Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Books I've Read - Antipodes



This is a fun one.  The author is the sister-in-law of one of my oldest and dearest friends and that's what prompted me to pick this up off the library shelf.  Then reading the blurb, I discovered it's set in New Zealand!  I knew Liz's brother and his wife had lived in Christchurch, and when she visited me last year, she said his wife was a YA author....

Anyway.  The book.

It's about a super-driven girl called Erin who takes an exchange to Christchurch to escape a humiliating event back home.  Erin's mother is incredibly controlling and Erin's entire life has been micro-managed to groom her for the Ivy League.   Getting kicked off the swim team and going viral vomiting pink goo while half naked at a party weren't part of the plan.

So to try and claw back something of merit for her college applications, Erin agrees to go on the exchange.  She thinks it will be a breeze.  They speak English in New Zealand, and her mother has already arranged a cello so she can keep up with her practicing.

When she arrives, Erin is surprised by how different New Zealand is.  Firstly, it's winter.  People drive on the other side of the road.  Houses are cold except for the room people are in.  Kids wear uniforms to school and jewelry and make-up isn't allowed.  

Erin thinks she'll hate it, but after she's invited to go rock climbing and discovered the awesome views one gets from the mountains, she starts to change her mind.  And there's that sexy climber too, who might just have a little to do with her appreciation for the new sport...

I quite enjoyed this book.  It was fun to see my country through the eyes of an outsider.  It was funny because I'd had a conversation about how horrible New Zealand heating is with my German friends just a week or so before reading this.  The book is told with flashbacks to Erin's childhood, and the night of her humiliation and various other snippets from her life at home between each of the sections set in Christchurch.

Unfortunately I didn't really like Erin as a character, especially at the beginning of the book.  And the flashbacks to her past made me like her (and her mother) less.  I started to warm up to her a little toward the end of the book, but it was a little too late to make me change my mind about her.

But I can say one thing...  I'm certainly never going to be that kind of mother!

But don't just listen to me. Here's the blurb.

When Erin Cerise steps off her plane in Christchurch, New Zealand, she is focused intently on her mission: do something unique that will erase the mess she made of her life on her 17th birthday. She’s already lost her swim team captainship, her boyfriend Ben, and her reputation. Her mother is certain studying abroad will regain Erin’s chances of a good future. Once Erin sees her uninspiring host family and city, though, she’s not so sure.

Before Christchurch, Erin wasn’t always intense and focused. Years ago, a mission sounded like a fun adventure, and the only ivy she cared about was the stuff growing around her grandparents’ back porch at their peaceful Upper Peninsula home. When had her priorities gone upside down?

Now Erin balks at NZ’s itchy school uniforms, cold houses, and her hosts’ utter inability to pronounce her name correctly. Christchurch does boast amazing rock climbing, gorgeous scenery, and at least one guy who could make her forget Ben if she lets him. With months ahead of her, Erin slowly begins to draw on the years behind her, one step back into her memories at a time. As she rebuilds her life from the other side of the world, she finds that when life turns your world upside down and you’re far from home, every way you move takes you closer to where you came from.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Mid-year (or thereabout) goals check in

Each year, in January, I write myself a letter, outlining the goals I have for myself during the year.  

And now it's that time of year where I check in on the goals I set myself at the beginning of January, to see how I'm tracking.  Let's take a look, shall we?  My comments on the goals are in coloured type...

Dear Me,

Can’t quite believe it’s 2018 already; it feels like five minutes ago I was writing my 2017 goals. Not that I did so well with those…

I feel like I was probably too ambitious with my goals last year and set myself unrealistic targets in terms of the amount of writing I can actually achieve.  So this year I’m going to be a little less ambitious.  My job is intense and busy and I often just don’t have anything left in the tank at the end of the day.  I didn’t even meet my reading goal for 2017, which is unheard of for me.  I usually go way over my target.  Okay, 180 books may have been too many, but I also think I read a lot more really long books this year too, and that compounded the issue.

So, 2018.  What do I want to achieve?

I have a few more books that are ready to go out, so I hope to publish at least one book in 2018, if not two.   I like working with my publisher, despite their rather limited distribution. Doing the publicity and promotion is challenging, but I’m learning more each time, so I hope to have figured out the best things to do for the least money as I keep publishing.  I also hope to begin developing a fan base, something you can’t really do when you only have one book available.

Well, I haven't done this yet, but I have a book ready to go out.  I'm just waiting for the anthology I have a story in to get out into the world first.

I plan to revise SHOOK to take the various agents’ feedback into account.  And I’d like to finish one or both the books I started during 2017’s NaNo.  I may even revisit my 2016 NaNo book to see if I actually like anything about it anymore.

I have revised SHOOK quite considerably, taking it from two POVs to one.  But I'm not sure I like it that way, and I may go back to how it was, but try to change up the voices a little more.  I'm undecided at this point...  And as for my 2017 NaNo books, the one I started at the beginning has become my new project, being written as a series of diary entries based around daily prompts from a contest on Writing.com.

I would like to complete at least one new title in 2018.  It feels like over the last couple of years I’ve started a lot of books, but somehow haven’t managed to finish anything.  2018 is the year I actually finish something.  Maybe even two or three somethings…  But let’s not be too ambitious.

I wrote a novella for an anthology (Kissed - out on 22 July) and hope to finish my prompt-driven novel before the end of the year too.  Given I'm quite a way into it already, I feel like it's more than possible, even if it is only a finished first draft.

In other, non-writing areas, I plan to exercise more.  This year I’ve made it to the gym once a week most weeks, which is hopeless.  I am determined that in 2018 I will make it to the gym at least twice a week in my lunchbreak as well as my usual Saturday morning class.  

I have been doing pretty well here, going to half-hour spin classes in my lunch breaks at least once a week (most weeks) and going to boot camp on a Wednesday night as well.  Plus my usual Saturday morning Spin.  And I've been doing a long walk most Sundays too.  Not making much of a difference to my waistline, but...

With both the kids growing up rapidly, I would also like to try and do something with my partner at least once a week.  Something other than doing the weekly grocery shop which has become our date night since we moved to the new house.

Nope!  No time, as usual.  So something to work on in the second half of the year.

And finally, I want to be more social on social media again.  When I first used Twitter I made friends with lots of people and enjoyed really engaging with them.  Since starting my new job three years ago, my time for non-work-related social media has been much more limited and I miss the connections I used to have with people.  I plan to use my commuting time much more productively this year and socialize on social media more.

We've had a few changes at work, and another person has taken on the social media side of my job, so I no longer need to do all the social for my organisation.  Which frees me up to spend more time on my own social sites.  It's pretty recent, and I need to get back into the habit, but I'm starting to post more.  Partly because I have a neighbour's cat who keeps coming in and joining mine, and his ongoing antics have become something of a story.  So keep following me on Twitter for more Alfie updates...

As always, I’ll check in on these goals around the middle of the year, and again at the end to see how I’m tracking.

Okay, actually.  Better than I'd anticipated. Let's make the second half of the year just as good!

What are your goals for 2018?

Friday, July 13, 2018

Celebrate the Small Things 13-7-18



This post is part of Lexa Cain's bloghop, Celebrate the Small Things. Head on over there to join up!

What am I celebrating this week?

I'm still working on my written-by-prompt book and have just over 12K written now.  I know I'm going to need to do a lot of editing at the end, and some of my character's journal entries may not make it into the final book, but I'm enjoying it.  And it's a very painless way of drafting in many ways.

Each day I get the prompt and try to figure out how I can use it to keep the story moving forward.  It's led to some really interesting twists and turns, and some fun little character quirks.  Sometimes the prompt is specific enough I have to figure out a way for the whole plot to revolve around it, and other times, it's just a small detail that has to be included somewhere along the way.

My kids are off school for two weeks, so yesterday I took a day off to spend with them.  Of course, after spending the rest of the week shut in his room doing nothing, my older son decided yesterday was the day he was going to hang out with his friends, so I ended up having a day with just the younger one.  We went ice-skating, had a nice lunch out and bought him some new pants and socks.  Today I will try and do something with the older one, even if it's just getting him the new shoes he so desperately needs.

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Books I've Loved: The Arsonist




I loved this book.  I started reading it on Sunday morning, and basically didn't put it down all day.  And even though there are lots of things about it that are unbelievable or don't quite work, it's so compelling, so interesting, and so damn weird in many ways, I loved it.

There are three very distinct POVs.  To begin with, it seems like none of these three people or their stories have anything to do with each other.  But as the book unfolds, the links between them and the reason why these three stories are being told side-by-side becomes clearer.

Two of the stories are contemporary, with Molly and Pepper both living in the same California town.  The third is (gulp) historical.  If you can believe that the late 1980s are historical.  But I guess they are now, and things like the fall of the Berlin Wall (that I remember vividly) are history.  Because the third POV is the diary of an East German girl, Ava,  who escaped the oppressive reigime not long before the Wall fell.  Having spent time in Berlin, and in the part that would have been in the East, I especially enjoyed these sections.

The characters are complex and interesting, with very different things motivating them.  All have flawed families, but each of them is flawed in different ways.

Much of the book is taken up with Molly and Pepper trying to uncover the truth about the woman behind the diary, and just what it might have to do with them or their families.  And it's in these sections that you hace to suspend your disbelief more than a little.  Two teens get sent airline tickets in the mail and just jump on a plane to go to Europe?  Sure...  A dangerous Stasi commander just happens to live the next town over?  Okay...  And the keeper of Ava's diary just happens to have a book signing on one of the two days these teens happen to be in Berlin? Yeah, right...

And the ending...  Well, I won't spoil it for you.  Except to say it was unexpected, to say the least!

But you know, despite having aspects that were utterly unbelieveable, I was so engrossed in the story and the beauty of the writing, I didn't even think about how implausible any of it was until after I'd finished the whole book.

And I think that's really the sign of a good book, isn't it?  I'd definitely reccommend it.

But don't just take my two cents.  Here's the blurb:

Molly Mavity is not a normal teenage girl. For one thing, her father is a convicted murderer, and his execution date is fast approaching. For another, Molly refuses to believe that her mother is dead, and she waits for the day when they’ll be reunited . . . despite all evidence that this will never happen.

Pepper Yusef is not your average teenage boy. A Kuwaiti immigrant with epilepsy, serious girl problems, and the most useless seizure dog in existence, he has to write a series of essays over the summer . . . or fail out of school.

And Ava Dreyman—the brave and beautiful East German resistance fighter whose murder at seventeen led to the destruction of the Berlin Wall—is unlike anyone you’ve met before.

When Molly gets a package leading her to Pepper, they’re tasked with solving a decades-old mystery: find out who killed Ava, back in 1989. Using Ava’s diary for clues, Molly and Pepper realize there’s more to her life—and death—than meets the eye. Someone is lying to them. And someone out there is guiding them along, desperate for answers

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Weekly Goals 9-7-18

I'm still trucking away at my prompt novel and really enjoying the little quirks using the prompts is throwing up.  I know I'll need to go back and add stuff and change things later, but at the moment, everything seems to be working out okay.  So the goal this week is to keep going and add another 5000 to 7000 words to the story.  Fingers crossed the prompts keep working out for me...

I have a big project I need to wrap up at work today so I can pass it on to the next people for review.  Then I need to move on to the more bring part of the entire project which alwayss ends up being the most time consuming.

The kids are on school holidays for the next two weeks, so I am taking the next two Fridays off to hang out with them.  Which means trying to squeeze five days' work into four.

What are your goals this week?

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Celebrate the Small Things 6-7-18



This post is part of Lexa Cain's bloghop, Celebrate the Small Things. Head on over there to join up!

What am I celebrating this week?

It's Friday!

I didn't get as much writing done this week as I had hoped to, but I did get some.  I wrote three new chapters for the prompt book, and I did some editing on my older one that still needs a little work.  I'm just a little stuck there, because my instinct is to NOT solve the little bit of mystery left at the end of the book.  But I worry that readers will find it unsatisfying if I don't.

I did in a previous draft, but the way it happened was a little deus ex machina, so if I do want to solve it, I need to make my MC more active in uncovering what happend.  I that's likely to take a couple more chapters in a book that's already over 90K.  And the mystery aspect is very much a second plotline and not the centre of the story.

It's my kids' last day at school before two weeks' holiday today, so the next couple of weeks are going to be that little bit more challenging.  Especially since one of my team members at work is finishing today, and another is finishing in two weeks.

What are you celebrating this week?