The Final Grade: 2010

Christmas is past, and we are approaching those final few days. I can't believe it, but 2010 is already coming to a close. It is not just the end of a year; it is also the end of the first decade of the 2000s. How crazy is that?!

With the New Year coming, it is time to make some resolutions, but FIRST, I need to give myself a final grade on the resolutions I made at the start of this year.

1. Establish more consistent writing habits. This was supposed to be like 15 minutes every day or something, which I didn't do. I did, however, write practically every day for the second half of the year thanks to a little website called 750words. This is a big improvement for me, even if most of the "writing" I did was gibberish. GRADE: B

2. Finish 2 of 4 short stories. This is my sad face. Major fail here, but I did work on them on and off throughout the year. GRADE: F

3. Work on 2009 NaNo story. Another major fail. The bright side is I did NaNo again this year with a different story and got much further. 2009 NaNo isn't abandoned. It's just on hiatus while I work some kinks out. I did actually plot it out, which is kind of big for a pantser like me. GRADE: D

(I'm starting to regret doing this...)

4. Write down my ideas. Yay! Finally something I can give myself a positive(ish) grade for! I'm not what you would call organized about this, but at least I'm putting it down somewhere or telling someone about it. If I had my way, I would just hoard it away in my head. This counts as progress, yes? GRADE: C+

5. Blog more. I know, we only run consistently once a week here, and it's the Randomosity post at that, but I'm kind of surprised that I managed to keep this up! And look, we somehow managed to get over 50 followers. Am I surprised? Yeah! It's awesome! All of this is a big deal from the inconsistent, half-dead thing this blog used to be not so long ago! I'm definitely going to have another blogging-related resolution for 2011. GRADE: A-

6. Read more. Done done and DONE! I'm so proud of this one because I don't think I have ever read this much in a year without it having to be for school, and even then, I think this is a new record! 35 books! That's a lot of reading for a slow reader! GRADE: A+

So I have a C average for the year of 2010. This makes me somewhat depressed, but now I have the determination to do better next year! All in all, I'm pretty pleased with how some of these resolutions went.

I will be back after the New Year to post my new resolutions and maybe wax poetic about 2010. Until then, be safe and have a HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

How was your 2010? How did your resolutions and/or goals go? What was your final grade?


Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
I hope all your wishes come true!


Books of 2010

Many people are already signing off for the holidays. I know, I'm ready to go on vacation, and this non-stop rain is not helping much. There are few things I hate more than driving in the rain.

In any case, I'll probably pop in again this week just to wish you all a MERRY CHRISTMAS before my long weekend, but before then, I thought I'd share my favorite Books of 2010.

Firstly, at the beginning of this year, I made a resolution to READ MORE and I have SO kept that resolution. In 2009, I read a total of 10 books (at least, according to my Shelfari), and this year, I've read 35! Go me!

Secondly, this was totally my Year of YA (with a helping of MG), and while there were some not-so-great books, there were also REALLY AWESOME ones. I confess I've got quite a bit of the YA skeptic in me, especially since my brush with YA when I was in high school was brief and left me not very impressed, but I'm very happy I got back into the genre because it's really changed and grown. There are just SO MANY CHOICES now, and some of these books were just so good.

I'll probably finish a couple more before the year is up, but this is my list of faves as of today. In no particular order of favorite:

1. The Hunger Games Trilogy: Okay, so I sort of cheated. That's 3 books, but I read all of them this year, one after the other within days of each other. The first 2 in the same week, and then Mockingjay when it came out a week later. Catching Fire is my favorite. Cool concept. Kickass heroine. Captivating supporting characters. Adrenaline rush. What more could I ask for? Well, maybe more Finnick. I love him.

2. A Great and Terrible Beauty (the Gemma Doyle Trilogy): Libba Bray! Yeah, I'm late to the party, but wow, can she write! I loved the Victorian setting, the effortless detail, the believable (likable and sympathetic, yet frustrating and flawed) girls. I think the first book was my favorite, so I listed it. (See! Not cheating!)

3. Incarceron: It's a grab bag of awesome as far as I'm concerned. Intrigue, adventure, mythology, Victoriana, dystopia, Sci-Fi. You don't think it'll work, but it does. Plus, it's about a prison that has become sentient.

4. Behemoth (Leviathan trilogy): As with the Hunger Games trilogy, I think I liked Behemoth, the second book in the as-yet-unfinished trilogy, the most (so far) because I'm already invested in the characters and have a feel for the world. Alek's a little bratty in the beginning of the first one but grows into an admirable boy, and that's the Alek I get to start with in the second book! Then there's Deryn, a girl pretending to be a boy so she can serve in the Air Force, who is also all kinds of badass (and dead clever to boot).

5. The Parasol Protectorate series (Soulless, Changeless, Blameless): Okay, I'm cheating again, but these deserve to be on here. I can't pick between them. They're Victorian! Steampunk! Supernatural! Romance! and all around fun times! Oh, and they're a comedy of manners that mixes vampires, werewolves, and one plucky heroine with a penchant for wielding her parasol as a weapon.

6. The Adoration of Jenna Fox: One of the quieter books I read this year and shorter than the others, but so very good. It's a small book that explores big concepts: coming-of-age, what it means to be human, discovering your identity, and the power of love.

7. The Demon's Covenant (Demon's Lexicon Trilogy): I liked the first book, but I LOVED the second. There's more snark, more magic, and lots more Alan and Nick Reeves. The only brother pair I love as much as them are the Winchesters from Supernatural! But seriously, the snark. It's HILARIOUS.

8. The Replacement: Love, LOVE this book! Quite different from most of the paranormal YA that I've read this year, The Replacement doesn't focus on the romance (though there is some of that) and it's told from a teenage boy's point of view. I adored Mackie, who struggles to live a normal life in a world that is hostile to someone of his constitution. The folklore is interesting, the relationships poignant (the scenes with Mackie and his sister, LOVE!), and the setting creepy with just the right amount of unsettling.

9. The Lost Books of the Odyssey: Not YA and also more like a collection of shorts - some not even complete stories. I'm a huge Greek Myth nerd, so I adored this book. Written in spare yet vivid prose, the book re-imagines different scenes from the Odyssey (which is itself one of my favorite stories EVER).

10. The Lost Hero / If I Stay: So, I wanted 10 entries, but I couldn't pick between these two. I very muchly enjoyed The Lost Hero partly because I quite enjoyed its predecessor, the Percy Jackson series. While the way the book is written isn't much a departure from Riordan's style, I really liked what he did with the mythology, how he's expanding it to include more and to make things BIGGER. It's pretty exciting. If I Stay was just a beautiful, bittersweet coming-of-age story. I loved the themes about growing up and love and loss and family, and I love the motif of music.

SO those are my picks. I know I have many. I suck at choosing.

What books did you love that you read in 2010?

Have a wonderful, warm, relaxing holiday my friends! I'll be back next week before New Year's to do some resolutions and talk about things I'm looking forward to. Later!


Book Review: Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick

I probably shouldn't start off doing reviews with such a negative one, but this review is a form of catharsis that will hopefully help cleanse my mental palate.

Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick

Pros: Pages can be used as kindling to start a fire.
Cons: The story, characters, and plot.

Rating: 0 out of 10 stars
Grade: F

Book Blurb: Nora should have known her life was far from perfect. Despite starting a relationship with her guardian angel, Patch (who, title aside, can be described anything but angelic), and surviving an attempt on her life, things are not looking up. Patch is starting to pull away and Nora can't figure out if it's for her best interest or if his interest has shifted to her arch-enemy Marcie Millar. Not to mention that Nora is haunted by images of her father and she becomes obsessed with finding out what really happened to him that night he left for Portland and never came home.

The farther Nora delves into the mystery of her father's death, the more she comes to question if her Nephilim blood line has something to do with it as well as why she seems to be in danger more than the average girl. Since Patch isn't answering her questions and seems to be standing in her way, she has to start finding the answers on her own. Relying too heavily on the fact that she has a guardian angel puts Nora at risk again and again. But can she really count on Patch or is he hiding secrets darker than she can even imagine?

Alz's Take: Let's be clear: I read the first book, Hush, Hush, and didn't like it except as fodder for Krispy and me to make fun of. It suffered from a bland heroine, her irritating and stupid boy-crazy best friend, and one of those typical YA alpha-stalker I-love-you-for-no-reason love interests who happens to be a fallen angel named Patch.

So I picked up Crescendo with a philosophical mindset, expecting a book full of badly-written tripe but with some lol-this-is-so-bad moments.

What I got instead was a brain hemorrhage and cardiac arrest. This is one of the worst books I've ever read. I'm not exaggerating. And I've read a lot of bad books.

The short of it is that this book is a wallow of self-inflicted teenage angst featuring a heroine whose main motivation throughout the book is getting back at and hurting her boyfriend for reasons she sewed up out whole cloth and jealousy. Also, there's a mysteriously vague plot about a Nephilim blood society that seems of little threat or consequence because of how poorly-organized and clumsy they are, except that they are very threatening and full of consequences because the author says so. Curious? Want to know exactly what they do and how they're going to implement their nefarious plans, and what they have to do with the heroine? Congratulations! You won't find out any of that in Crescendo because it's almost entirely setup for the next book. Want the resolution and revelations that come at the end of a book? Congratulations again! You won't get any of that here either. Even granted that this is the middle book of a trilogy, Crescendo fails as a standalone; if you haven't read Hush, Hush, you won't really know (or care) what's going on, and the lack of any resolution or clear answers gives no sense of satisfaction upon reaching the absurd cliffhanger ending.

Click below to read an extensive diatribe of how and why this book fails on so many levels.

Nora Grey in the last book had barely any personality. In this book, she's pathologically insane and suffers from such a massive overdose of teenage angst I'm surprised she didn't vomit blood and collapse into spasms by chapter three. I'm willing to put up with teenage angst because this is, after all, book two of a YA romance, but Nora Grey is exclusively responsible for her own misery, for all that she blames it on Patch. Repeatedly. For whole pages at a time.

In the very first chapter, Nora tells Patch "I love you," but he doesn't immediately respond because he's distracted by something dangerous and hurries Nora away to safety before departing.

Nora then spends the rest of the book trapped in a maelstrom of tears and otherwise adrift on the boundless seas of self-pity because Patch didn't immediately gush his eternal undying love for her. One moment Nora loathes Patch and wants to tell him "screw you" for being a playboy and counting her as a conquest, and the next moment she's ablaze with desire for his sweet, sweet embrace and willing to forgive and forget everything. One moment she thinks it's for the best that they separated because she's protecting Patch, and the next she's spewing venom and vituperations because he hasn't called or texted her. She swings back and forth between these states literally between one page and the next.

Patch is hardly a presence in the book; mostly all he does is appear to save Nora's life and/or rescue her from danger, and her response is to rail at him that she doesn't need his help and why doesn't he love her and what's he doing with Marcie Millar. The ingratitude is, shall I say, palpable. Especially since she throws herself into incredibly dangerous situations in exceedingly sketchy places with extraordinarily threatening people with the mindset that she's going to get back at Patch for cheating on her and not loving her by putting herself in danger and forcing Patch to watch when she makes out with shady guys she's not really interested in. She tells herself that since Patch is her guardian angel, he'll be forced to protect her no matter what, and he deserves all the hurt because he led her on, while at the same time telling herself she's hurting him to drive him away for his own good even though it hurts her too. Huh?

I don't think I've ever wanted to throw a book against the wall so badly, but I have more respect for walls than that; if this thing hadn't been a library book, I would've taken it outside and run it over with my car. I've read my fair share of bad books of my own volition, but my masochism was tested to the limits with Crescendo. Nora is infuriating, self-centered to egomaniacal extremes, and I hated her with such ferocity my blood pressure skyrocketed throughout the entire book.

Another thing that made me despise her was her utter lack of trust and faith in the people closest to her. Bad enough that she refuses to listen to anything Patch tries to tell her, but Nora also turns on her more or less blameless mother with such boomerang alacrity that I was rendered inarticulate with fury. Without spoilers, let us say that an enemy of Nora's tells her something briefly about her mom, and right off the bat Nora believes this person with no further questions or explanations. For the rest of the book she internally rages at her mother with a passion nearly equal to her Patch-angst and consciously decides she's going to have her little say (essentially spitting in her mother's face) and then walk away forever without giving her mom a chance to say anything. Drama queen and teenage angst are not the words for it. I had to keep a box of tissues handy to wipe away the foam of rage from my mouth.

Oh, and there was a plot in the book. There were some very leading hints and some very vague ones dropped here and there that mysterious things are going on, but contrived plot devices do not a plot make. Crescendo is 90% Nora Angst and 10% Plot (Twists).

The culmination of the plot all happens in the last several chapters of the book, and then it's one plot twist after another in such rapid succession I had trouble keeping facts straight and understanding why these twists were important, especially since at least one of the twists (which had its own totally unnecessary and implausible twist) was an overly complicated way for the author to make the whole plot of this book viable—without this twist to explain away things from the first book, this second book wouldn't make sense (not that it does anyway). Thanks to barely-there and poorly-rounded characters and how the entire book is one great violation of the Show-Don't-Tell narrative adage, the revelation of the villainous mastermind was neither shocking nor interesting, especially since his cardboard-cutout motivations and about-face personality change were bought wholesale from Generic Evil Villains Inc.

Thanks to the confusing tumult of the twist-laden last quarter of the book, there is very little sense of satisfaction or resolution (there's going to be a third book, after all, so you can't answer everything, though apparently Ms. Fitzpatrick thinks it's even better not to resolve anything at all), particularly as this book suffers from Twilight Syndrome: there's lead-up to a dramatic climactic end-fight that we don't get to see because the heroine falls unconscious, and by the time she wakes up, it's all over and we only get a secondhand glossed-over description of the action.

Then, just when everything seems like it's winding down to a disgustingly saccharine out-of-character-for-this-book happy-dappy ending, BAM! You thought those plot-twists were over, eh? Think again, sucker! Take another plot-twist right on the last page along with a cliffhanger life-or-death ending!

Alz's Conclusion: Reading Crescendo killed off significant portions of my brain. Go read The Hunger Games instead.


Randomsity on Fridays

December is rushing by really fast. Christmas is coming up fast, and I'm still trying to figure out what presents to get people.

I also realized it's been a long time since I did a goals/resolutions progress report. Oops? This will be remedied before year end! I'm afraid of how many resolutions I broke, but on the other hand, I did keep some up!

Let's get to it. Friday 5.

1. We did the White Elephant thing at work this week. While it is fun, it always stresses me out a little, what with the stealing of other people's things and/or getting something you want stolen. I mean, it's a little against the Christmas spirit, isn't it? What are your opinions on this?

2. Speaking of the holiday spirit, have you heard about this? Google's Chrome for a Cause extension keeps track of how many tabs you open when you're browsing, and each tab you open helps raise money for a charity. Pretty cool, right? Easy too! Plus, I'm a huge fan of tabs and tab a lot, so it's nice to know it all adds up to something!

3. While I was weirded out by the 80 degree weather we had last weekend, I'm starting to kind of miss it. I know, I have no right to talk, considering the snow storm that hit the Midwest, but it's cold again here and mostly I hate getting up in the mornings when it's cold.

4. Season 3 of Avatar: The Last Airbender is probably my favorite. It's hilarious. I'm watching it again with my friends since they haven't seen it. The sister's favorite episode is episode 2 because she loves Aang's "crazy dance" during music class. I thought it was just something she found particularly funny, but no, my friends think so too.

5. There are a bunch of movies I want to see: Dawn Treader, TRON, The King's Speech, and Black Swan. Has anyone seen any of these? Recs?

That's it for me, friends! Good luck with last weekend shopping! That's what I'll be doing.


Randomosity of a different sort

TGIF FOR REALZ FRIENDS. I've had a long week. I don't know, but I am SO READY for it to be over.

In fact, I can't really come up with 5 even remotely interesting things to blab about, so instead, I will help SPREAD THE WORD about Beth Revis' EPIC CONTEST OF EPIC.

It is truly epic, friends. She's giving away Across the Universe swag packs and ARCs and even a signed hardcover, first edition. There are 100 prizes.

And the fun part is she's just sending out the prizes. So join the fun and you might get a surprise in the mail for the holidays!

So here's the link again in case you missed it: EPIC CONTEST OF EPIC.

I for one can't WAIT to read this book!

I'm off to the Rose Bowl Flea Market this weekend, folks. Wish me luck in finding some Christmas gifts, goodies, and cheap books! :) HAPPY WEEKEND!

P.S. For those of you looking for a post of more substance, I popped in on Wednesday with my Post NaNoWriMo Thoughts. I know, I need to get on a blog schedule. :P Please enjoy.


WiP Wednesday: NaNoWriMo Aftermath

For your mid-week reading, I present to you What I Learned From NaNoWriMo This Year. This will probably sound a lot like what I learned from NaNoWriMo last year, which begs the question, have I really learned it if I'm not applying it?

1. Semblance of a Plot Outline Helps...a lot. I'm an odd kind of pantser, friends. I don't like planning too much, and I can't really handle the outline thing (working on it!), but the thing is, I'm also one of those people who can only write blind up until a certain point. Now, this might be my Inner Editor talking, but I have to stop when every writerly instinct is telling me the myriad strands of plot lines are going to be one huge FLAMING MESS of HOPELESS TANGLED YARN if I don't figure out what the heck I'm doing.

This year, I restarted a story from scratch. So I had a better idea of plot events, which meant writing scenes with forward momentum was a lot easier than it was last year.

2. Don't Think Too Much. Thinking too much stifles me. That's why NaNo's GAG THE INNER EDITOR AND WORD VOMIT attitude helps so much because it is an explicit, consistent, and constant reminder for me to shut the Inner Editor up.

I didn't do as well with this aspect this year; I was still thinking too much about plot and scene placements. BUT I did have my moments. It didn't involve epic wordage so much as a rather pretty piece of world building.

This story-verse's version of Heaven had always consisted of just one celestial city. Now there's three.

3. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize! Lots of people have mentioned this already, but one of the biggest revelations you can get from NaNo is you get A LOT done when you prioritize your writing / writing time! This November, I almost never had big chunks of time to write, but instead of trying to wait around for chunks of time, I just cut out smaller bits of time wherever I could and dedicated it to writing.

4. SOME words are better than NO words! I didn't write a lot every day (I don't think I ever made the average words per day you'd need to finish 50,000 words in 30 days), but I did write and now I have 10,000 words more than I would've had.

Besides, I think I'm coming to the conclusion that for certain things, I'm just not the kind of person who can spew words. Wish it were so, but the extent of that for me seems to be reserved for academic paper-writing (on a deadline) and what I like to call "random crack fic" [you know, the kind where anything goes and your characters do ridiculous things like infiltrate your friend's/co-writer's/other people's story-verses, hunker down in stranger's houses, and eat everything in sight (including but not limited to the kitchen sink). The bright side is usually everything can be replaced, saved, or otherwise regurgitated in pristine shape.]

So that was my NaNoWriMo experience. I'm actually pretty proud of myself because the personal goal for this year was to have 10,000 words at least (a doubling of last year's 5000 or so), and I did just that.

(I also try to ignore the fact that Alz started NaNo a little over halfway through the month and hit 50,000 words with like 3 days to spare, but then again, she is a true Word Monster and I'm not daft enough to compare myself to that level of output. It's like how I strategically sat far away from her during AP Lit testing because I didn't want to hear the furious flipping of her pages as she churned out her essays. FAST, the Alz is.)

What did YOU take away from NaNoWriMo? Did you reach YOUR GOALS?

Now, please excuse me while I attempt to recover from the lingering bits of my cold, sleep deprivation, and general holiday related stress. I love the holidays, but man is good cheer exhausting! See you Friday!


'Tis the Season

Hello, hello friends! It is December. HOW is it already December?! I don't know about you, but the year has just flown by!

I will have a NaNo-y post up for you next week. Most people did it this week, but guys, I'm seriously too tired for words. I caught a random cold, had to tackle some last minute NaNo-ing through it, work has been crazy (how did I get so behind), and I maybe had too much fun over the long weekend.

So Friday 5 to kick off the Holiday Season, and then I promise a post with more substance the next time I virtually show my face around here. :)

1. December really snuck up on me. I was all prepared to get some gifts out of the way on Black Friday/Cyber Monday/whatever-sale-thing-that-helps-me-save-money, and I totally FAILED. Let's just say there were things I should have bought last weekend, but for some reason, I thought I didn't have to.

2. On the flip, I did my first early morning Black Friday shopping excursion! I mean, I think I might've done early-ish outlet shopping with the fam before, but not anything where I was up at 5:30am and ready to shop by 6:30am.

3. Friends, I stood in the check-out line at GAP for 2 hours. 2 HOURS. It was like a Disneyland ride line, but without fast passes and minus the thrill of the ride.

4. On the flip, I scored 4 nice wool sweaters for $10 each. BUT the real steal of the day was the dress I got at H&M for $5, and then they gave me a $5 gift card for December. WIN.

5. My consumerist tendencies reared its ugly head in this Friday 5, but like I said, I don't usually do this! I only indulge once in a while, and seriously, who can resist a good deal?

BUT let's end this post with something less spendy but equally relevant to the holidays - FAMILY, FRIENDS, and FOOD.

I love holidays because we have big family gatherings, and I like seeing everyone and eating together. We're big on food. Food is one of my Great Loves (up there with Sleep).

Now, I'm not a cook; like I survived college on ramen, pasta, and Trader Joe's frozen instant dishes (they're actually really good). That and you wouldn't believe the amount of deliciousness that surrounds UC Berkeley. ENVIABLE.

But, once in a while, I like to make something. This desire usually shows up during the holidays. For the past 2 years, my contribution to Thanksgiving has been guacamole because it's relatively easy and avocados don't cost me a dime. (I've had an avocado tree in my backyard my entire life and never took proper advantage. I didn't really like avocado until college, go figure.) BUT my tree-friend decided to take a break this year, so I had to make something else.

Luckily for me, the LA Times posted up a bunch of recipes, including this one for Hedgehog Potatoes.

These were mine, and they were a hit. :D

Secret ingredient: butter. The sister thought they looked like little animals.

How were your Thanksgivings for those of you who celebrated? Any of you do the Black Friday thing and/or made EPIC purchases? Do any of you have easy dishes for a sad cook like me to try?

Have a fabulous weekend, friends! And STAY WARM. It's been freezing here (and I don't even mean SoCal low-60s freezing)!