January 15, 2017

Favorite movies of 2016

After posting about my favorite reads of 2016, I decided to go through the movies I watched last year (thanks to Netflix, where my ratings are recorded) and post my favorite movies as well. I don't watch as many movies as I read books, so I'm only going to list the top 5.

1. "Rogue One"
I admit that, when I first heard that they were making a standalone Star Wars movie, I was skeptical how it would turn out. Then, when the first trailer of "Rogue One" was released, most of my doubts faded. This turned out to be my favorite movie of the year and one of my favorite Star Wars movies of all time. The fact that I already knew how the story would end didn't diminish my enjoyment of it. I'll also never view the first minutes of "A New Hope" the same way again.

2. "Finding Dory"
I can't count the number of times I've seen "Finding Nemo." Not only did I love the movie, but it was my kids' favorite for a long time too. I was excited when I learned there would be a sequel featuring Dory, and the movie didn't disappoint. It was great to see many of the old characters return for the sequel, but this is really a new story with fresh new characters. Ellen DeGeneres is once again superb as the forgetful Dory.

3. "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them"
Even if you've never seen any of the Harry Potter movies, I think you'll enjoy "Fantastic Beasts." However, as a Harry Potter fan, I appreciated all the little nods to the books found in the movie as well as the chance to see what the wizarding world in the U.S. was like. It also didn't hurt that Newt Scamander is a Hufflepuff like me. :-)

4. "Deadpool"
I didn't expect to like "Deadpool" as much as I did. It wasn't because of the story, which we've seen before. It must've been due to Deadpool's witty commentary, which made me laugh throughout the movie, or the references to other Marvel movies. Although the origin story didn't quite fit the Deadpool character in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine", Ryan Reynolds did a great job in both movies as Wade Wilson/Deadpool.

5. "Zootopia"
"Zootopia" was a cute movie with a nice lesson, especially given the current political climate. Ginnifer Goodwin did a good job bringing Judy Hopps, the protagonist who is a police officer bunny, to life. If you've seen the trailer featuring the sloth at the DMV, that wasn't even one of the best parts of the movie IMHO, so if you liked that scene, you'll really enjoy the rest of the movie.

January 7, 2017

Favorite reads of 2016

In my last post, I mentioned that 23 of the books I read in 2016 received 5-star ratings. Among them, these were my top ten favorites.

1. Illuminae - Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
I'm not sure how to describe this book, but I loved everything about it. Illuminae was like a YA sci-fi love story with zombies and a homicidal AI rolled into one, told in a unique way that makes it even better than the sum of its parts. If that didn't make any sense (or even if it did), go read the book!

2. Attachments - Rainbow Rowell
Can you believe that I had never read a Rainbow Rowell book until 2016? I know, what kind of rock have I been living under? I went on a Rainbow Rowell reading binge, and Attachments was my favorite of the bunch. This was a fun, fast read that appealed to the romantic comedy fan in me (did I just admit to liking rom com?). I liked this book so much that I read it twice! I'm definitely a Rainbow Rowell fan now.

3. Winter - Marissa Meyer
A great conclusion to a great series. I won’t say more in case you haven’t read Winter or its predecessors yet. However, if you haven't read the Lunar Chronicles, you definitely should!

4. Fractured Innocence - Julia Crane
Freak of Nature was one of my favorite reads of 2013. I can't believe it's taken me this long to read the sequel, but it was well worth the wait. Equal parts YA, sci-fi, and action, this story has all the elements that I enjoy in a good book.

5. Dreams of Gods & Monsters - Laini Taylor
I finished the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series this year. What a great series, and Dreams of Gods & Monsters was a fitting finale. As with the Lunar Chronicles, I highly recommend everyone read this series if you haven’t yet.

6. Bits & Pieces - Jonathan Maberry
The Rot & Ruin series is one of my favorites of all time. Although the series has ended, it was great to revisit the universe again in this collection of short stories.

7. The Hero of Ages - Brandon Sanderson
2016 was also the year that I read the Mistborn trilogy. Given my notoriously slow pace at finishing a series, it says something that I read all three books in a single year. While all of the books in the trilogy were good, the finale, The Hero of Ages, was my favorite. It was impressive to see how everything fit together in the end. Hats off to Brandon Sanderson for crafting the Mistborn universe and for creating a plot so intricately interwoven that I felt like a fool for not seeing it all sooner.

8. The Final Empire - Brandon Sanderson
Following on the heels of The Hero of Ages, the first book of the Mistborn series was similarly as good. It was hard for me to choose which one to rank higher.

9. My Lady Jane - Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows
Historical fiction is typically not my cup of tea, but the comedic elements in this story made it a winner. Fans of The Princess Bride, Monty Python, or even historical fiction should enjoy this re-imagining of Lady Jane Grey, who was queen for only nine days. If you're a stickler for historical accuracy, however, you might want to skip this book. :-)

10. The Barriers - Katie French
Every installment of the Breeders series has made it onto my annual top ten list, and the series finale is no exception. If you’re a fan of the YA dystopian genre, you need to read the Breeders series!

December 31, 2016

What I read in 2016

Welcome again to my annual summary of the books I read this year. In 2016, I read 82 books. I managed to read at least 100 books in 2015 and 2014, but this was a busier year for me, especially at my day job. However, I’m still happy with the amount of reading I managed to do in the last twelve months.

The ratings for the books I read this year broke down as follows:
  • 5 stars - 23 books
  • 4 stars - 30 books 
  • 3 stars - 29 books 

This works out to an average rating of 3.93 stars per book, almost identical to my average rating of 3.92 last year!

Of the 82 books I read, 26 were indie published. This is a smaller percentage than last year’s 47%.

The ratings for the indie published books were distributed in an interesting way:
  • 5 stars - 5 books 
  • 4 stars - 13 books 
  • 3 stars - 8 books 

For some reason, there were far more 4-star books than 5- or 3-stars. 4-star indie books accounted for 43% of all the 4-star books I read this year, while indie books comprised only 22% of the 5-stars and 28% of the 3-stars. Why did the indie books cluster so much around the 4-star rating? I have no idea, except that it seemed that the indie books I read were largely good but not great whereas there was a broader spectrum to the traditionally published books I read in 2016.

In my next post, I’ll list my top ten favorite books of the year. Stay tuned!

December 17, 2016

2016 Holiday Sale!

It's the Christmas holiday season again, and since this is the most wonderful time of the year, I'm discounting my books on Amazon. Between now and the New Year, every one of my books will be on sale for 99 cents or FREE! Get them before prices go back up!

In the Hands of
New Eden
Keep Your
Enemies Close
Gifted All That
Remains of Me

Transmissions A House in
the Woods
Protect Search Rescue

George and the
Galactic Games

Drive Through a
Tangled Wood
Celestial Spectral Tales

Happy holidays!

November 26, 2016

New habits

When I undertook the NaNoWriMo challenge this year, I was skeptical that I would be able to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Despite successfully completing NaNoWriMo the last two years, I had more doubts this year than ever before. My day job has been busier, and regular family responsibilities have made it hard to find time to write all year long. Why would things suddenly change in November?

Yet, as we get close to the end of the month, I managed to stay on track! 50,000 words not only looks possible but likely. What’s different? This month, I changed the way I wrote in three ways.

1. I embraced the crappy first draft. I'm a perfectionist at heart, and even though I've tried to treat the process of writing a first draft as more of an exploratory activity resulting in an unpolished manuscript, I never could. I used to tweak and edit as I wrote. It made the editing process easier, but I wound up spending a lot of time and energy on the first draft. For NaNoWriMo, I've been writing and not looking back because I had no choice. There wasn’t time to come up with a better way to phrase something or to fix a scene that was painful to read. I know large sections of my NaNoWriMo novel are crappy, but even the crappy parts have been useful in guiding me later on in the story.

2. I let my characters take charge. I'm a plotter in more than one sense of the word. Yes, I outline and think through the entire story before I start my first draft, and this year’s NaNoWriMo was no different. I’m also a plotter in the sense that I focus on plot over character development or world building or anything else. This month, as part of writing a crappy first draft as fast as I can, I found that I often let my characters take charge. I'd write about things they did and said that I normally wouldn't have if I was more focused on moving the plot forward. I have no idea whether I'll keep some of the scenes I wrote, but I feel like my characters became more fully developed as a result.

3. I'm writing everywhere. Before this month, my first drafts were written in MS Word documents. That meant that I could only write when I had access to that document, which was when I had my laptop with me. For NaNoWriMo, I tried writing via Evernote. I created a new note whenever I started a new chapter. Thanks to my manuscript living in the cloud, I could write wherever and whenever and on any device I wanted. Throughout the month, whenever I had a few free minutes, I'd pull out my phone and type a few paragraphs. They weren't lengthy passages and sometimes didn't move the plot forward, but those bits and pieces really added up.

These new habits may or may not make me a better writer going forward, but they'll make me more productive. Using Evernote, or another cloud-based solution like Google Doc or Quip, is something that I definitely plan to continue doing. Even if I wind up scrapping my NaNoWriMo novel, I'll have developed new habits that will help me in the future.

November 10, 2016

Five Years!

I can't believe that five years have passed since I published my first novel, George and the Galactic Games! While it's not my best-selling title, the book still holds a special place in my heart. Sometimes you'll read about authors who have a book inside them that's begging to be written, and, more so than any other book I've published, George and the Galactic Games was that book for me. If not for how much I wanted to write the story of George and his adventures, I wouldn't have pushed myself to finish this novel. Which meant I would've never have written all of the novels after it. So I should thank George for kickstarting my author career. Thanks, and Happy Book Birthday, George and the Galactic Games!

If you're interested in reading the book, you can purchase the e-book edition for just 99 cents on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, or iTunes.

October 29, 2016

NaNoWriMo 2016

It's that time of year again when writers try to pen a 50,000-word novel in just 30 short days! This will be my third year participating in NaNoWriMo, and I'm proud to say that I completed the challenge on my first two attempts. :-)

One thing I've learned about NaNoWriMo is that, as with most things in life, your odds of success are greater if you prepare for it. I've gone into the previous two NaNoWriMos with a rough idea of what I'd write, and this year is no different. Two months ago, I already started thinking about the story I would tackle. I went through my notebook of ideas and picked one that interested me and that I think will sustain me for a grueling month. After that, I expanded the idea into a half-page synopsis. Later on, I turned the synopsis into a plot outline encompassing about two pages.

(Now that I think of it, a logical next step would've been to break down the outline into thirty chunks so that I had a daily plan. Unfortunately, I didn't have the foresight to do that and probably don't have time to do so before November starts. Next year, I'll remember to do it!)

The story I plan to write this year is a modern retelling of the Cassandra myth. In Greek mythology, Cassandra possessed the gift of prophecy but was cursed so that no one would believe her. I thought that was an interesting combination and wanted to explore how it would play out in a current day setting.

As with the last two years, you will be able to follow my NaNoWriMo progress on Twitter. Wish me luck!