dudes in the story has a mustache (also different!). The book is flavored with all sorts of things that aren’t quite what you’d expect that make this feel like a “new” story, instead of the old same thing. If you enjoy feisty ladies going on adventures and saving the world, you should check this out.
  • The Shambling Guide to New York City — This one was kind of a surprise. I stumbled on this author based on a recommendation somewhere on the interwebs. I think she might have won a best first novel award or something. I thought her book looked interesting, and it was reasonably priced on Kindle, so I took a chance. I ended up devouring this book. It’s a fast, fun read along the lines of Christopher Moore (especially his novel A Dirty Job, which is my favorite of the ones I’ve read). If you like books and TV shows about monsters living among us, you should definitely check out this book.

I feel a little bad that I was kind of stingy with the stars this month in my Goodreads reviews. I’ve been taking a UC Berkeley Extension class called “Developing the Novel” and working on my own thing, plus workshoping my classmates’ work. So, I’m a little more critical than usual of writing and story craft. These were all good books, but all got three stars because I was being picky about the writing, character development, and/or the plot structure. At the same time, since I know how hard it is to do those things really well, I don’t want to criticize.

Writing

I didn’t blog this month. That was kind of on purpose. I didn’t have much to say. There is a lot going on and I needed a break. I did finish my Mystery Fiction class, and I wrote a bunch on my chosen work in progress project for my Developing the Novel class. I got into a pretty good groove of writing almost daily for the past couple of weeks. I discovered Scrivener which is a software program for writers (fiction and non-fiction), and has this awesome little progress bar that shows how you are progressing to your daily word count goal. I love it. But I have a feeling there won’t be too much blogging for the rest of this year. I’m going to focus on finishing up my work in process project. I’ll blog if I feel the urge, but otherwise things may be a little quiet around here until January.

Swimming

My US Masters Swimming FLOG (Fitness Log) says I swam:

  • 15 of 31 days (target was ~20 days)
  • 27.73 miles (target was ~30 miles)

This month was part taper and part recovery with one big, 2-day race in the middle. I’ve already blown past my goal of 250 miles for this year. As of today I’m at 285 miles for the year. I am hoping to get to 340 miles for the year. That would be an average of about a mile a day for 365 days with about two weeks off. I have no races for the rest of the year, just training and getting psyched for the spring short course yards racing season that kicks off in January.

Movies

Oh the movies this month… I think we got four really good movies from Netflix this month. I expected one or two to be good, but was totally impressed with (at least aspects of) all four. Unfortunately, I’ve spent so long writing the other bits that it’s getting late. I’ll keep this brief…

  • Much Ado About Nothing — Just watch this. Shakespeare’s words in a modern day setting. It’s so good. And I’m not just saying that because Joss Whedon made this.
  • The Great Gatsby — The update. The Leo version. Great soundtrack. Too much “old boy.” And what is it about Tobey Maguire that I find so annoying? Leo is actually really good in this. So is Carey Mulligan.
  • Galaxy Quest — OMG. How did I miss this? SO GOOD. It’s like an inside joke for sci fi fans. And Alan Rickman is amazing. Also, Tim Allen is really good in this. Hell, the whole cast is great. If you haven’t seen this movie, just go watch it.
  • Iron Man 3 — So, I loved the first Iron Man movie. The second was meh. The Avengers was great. Thor and Captain America were both terrible. I’m kind of getting sick of super heros. I had no idea what to expect here. I watched it out of loyalty to the franchise and because of Robert Downey Jr. So I was totally unprepared to really like this movie. It’s a good movie. I was amazed. And, spoiler, they don’t do the damsel in distress thing. I mean, they trick you into thinking that they are going that way, and then they don’t! Hurrah! I still don’t think it would pass the Bechdel Test, but… I’ll give them credit for progress.

Tomorrow starts my second most favorite month of the year… NOVEMBER!!! November is exactly half-way to my birthday month, and it’s the first real month where the weather gets colder (relatively speaking… it is California…) and it feels like you should be cozying up with a book and a mug of tea next to the fire. Or, writing a novel, because November is also NaNoWriMo. So there’s that. I can’t wait!

By the Numbers: September 2013

Books

Total read since January: 28
(target is 36 by December, to be on track I should have read 24 books by now)

I didn’t have much time to read this month. I only finished two books. But I started (and nearly finished) two more — see the Goodreads “currently reading” box in the side bar for a preview of what’s coming next month…

  • Crown of Midnight — worthy sequel to Throne of Glass… but feels a bit like a “middle book”… still, I really like this world and these characters, so I devoured this one and am eagerly awaiting the next one in the series. When I have more time I may go back and re-read the first one and then this one and try to write something more thoughtful later. There are many references to events in the first book which I barely remembered, and it relies heavily on knowledge of what happened in the first novel to understand what’s going on in this one.
  • Silent Harmony — super fast, fun read… talented and ambitious “underdog” heroine + boarding school + horses… definitely a literature niche that appeals to many young women and girls — and I would definitely recommend this to anyone that likes that combination. The mystery aspect was mostly well done and kept me guessing about “who done it” until the end. Though, if I knew more about horses and horse culture politics I might have had a better idea from the hints provided. I only gave it two stars because I’m several years past my horses + boarding school phase. However, I can see how this would be a 3-4 star book for someone who is still really drawn to that stuff.

Writing

I’ve been working on “developing the novel” this month and, besides the swimming workout posts, managed to write four blog posts in September. I was trying to match the swimming workout posts one for one so that anyone who doesn’t like to read about my swimming workouts would still have something to read on my blog.

I started having a bit of a “blog crisis” over the weekend… these are the periodical events that cause me to kill my blog and hide under a social media rock for a while. Not sure exactly what’s behind this one, but for now I’m resisting the urge to retreat into my shell.

Swimming

My US Masters Swimming FLOG (Fitness Log) says I swam:

  • 20 of 31 days (target was ~20 days)
  • 38.78 miles (target was ~30 miles)

Last month of the “training” phase of my workout plan. I hit it hard and am looking forward to taper and a big race and a little rest in October before jumping back into the training phase and starting prep for the spring racing season.

Movies

Three movies this month! I am still not in much of a movie watching mood. But since Greg broke his foot and has been in a cast, movie watching picked back up again in September. The movies we watched this month were:

  • Winter’s Bone — resisted watching this for a while because I wasn’t sure I would like it, but boy was I wrong! This was a really good movie — possibly the best movie we watched all year. Definitely the best movie from this month. After watching this I went and added all the “2013 Oscar buzz” movies to my queue so I won’t be the last to watch the good movies this year.
  • Spy Game — this is an older movie that Greg added to the queue (I am getting sick of Netflix and movies, and he’s the one with the cast on his leg, so I let him pick). Again I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a spy movie and it has Robert Redford and Brad Pitt, so I wasn’t expecting much. But, it’s a really well done spy movie… not a special effects, blow things up, ooh look at all my awesome technology spy movie. A nice change of pace.
  • Kings of Summer — I thought this was going to be good. I missed the free screening at work, and the trailer looked promising. It was okay. Some parts were really funny. Some parts were really thoughtful. But I lost count after the third “bonding montage” of the boys in the woods. And Greg was frustrated because he didn’t find it at all realistic that they would have been able to build this cabin in the woods in such a short period of time and with nothing but bikes to haul stuff to the construction site. But… the funny parts were funny… oh well.

Seriously cannot believe it’s October already! This year is going by so quickly.