Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Life Update #4 // Wherein I am More Industrious

Note: If you haven’t checked out my blogversary giveaway, you should probably do that. (Of course, you don’t have to if you don’t want to. But you might make me cry. *sniffles* Worse, you might make Out of Coffee, Out of Mind cry, and you know how two-year-olds get when they’re upset.) Also, Katie @ A Writer’s Faith has THE EXACT SAME BLOGVERSARY, and there’s still a teeny bit of time left to hop on over and enter her giveaway

Life News

I got a job! Now, you may remember me mentioning a little while back that my sister was working full time and was willing to invest in my writing career by supporting me while I write full-time. She was still willing to do that, but this job opportunity basically fell into my lap. I didn’t even have to fill out an application, and my job interview was less an interview and more a, “So, can you start work this weekend?” sort of deal. Which I appreciate. 

But please don’t think that, because getting the job was easy, it’s all been easy. Far from it. My first full day of work was so stressful, it took all my willpower to drag myself out of bed and go to work the next day. In fact, my biggest worry was that, after the victorious tone in The Trunk of Doom, in reference to my anxiety, I had finally encountered an obstacle big enough to push me over the edge again. And I was scared that I would turn back into a shuffling zombie, which would make these past few months of clarity so painful in retrospect. I don’t think I’ve ever prayed for strength as much as I did those first two weeks of work especially, and God came through. 

So yeah, all that to say, I still have serious anxiety issues, which I am actively fighting. And with the work I am doing, I have a lot of time to untangle my thoughts and get to the root of the issue, which isn’t always fun, but is always necessary. I still have yet to go through a full day of work without at least a touch of anxiety, but it’s never gotten as bad as the first day. 

On another note, I re-watched Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Firefly, and Serenity this month, which was great, but now I want to watch them again. *sad face* Maybe in November I’ll break and let myself do just that, since I tend to favor movies and shows over books when I’m writing rough drafts. 

The most important thing about this particular life update, though, is that summer is ending. AUTUMN IS COMING PEOPLE. *ahem* I am calm. 

Writing News

I work on Saturdays and Sundays, and soon I’ll start working Fridays as well. Obviously this means I will have a bit less time to read and write, so this will probably effect my productivity in the long run. But I will also be earning enough money to place book orders more often—so you win some, you lose some. Right now, I think my biggest goal should be overcoming my anxiety. This doesn’t mean I won’t still be pushing myself to edit at a reasonable pace, but it does mean I think I need to be okay with giving myself breaks when I need them, even if that means I don’t officially finish editing DRACONIAN until February 2017. 

I have made good progress, especially this August. And if I pace myself, I think it’s reasonable to assume that this will be my editing schedule for DRACONIAN: 

September/October: Finish current draft. 

November/December: Let my sister read it (she’ll my third and final round of beta feedback, hopefully). 

January/Februaryish: Finish the book so I can devote more time to editing other things, or so help me I will explode. 

*disgruntled zombie noises* 

I have been editing DRACONIAN for two years now. TWO YEARS, I TELL YOU. It took me less than a year to edit TIME IN A BOTTLE (I mean, if you count all the month-long vacations I let myself have, it took a year exactly). And right now, I’m torn between which book is better. To be perfectly honest, I want to give DRACONIAN a chance, because it’s probable that I’m just at the point where I’m getting sick and tired of the story and it isn’t as dumb as it seems to me now. The vast majority of my beta readers were at least nice enough to claim they liked it. But there is a very large part of me that’s just tempted to trunk DRACONIAN and move on. Except I’m not a quitter, and the thought of trunking this stupid novel after two years solid does not sit well with me. Neither does abandoning the completed rough drafts of the other two books in the trilogy. I’m hoping taking November and December off from this story will lend me some valuable perspective, or I may end up needing one of those special jackets that lets you hug yourself. 

Either way, whether this book gets me published or mocked by every single literary agent of ever, it has been a valuable growing experience for me as a writer, and I shouldn’t discount that for anything. I’ve also been sneakily working on another editing project on the side (though not as quickly), so that’s been fun. But shh, don’t speak of this too loudly. I don’t want DRACONIAN to know I’m cheating on it. 

Moving on. 

Blogging News

I’ve been doing a bit better on the blogging front. For the most part, I’ve been able to write my posts at least a couple days in advance, which has been a wonderful change from earlier this year when I was writing and editing my posts the day of. Also, my blog has been getting more traffic than it did in May and June, and I have answered some comments and commented on some blogs. My biggest issue on that last front, at the moment, has more to do with time than anything. I have editing that I need to do, blog posts to write, chores around the house, work, and reading for the sake of my sanity. There’s just never enough time in the day, and it’s a difficult decision, but often being an active member of the blogosphere ends up being the first thing I choose to let take back burner in favor of getting other things done. That doesn’t mean that I don’t miss you or that I won’t get to you, just that I’m not necessarily going to be prompt. 

In other news, Out of Coffee, Out of Mind turned two on Saturday! *throws confetti* My cousin informed me that, now that my blog has entered the terrible twos, it should throw a tantrum in every post. But let’s be honest, the only reason my blog would throw a tantrum would be if it weren’t getting enough coffee (I refer you to my blog’s name), but we all know that’s not going to happen. (Shh, don’t tell me it’s bad to give coffee to two-year-olds.) 

Oh look at that, it’s a list of my five most popular posts for July and August (hah, I see that I have successfully distracted you from my poor parenting skills): 

And now comes the moment we’ve all been waiting for:  

Reading News

The lighting in our new place is better, so I’m able to read books on my Kindle more often without feeling weirdly motion sick. I also have the opportunity to listen to audiobooks during work (although last weekend I was highly unproductive on that front and listened to mostly music instead). All that to say, even though work will be taking away from the time I could normally devote to reading physical books, I’m still somewhat hopeful that I’ll be able to maintain my monthly average of 16.8 books, at the very least. We’ll see. 

Also, the deal I made with myself before starting this new job was that I was going to use the bulk of my first paycheck to make a large book order, as a reward for being a good girl and not quitting because of anxiety. (This deal also includes more substantial book orders in the future, but shh, we’re not going to talk about that. No, I do not have a problem.) Yes, I realize I am an adult and should do responsible things with my money, like save it or use it to buy ocean front property in Arizona. Rest assured, I am not going to blow every single paycheck on books, as tempting as that thought is. So nobody panic. However, I am easily bribed when it comes to books, and there’s nothing like the thought of growing my library to get me to do difficult, strenuous things. In all honesty, there’s a chance I would lick the bottom of your shoe if you promised me a new hardcover in return, but let’s not talk about that. I do still have my dignity to maintain. 

In other news, here are my reading stats: 

Number of books read so far this year


If you'd like to see the list, here's a link.

Number of books read over the past two months


Number of books read in July


Number of books read in August


Bookish Highlights

(Yes, I have read ILLUMINAE twice this year. No, I don't have a problem.)

Bookish Ratings Breakdown

Five stars


Four stars


Three stars


One star


Other Stats

Rereads in the past two months


Rereads so far this year


(As you can see, I probably won’t make my goal of 88 rereads this year, considering the rate at which I am going, as well as the fact that I’m already planning to buy new books. But alas, I am still pushing myself to reread more, and that’s really what matters.) 

And that’s it for today, my little coffee beans. How have you been? What are your plans for the rest of the year (writing or non-writing related)? Have you bought any new books recently/are you planning to buy some soon? How are your reading goals looking? Would you lick the bottom of someone’s shoe in exchange for a new hardcover?

Monday, August 29, 2016

INSURGENT // Discussion

Note: Please be advised, there will be DIVERGENT and INSURGENT spoilers. SPOILERS, I TELL YOU. If you missed my spoilery DIVERGENT discussion two weeks ago, you can find that here. Also, if you haven’t entered my blogversary giveaway, you should probably do that. (Or you could procrastinate like I do, since you have until the end of September. Don’t worry, I’ll keep reminding you—unless I forget.) 

Rating: Four Stars—Great 

Here’s the thing. I’ve read and watched a lot of reviews claiming INSURGENT is better than DIVERGENT, and I’ve always felt vaguely confused by this. Perhaps it’s just a matter of personal taste. I’m not sure. What I do know is that giving INSURGENT four stars feels generous, since I don’t feel the story warrants more than three. However, I get super nostalgic about the whole trilogy, which is why I'm giving it an additional star. Because that's how I roll. 

Let’s start out by talking about a few of the things I liked. 

—In INSURGENT we get to learn more about the different factions. We get to see a few more sides to Erudite, for instance, in the way Cara and her friends develop technology for the Amity to be able to defend themselves without killing anyone. I like that we get to see how Amity favors peace over justice, to its detriment, while those in Candor settle for being honest instead of making sure they are also doing the right thing. 

—In DIVERGENT, we were introduced to the idea of the factionless, which was cool, and in INSURGENT we get to know this large people group a lot better. We get to see how the faction system has effected them and how they feel about that system. All good stuff. 

—We get to learn more about Four’s backstory. In DIVERGENT we had the intriguing, mysterious Four, and in INSURGENT we get to see some of the environmental aspects that shaped him into the person he is now. I wasn’t as huge a fan of Four in this book as I was in DIVERGENT, but what we do learn about his past compliments DIVERGENT Four quite nicely. 

—I found the various reactions to the concept of Divergence satisfying, especially Lynn’s theory that the whole thing is a hoax. People don’t always like stuff they don’t understand, so it makes sense that some, like Lynn, would tailor their views of the world to make themselves feel safe. 

—Peter. I love Peter. Not in an I-would-like-to-snog-him way. More like an well-isn’t-that-an-interesting-bug sort of way. (It’s still love though—don’t laugh.) I like that we get to explore more of his driving motivations and the way his psyche is structured. I also like that even when he does something good (like saving Tris), it’s for selfish reasons. 

—I like that there’s no Tris-centered love triangle. 

—I love that Tris gets a chance to tell Will she’s sorry for killing him, even though it’s just in a simulation. 

—I like that Caleb betrays Tris and that this allows us to understand him better. 

—Although there are some definite weaknesses in the world building, I even like some of the ideas behind the formation of the faction system. But I’ll discuss that more in my ALLEGIANT discussion. 

Unfortunately, I have some issues with INSURGENT. 

—There are several internal consistency errors (which Veronica talks about in this post). For instance, on page 77 of the hardcover edition, Tris is unarmed, although she is carrying a gun in the previous and ensuing scenes. On page 134 Tris says the Dauntless don’t bother with antiseptic wipes before shots, which contradicts the time in DIVERGENT when Eric uses one on Tris. There are a few others, but I don’t think I need to list them all to make my point, which is: 

—I don’t think Veronica was given enough time to edit this book thoroughly. I think she would have benefited from setting the story down between drafts and taking large enough breaks (I'm thinking in terms of a month or two) to be able to see the writing with fresh eyes the next time she picked it up. This would potentially have helped with the internal inconsistency. Also, there were ways in which the writing overall could have been smoothed out and tightened a bit more. 

—Too. Much. Passive. Tense. I understand that passive tense can be useful at times. But there were so many sentences that could have been phrased differently to make the story feel more active. Honestly, I don't know if this is a purposeful stylistic thing or if it's just one of Veronica's weak spots. Either way, it bugs me. 

—Overall, the story has less meat. In DIVERGENT, we have a lot of layers. We have Tris struggling with her decision to choose Dauntless. We have Tris making friends and enemies. We have Tris learning how to fight and defend herself. We have Tris’ whole friendship-turned-enemyship (totally a word) with Al and her regret when he kills himself. We have the mystery of what it means to be Divergent, and we have the fear that someone in Dauntless will find her out and kill her. We have the whole issue with the simulation serums. We have Four and Eric's rivalry going on. We have Tris finding out more about her parents. And we have Tris' budding relationship with Four, among other things. 

But in INSURGENT, we have fewer layers. We have Tris’ continued relationship with Tobias/Four. We have Tris’ desire to figure out what caused the Abnegation slaughter. We have continued hostilities among the factions. We have Jeanine being Jeanine. We have Tris finding out a bit more about herself, her parents, and Four. We have the side love triangle. And that’s about it. Though the story takes a bit longer to tell, it feels watered down, more filled with repetitive introspection and less with fresh, new story. Yes, I understand that this is a sequel, so there are going to be ways in which the story doesn’t feel new in the same way that DIVERGENT felt new. But, in my opinion, it ended up more like a mush middle and less like it’s own entity. 

—Tris and Four’s relationship isn't nearly as much fun to read about in INSURGENT as it is in DIVERGENT. In many ways, it seems toxic. They’re too touchy-feely yet simultaneously hostile to each other. And if you think about it, they’re still essentially strangers. While they have been through a lot together, and while they know each other’s fears and such, this has all happened in a relatively short period of time, and they haven’t had much of a chance to get to know each other beyond the trainer/trainee relationship. In the end, I felt uncomfortable with their romance on several levels. 

—Okay, first of all, I have PTSD, so I know what it’s like. I’m not saying that it’s the same for everyone, or that my experiences are the end-all-be-all of what it means to have PTSD. So please, take what I say with a grain of salt. That being said, I think the portrayal of Tris’ PTSD falls flat. Her inability to hold a gun after killing Will feels overdone and not fully explained. Maybe if it were fleshed out a little more I would be able to understand but, even so, that’s not how PTSD works. 

After all that she’s been through, as callous as it sounds, killing her best friend is going to be small potatoes in comparison with the others stuff her brain is processing. She was almost drowned—why isn’t she nervous when washing herself? She was in an all out slaughter—why doesn’t she have to struggle every single time she goes into a crowd? She was beaten up by her simulation-controlled boyfriend—why doesn’t she experience a couple moments of fear in relation to him? I know that she does have some flashbacks, and I appreciate that. I understand her guilt at killing Will, I do. But I don’t like that that’s the reason given for why she gets anxiety every time she tries to pick up a gun, and I don’t like that her inability to pick up guns is the strongest sign of her PTSD. It would make more sense if this were stemming from all the bad memories of all the people shooting at her and getting shot around her, not just the one case that has more to do with regret than fear. 

(And yes, I realize that sometimes the mind goes for the smallest, most quantifiable element in situations like this, but I’m not sure it does to this degree.) 

—I also think her experience with grief is not as realistic as it could have been. To help you understand what I’m saying, think about grief as similar to getting hit by a truck. You feel the initial strike, and you get knocked off your feet. You know that something horrible has happened, even if you haven’t quite pieced together what that is. This is why people often cry when bad news is broken to them. It’s stressful and confusing, and the brain just doesn’t know how to compute. It realizes it’s going to be in a lot of pain, and it gets upset. Crying is a way of dealing with this. 

Then, after getting hit by said truck, and after skidding down the road a ways, or whatever, there’s a brief window in which you don’t really feel anything. This is denial. You’re like, “Oh wait, no, this is fine. I’m good. I can walk this off, because I was not just hit by a truck. Surely you jest.” Then the anger hits. “Dang, that driver should have been watching where he was going. I feel really upset right now. If I could move, I would punch that idiot in the face.” (But you shouldn't do that, because an open hand strike to the nose or a backhand to the temple are both more effective and less needlessly hard on your knuckles.)

Then you think, "Please don't let this be as bad as I think it's going to be. It feels like there are pieces of me all over the place, but maybe if I promise to stop cheating on my taxes, whatever higher power there is will let me get away with a few bruises." After that, the pain hits, and it hits hard, like you’ve just been hit by a truck all over again, only significantly worse. Naturally, this is depressing, and it also happens to be the longest stage (usually). It takes quite a while to recover, both from grief and from getting hit by a truck. But generally, after time has passed, you begin to realize you are going to be okay. This is acceptance. You got hit by a truck, but these things happen, and you are ready to move on. 

I realize this is a somewhat flawed comparison, because some of these reactions happen in a matter of seconds after getting hit by a truck. So maybe it’s more accurate to say that grief is like getting hit by a truck in super, duper, uber slow motion. That’s why I think Tris’ experience doesn’t feel organic. She skips right to the stage where the pain hits, and that doesn’t feel true to her character. I’m not saying people don’t skip stages. But Tris seems like the type to respond to distressing situations with anger, as she does when Molly and Peter and Drew shame her by stealing her towel. And I think it would have made more sense to see Tris raging through the first two thirds of INSURGENT before having a meltdown in the last third. 


In conclusion, my relationship with INSURGENT is weird. When I first read it, I loved it, but then I reread it and found it wasn’t as good as I had remembered. (This would be my second reread.) I don’t hate it, and I will probably reread it every now and then over the next forty-or-so-years, or however long I live. Even with its flaws, I appreciate its potential, and I like seeing Veronica’s fingerprints on the story, because I really like Veronica as a person. If you haven’t read her old blog (which she doesn’t update anymore), you really should. Soon I plan to write a post highlighting how great a blogger she is/was (she does still use Tumblr, but it’s not the same). 

Anyway, I don’t want to keep rambling on and on. This post is already long enough as it is, so I will just leave you with my review schedule for the next two weeks, and I will see you Wednesday: 

Monday, September 5th: ZENITH review

Monday, September 12th: ALLEGIANT discussion

Oh, and before I forget: You may recall how I complained a while back about how ugly the DELIRIUM trilogy covers are. Well, wait for it...

They were redesigned! So now I can buy them without feeling the need to claw out my eyes. 

That’s it for today, my little coffee beans? What are your thoughts on INSURGENT? Did you think it was better, worse than, or equal to DIVERGENT? Do you like the new DELIRIUM covers? 

Friday, August 26, 2016


Why am I posting on a Friday? you ask. Because Out of Coffee, Out of Mind turns two years old tomorrow! That’s why! *flings confetti* Instead of making a cake and letting my little toddler smash its face into it, I’m going to throw a small virtual party, since it’s much less messy. (Also, I was informed blogs don’t eat cake. I’m still not sure if that’s true, but okay. Whatever you say. *rolls eyes*)

Over the course of the year, my blog has garnered more followers and more pageviews than I had expected (in fact, my pageview count for this year is seven times what it was for my first year). Not that it’s about numbers. *shifty eyes* But it’s encouraging to know that at least some people continue to be interested in what I have to say. 

According to the stats, these were my top fifteen most popular posts of the year: 

Along the way, I have had some great encouragement and support from so many bloggers, and I feel bad for only listing a few, because I don’t want to leave anyone out. Also, there are so many nice things I want to say, and I’m feeling strangely speechless. But here goes: 

Aimee @ To the Barricade!: I love Aimee’s energy and her different perspectives on deep issues. Plus, she got me hooked on Twenty One Pilots. Need I say more? 

Alexa @ Summer Snowflakes: Alexa’s blog is great for reminding me how fun it is to be a fangirl. She’s also super sweet and thoughtful. 

Ashley @ [insert title here]: I love reading Ashley’s thoughts and seeing her get excited about books, fairytales, and Sherlock, among other things. She’s always been a bright spot. 

Cait @ Paper Fury: Cait is hilarious, and she's a blogging inspiration. But I have to watch my back because she’s always trying to use her dragons to steal my throne. 

Clara @ Lost in My Library: Clara is one of my newer followers. I haven't read nearly enough of her posts, but I really like what I've read so far, especially her thoughts on books. 

Grace @ Somewhat Reserved: Grace is also one of my newer followers, and again, I haven't read nearly enough of her posts. However, she reminded me how much I love BATTLE ROYALE and even got me more excited about it, so she deserves extra cake. 

Heather @ Sometimes I’m a Story: With her snarky, dry humor and her polite way of introducing negative opinions, Heather gets me to think even when I don’t want to think. Also, she was my first steady commenter. 

Imogen @ Gossiping with Dragons: Imogen always gives great writing advice, and she has a great singing voice. *nods* We also have very similar taste in stories, from what I can tell. 

Katie @ A Writer’s Faith: Not only do we share the same blogversary, but we also love pizza. Whenever I need to remember how writing and editing can be humorous, I hop on over to her blog. 

Opal @ Opal Swirls: Opal is deep and thoughtful and poetic, and she gave me lovely feedback on one of my manuscripts. 

RM Lutz @ The Book Hound: R.M. is understanding and supportive, and she is my main source for more obscure bookish recommendations. 

Tessa @ Books, Bubbles, and Arohanui: Tessa is kind and quirky, and I always find her posts inspirational and encouraging. 

Topaz @ Six Impossible Things: Topaz doesn't hesitate to share about her struggles, and she's always kind and understanding. 

TT @ introtoblurb: TT started blogging back in February, and I’ve really appreciated his support and involvement in the blogosphere. When I want to remember why I love blogging, it always helps to head on over to his blog. Also, he talks about food sometimes, so…

Victoria @The Endless Oceans of My Mind: Victoria has been invaluable, from her funny and thoughtful blog posts, to her supportive comments on my manuscript and blog, to her concern for my wellbeing. 

Victoria @ Wanderer’s Pen: Every time I drink tea, I think of this sweet, kind, wonderful person whose posts always make me smile and whose emails always make me feel valued. I’m glad I stumbled onto her blog, even though *whispers* I still think coffee is better than tea. 

This is by no means a conclusive list, and if I’ve missed you, please don’t be offended. I still like you! I just may not have read your blog enough to feel confident in giving an accurate description of you. 

Quick, look over there! A giveaway! *hides* 

This giveaway is open anywhere Book Depository ships. Please make sure you are either 18+ years old or have permission from your parents, as I will need your address if you win. Also, I am not responsible for any shipping failures. If you win but you either already own ILLUMINAE or don't want to own it, then I will be happy to substitute a book of equal or lesser value. In case you aren't familiar with ILLUMINAE, just click on the gorgeous cover photo below for the Goodreads description: 

Well, that's it for today, my little coffee beans. Thank you for coming to my blogversary party! *throws more confetti* *hands out coffee* 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Book Sacrifice Tag

No books were harmed in the making of this picture. 

The esteemed TT @ introtoblurb tagged me for The Book Sacrifice Tag earlier this month. As luck would have it, I’ve been eyeing this tag for a while, so now I have a proper excuse to do it. Thank you, TT! 

Before we get started, please remember that if you people like any of the books I mention here, that’s wonderful. More power to you. They just weren’t for me. (And if you're interested in more of my negative bookish opinions, you should check out this post.) 

An Over-Hyped Book

Situation: You are in a bookstore when zombies attack. Over the loudspeaker, you hear the military informing you that over-hyped books are the zombies' only weakness. What over-hyped book will you chuck at the zombies? (And remember, no body shots. Head shots only. Come on, you’ve seen The Walking Dead—you know how this works.) 

I would rush right over to the Veronica Rossi section, grab INTO THE STILL BLUE along with the first two books in the UNDER THE NEVER SKY trilogy, and start winging copies right at those bad boys. 

A large part of me wanted to love these books, because I really was interested in the premise and the story world. Unfortunately, the execution failed to capture me and I couldn’t connect with any of the characters. 

However, I think this tactic could be problematic, as the books in the UNDER THE NEVER SKY trilogy aren’t thick, and they’re mostly sold in paperback now. Maybe I should go for the dictionary—millions of people own at least one copy (so, you know, lot’s of hype), but I don’t sit around reading the dictionary in my spare time (although I used to). Plus dictionaries have more heft, so they would do a better job at knocking off zombie heads. 

Sorry, I got excited. Moving on. 

A Sequel

Situation: You are caught in a torrential downpour, and you’re probably the type who melts when you get wet. What sequel are you willing to use as an umbrella to protect yourself? 

*climbs on stage **taps mic* *clears throat* Attention everyone. Today we’re going to talk about how disappointed I was with THIS WORLD WE LIVE IN, the third book in the LAST SURVIVORS quartet. By extension, I wasn’t a huge fan of the fourth book, THE SHADE OF THE MOON, mainly because of a certain elucidation by a certain character about a certain thing he did in THIS WORLD WE LIVE IN. So, while I would mourn the pretty covers, as well as ruining my complete set, I would use them both simultaneously to provide maximum protection from the rain. 

A Classic

Situation: You’re in English class and your professor won’t stop going on about a classic that "revolutionized literature". Personally, you think that classic is garbage, and you decide to express your opposing opinion by hurling it at his head. What classic is that? 

I don’t feel particularly malicious toward THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE-DAME, but it also made me want to go to sleep. The plot felt poorly constructed, and the ending lacked the emotional punch it needed. It was frustrating when Victor Hugo got distracted by bunny trails, like the time he left off at somewhat of a stressful moment to talk for fifty or so pages about the old architecture in Paris. *sad face* If I’m going to learn about architecture, I want something with pictures so I know what we’re talking about. I also want all architectural discussions to refrain from interfering just when I’m getting interested in a work of fiction. Is that too much to ask? 

(Before you break out the tar and feathers, yes, I understand Victor Hugo wrote this book to draw attention to the architecture that was being lost. But I have fallen in love with story worlds before, and I needed far less nitty gritty description to do so. Furthermore, it is my understanding that Hugo didn’t edit this novel, which is probably why it reads like a rough draft. I don’t like reading my rough drafts. Why would I want to read someone else’s unless  I'm planning to offer feedback?) 

All that being said, the story had potential, but I wasn't a fan of what he did with it. (I did, however, like the Disney version, as far as I can remember.) 

A Least Favorite Book

Situation: You’re hanging out at a bookstore (where else would you be?) when global warming somehow manages to turn the world into a frozen wasteland. Naturally, your only hope of survival is to burn a book. Which book would you not regret tossing onto the fire? 

As much as I don’t like being a negative reader, there are multiple titles I could list here. Multiple, I tell you. But for the sake of brevity, we’re just going to go with THE GAP OF TIME, which I reviewed a little while back. I actually got angry while reading it, and books don’t usually inspire feelings of anger in me, even if I dislike them. However, before I toss THE GAP OF TIME into the flames, I would rip out the first chapter and keep it, because I did like that part. 

Well, that was fun. Now for the victims tributes nominees. I hereby tag: 

If I tagged you but if you don’t want to do this, you’re off the hook. Likewise, if I haven’t tagged you but you really want to do it, go for it (and remember to drop a link in the comments so I can read your post). 

What about you, my little coffee beans? What are some books you would be willing to sacrifice to various natural disasters/apocalyptic situations? Have you ever sacrificed a book to the elements before? 

Monday, August 22, 2016

MISERY // Excuse Me While I Hide


Rating: Five Stars—ajklsdflk (when words fail to describe how wonderful a book is)

MISERY is my first Stephen King book, and I came into it with a little trepidation, because I wasn’t sure what to expect. (Fun fact: I used to live about two hours away from where Stephen King lives in Bangor, Maine, and I’ve been to Bangor multiple times. To my knowledge, I never ran into him though, so that’s depressing. My new claim to fame, now that I’ve moved, is that I live approximately forty-five minutes away from Maggie Stiefvater.) 

The Plot. When Paul Sheldon’s legs are shattered in a terrible car accident, Annie Wilkes rescues him and gives him medical care. Unfortunately, Annie is Paul’s number one fan, and she is furious when she learns that Paul kills off her favorite character, Misery Chastain, in his latest novel. Soon Paul realizes he has only two options—write a new book bringing Misery back to life, or die horribly at the hands of the increasingly psychotic Annie. 

The Writing. Having never read any of Stephen King’s work before, I wasn’t sure exactly what his drawing power was, but now I understand why so many people love his books. From the tangible details to the well-rounded characters, his writing is hypnosis. Through some strange writing magic, he manages to create just the right balance of tension, suspense, and reality. In fact, I think the scariest thing about this story is the feeling that it could actually happen outside of fiction, or rather, that it has already happened. 

The Setting. I’m listing the setting before the human characters, because the setting is a character in and of itself. I felt like I too was trapped in Annie’s house, living through the horrors alongside Paul Sheldon. And I don’t typically get absorbed in a book’s setting quite like that. Normally I can get a good idea of the layout of a fictional world, but in this case, I could see all the rooms, the halls, the locked doors and the furniture, as well as all the surrounding landscape. I felt the horror of the place. Again, in keeping with how real the plot is, I almost felt like I could grab a map, hop in my car, and drive to visit Annie’s house to see for myself how it looks. 

Paul Sheldon. While I wouldn’t say that Paul is my favorite main character of ever, or that he would be a person I’d love to meet in real life, I think he’s perfect for the story. He is the most well-written writer I’ve encountered thus far—the most convincingly real fictional writer. Often I think authors romanticize their work when they write about writers, that they get carried away and overly idealistic. But I related to Sheldon on so many levels, it wasn’t even funny. And because I could connect, as a writer, with his own thoughts about writing and struggles with writing, I felt he was the perfect narrator. 

Annie. *checks closet* *checks entire apartment* *hides all sharp objects* I know she’s fictional. I know. I’m repeating that over and over from the back of the aforementioned closet, as I rock back and forth with my knees tucked to my chest, listening for the sounds of footsteps in the kitchen. But she feels so real, I kept half expecting to look up from my Kindle to find her staring down at me with an axe in her hand. 

Now, I love reading about characters with mental illnesses of all sorts, ranging from mild autism to psychopathy, but I would have to say Annie is my favorite one yet. Her disjointed, child-like and sadistic insanity is so well-written and so chaotically understandable, I found myself wishing she was a real person so I could interview/observe her and do up a whole psych profile on her. (All this with a lot of bullet proof glass and steel bars between us, naturally.) And if I haven’t managed to sell you on the idea of her yet, let me put it this way: She takes rabid fangirl to a WHOLE new level. 

Content Warning. I loved this book, and I would recommend it to anyone with a strong stomach who doesn’t mind strong language and mild sexual content. Again, I stress, if you are at all bothered by violence and disturbing elements, this is NOT the book for you (and there’s no shame in that). BUT, if you aren’t bothered by these things, then I will gladly shove MISERY in your face because IT IS SO GOOD. 

In Conclusion. I haven’t read anything quite like this before, and it surprised me in the way that I like to be surprised. I mean, come on, it’s a book about a guy writing for his life, for crying out loud. What’s not to love? I definitely plan to read more from Stephen King (although cautiously, because he’s so good at scaring me it scares me, and I don’t scare easy when it comes to books). I’m thinking of reading UNDER THE DOME next (along with ON WRITING and one of his co-written short story/novella things), but I would appreciate your recommendations if you happen to have a favorite Stephen King book. I feel like he’s written a small library, so it’s rather difficult to choose. 

What about you, my little coffee beans? Have you read MISERY? Have you seen the movie version? (I haven’t seen it yet, but I’d be curious to know if you think it’s any good.) Who is your favorite fictional writer? Who is your favorite fictional insane person? Also, if you're curious about my DIVERGENT discussion, I will be continuing that next week. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

How I Rate Books

When I started reviewing books on this blog, I spent a bit of time determining what each rating meant for me. To refresh your memory, here is what I came up with: 

One Star—Ick

Two Stars—Meh

Three Stars—Good

Four Stars—Great

Five Stars—ajklsdflk (when words fail to describe how wonderful a book is)

Along the way, I’ve given out a few half stars, but I don’t like including them in the scale, because I don’t like resorting to splitting the difference when I’m conflicted between ratings. Usually, when I’m that torn, it’s because I haven’t managed to dig out a certain defining thought from the back of my brain, and I end up regretting using a half star. (But I don’t judge you if you use half stars. My head is weird, that’s all.) 

While I’ve covered my rating system in the past, I haven’t talked much about how I rate books, and since this topic has been on my mind a lot, we’re going to discuss it today. 

The Quality of the Writing. This one is the most clear-cut for me, which is why I’ve decided to tackle it first. Now, of course, writing is subjective. A passage I consider particularly well-executed might seem clunky to another reader. That’s okay. But as I have my own private tastes and my own private set of guidelines for what makes for good writing, this will reflect on the ratings I give. In other words, I might give a story fewer stars if it has a great premise and a lot of heart but distractingly bad prose. 

The issue with using this as a guideline is that it is not infallible. I have read several books that were well-written, according to my standards, that I ended up giving low star ratings because they didn’t click with me, for whatever reason. It can be tempting to look at a book objectively and think, “Well the writing is good enough to deserve five stars, even though the story wasn’t my cup of coffee.” And I do take that into account, because I want my ratings to reflect on the quality of the writing. Yet I also know that there are people (even if only a handful) who pay attention to how I rate books because they share similar tastes, and I don’t want to mislead anybody into reading something I didn’t actually enjoy, no matter how good the writing. 

Truth/Honesty. One thing you may or may not have picked up on, if you’ve followed my blog for any amount of time, is the fact that I am almost obsessive about whether or not stories tell the truth about the world, or humanity, or whatever. (For example, on Monday I discussed my issues with the pretty lie at the end of Shakespeare’s THE WINTER’S TALE.) If a story is poorly-written and would warrant three stars on those grounds, but happens to tell the truth about something, no matter how unpleasant that truth might be, I am likely to at least consider giving it another star. 

Message. If I agree with a book’s message, I am obviously going to factor that in when I decide the rating. Even if I disagree, but I find the book is good food for thought, I may give more stars. And on the reverse side, if I disagree with what the book is saying (as with Socrates' stance on fiction in THE REPUBLIC), I am more likely to dock stars. 

Premise. If a book has a great premise that really draws me in and gets my imagination going, even if it is poorly-written, I am likely to be a little more favorable. For instance, BATTLE ROYALE isn’t particularly well-written (in my opinion), but the premise is to die for. That being said, I don’t usually end up giving books like BATTLE ROYALE five stars (see my initial point). 

Emotions. Not everyone responds to emotional stimuli in the same way, obviously, and a person’s emotional response to a story is not necessarily a reflection on the quality of the book itself. When I first read MOCKINGJAY right after it came out, I did not like it. I just wasn’t at a good place in my head, which meant I wasn't able to appreciate the series conclusion for what it was. If I had rated it then, I would have given it one or two stars and felt justified in doing so. However, when I did get around to rereading it last year, I found that I lovedllvedloved it, and I ended up giving it five stars. The tricky part about this is that it doesn’t feel fair to rate a book according to my feelings, since feelings aren’t the most reliable gauge of quality. But feelings are also important, as I have to remind myself. And it’s my rating, so I’m allowed to do what I like. If a book makes me feel something, that deserves recognition. Go book. 

Nostalgia. And finally, we come to the most unreliable part, which also happens to be my favorite. Outside factors are difficult to control. You could pick up a book you would love under ordinary circumstances, only to spend the entire time you read it trying to ignore your annoying sibling or your parents arguing or something equally unpleasant. This could taint your experience with the book, and thus your final opinion. Conversely, events could conspire to create an environment in which you fall head-over-heels for a book you would ordinarily have disliked. 

I have a lot of favorite books, as you probably know, and all of them have fond memories of some sort attached to them. Sometimes, when I reread them, I find they aren’t as well-written or as well-plotted or as well-executed as I remember. Sometimes I find I no longer agree with the ideologies presented. And sometimes this is even enough to bring the rating down a star or two, depending on the book. 

But here’s the thing, if I’ve fallen in love with a book, really truly fallen in love with a book, I hate taking its five-star badge away, even if I realize later on that it doesn’t quite merit that distinction. I have a self-destructive streak in me, a part of me that tries to rob me of the few things that bring me heaps of happiness. That is why, for several years, I would shelve books midway through even when I was really enjoying them. To deny that something has given me great happiness in favor of a more logical, objective approach is to rob myself of one more happy memory. 

When I love something, it’s only half involuntary. The other half of the time, I make the choice to love, because love is a choice. So when I have chosen to love a story, I will choose to love it despite its flaws unless something is able to convince me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that that story is no longer worthy of my love (this has not happened to me yet, but it has with many fans of THE MISTS OF AVALON, so you can never be too sure). This might mean I end up giving a higher star rating to a book that I wouldn’t necessarily rate the same way if I were reading it for the first time now. I think that’s okay. I think that’s my prerogative, to give dignity to my childhood self by valuing something the little girl in me valued. 

Does this mean my ratings are subjective? Yes, of course it does. All ratings are subjective. Does this mean people won’t always like the books I give five stars, even though they typically like what I like? Sure. I can’t please everyone. I shouldn’t try. Does this mean my ratings are set in stone? No. I allow myself to go back and lower or raise ratings if my thoughts change over time. But after much consideration, I have realized that letting myself rate a book what I want to rate it is the most honest option in this situation, regardless of anything else. So that is what I will continue to do. 

What about you, my little coffee beans? What is your rating system? What factors determine how you rate a book? Have you reread a childhood book, only to find you don't love it anymore? 

Monday, August 15, 2016

DIVERGENT // Discussion

WARNING: There will be spoilers. 

Rating: Five Stars—ajklsdflk (when words fail to describe how wonderful a book is)

At long last, after hinting about doing this for the past few months, I am finally beginning to discuss the DIVERGENT trilogy. Please hold the applause. 

While this was my fourth time reading DIVERGENT, I feel it’s important to talk about the first time I read this book. I read DIVERGENT in 2013, shortly after ALLEGIANT came out (though I didn’t get a chance to read INSURGENT and ALLEGIANT until late 2014). Now, in 2013 I was an avid reader, but most of the books I read had already been out for several years, so I wasn’t up to date with the popular trends in YA literature. 

When I first sat down to read DIVERGENT, I was in a bad mood. On top of that, I had to read the book on my sister’s iPad, and reading on that screen made my eyes hurt. But I really wanted to read it, because the cover was pretty (yes, I am a crow and I like shiny things), and the hype had made me curious. Also, sister-mine had liked it, and I trust her judgment. However, because I was feeling contrary, and because I had read a short review that said DIVERGENT wasn’t very good, I grumpily decided that, while I was going to read DIVERGENT, I was going to look for all the reasons I should hate it. 

*cracks knuckles* *whips out red pen* 

And, sure enough, I wasn’t hugely impressed by the writing in the first few chapters. Yep, I admit it. I see your eyes traveling up to the rating; I see you checking to see if you read it right the first time. Don’t worry, it says five stars. I’m getting there. 

Like I said, I didn’t think the first few chapters were well-written. I found some of the repetition of information annoying, I found the build-up to be slow, and I found a couple passages that seemed like info dumps. On top of that, the overall writing was a bit choppy. 

This warmed my evil little heart. In my first sitting, in which I had read thirty pages or so, I had successfully determined that it was a sub par book. (I will admit, I was also going through a stage where I felt very insecure in my writing. I hadn’t succeeded in finishing a workable rough draft yet, much less an edited novel, and I was desperate to see myself as a good writer. At this point in my life, that took the direction of putting down all published authors so I could feel better about myself. No, I am not proud of pre-November 2013 me.) 

I even spent a good half an hour talking to my mom about all the faults I had found in the first thirty pages, mistakes I would never make. *rolls eyes* I even considered DNFing it out of spite, even though, hello, it hadn’t done anything to hurt me and I was being a butt. 

But then, the next day, I read a couple more pages because I was still strangely drawn to the book. I didn’t get a chance to read much because we were driving to my cousins’ house (one of my favorite places on earth), and it was a four-hour trip. (I usually can’t read while riding in a car, especially not ebooks.) Instead, I had packed other books and had planned to focus on those over my vacation. But then THE ENTIRE DRIVE I could not stop thinking about DIVERGENT. I even pulled it out and made myself car sick trying, unsuccessfully, to read a few pages. The closer we got to my cousin’s house, the more excited I got to just hole up somewhere and eat that book. 

And here’s the part where my lack of experience with popular YA comes into play. Back then, I wasn’t as familiar with the popular tropes because I read a wide range of things, but mostly older books and classics and middle grade and adult. While my obsession with owning books in general started with getting a copy of THE HUNGER GAMES, my obsession with reading YA and owning YA started with DIVERGENT. 

There, I said it. You have it in writing. Clearly I am not a real reader. 

(Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I’ve seen such an attitude against people who get started reading because of THE HUNGER GAMES and TWILIGHT and DIVERGENT. But you know what, whatever gets you obsessed gets you obsessed. I was already a reader before, of course, but I wasn’t the same reader, and DIVERGENT changed that. I will give credit where credit is due, even if it means pretentious people judge me.) 

Moving on. 

I honestly did not know what faction Tris was going to choose. Looking back, I realize it should have been obvious. I’d even seen the previews for the movie, though I hadn’t paid close attention to them. But it shocked me when Tris dropped her blood on the coals. Blew my mind. And I like getting my mind blown. I hadn’t had my mind blown like that since the cliffhanger ending in CATCHING FIRE. 

To be completely honest, I predicted nothing in that book. Looking back, I laugh my head off because so many books are so predictable and I cherish the times when a book surprises me. I don’t think 2016 me would be surprised by many of the major events in DIVERGENT, simply because I have had much more experience. 

Here’s the thing though. I read that book so quickly. I ate it up and surprised myself in doing so because this was during a time when I had difficulty prioritizing and finishing books. I had a bad habit of starting a book, reading fifty or a hundred pages in one sitting, and then starting another book until I had seventeen or more going. And then I would get discouraged, shelve all the books, and start new ones. So the fact that I read DIVERGENT in roughly a week is saying something. I even braved the car sickness and finished it on the ride home. 

I felt everything, during a time when I wasn’t feeling much. The ferris wheel scene and the zipline scene made me feel alive. In fact, I fell in love with Dauntless as a faction because of those scenes. (Fun fact: Those scenes weren’t in the book when Veronica sold it. During revisions, her editor suggested she include scenes like those to remind the reader why Tris loves Dauntless enough to stay, which worked for me brilliantly. You can read more about it here.) 

As violent as it makes me sound, I loved the scene where Tris destroys Molly and the scene where Edward gets stabbed in the eye with a butterknife, because I loved what they say about Tris’ character and the people she’s up against. I fell in love with the enigma that is Four. I felt for Tris as I saw the damage that had been done by her faction in stressing one virtue (in this case, selflessness) to the exclusion of all others—because we require balance, which I realized as I saw Tris learning about the very virtue she had supposedly turned her back on by choosing a faction that favored another virtue (bravery). The pacing was killer. I never wanted to set it down. I kept thinking, “one more chapter, one more chapter” and I normally have a lot of self control when it comes to books. To this day I sometimes get distracted and set them down mid-sentence, even when I’m really absorbed. For me to get sucked in, to the exclusion of all else, is a miraculous feat. 

Having read it another three times since, I still see all the little faults. The sentence structure tends toward choppiness; the writing is a bit too spare for my taste and relies too heavily on passive tense; information sometimes gets repeated too much. Etc… I see where it would be probably a little predictable (though not in a bad way—it just wouldn’t blow my socks off now). If I had read this for the first time last month, I probably wouldn’t have been able to overlook these things as easily, maybe because I am pettier now, maybe just because I am far more familiar with YA as a whole and it's getting harder to wow me. But the fact that the story made me forget the issues I did see and love it despite its flaws speaks volumes. 

So here’s the thing. I feel this pressure to revise my rating, to deny my deep love for this book because it is popular to hate on it, at least in the circles that I have run against far too often. I am not saying that if you hate it, you are a bad person. Obviously you have good reasons for your negative opinion, just as I have good reasons for my positive opinion. I’m more addressing the slightly snobbish attitude that keeps popping up in reviews, the idea that those who love DIVERGENT have poor taste or are stupid. I’ve seen the same attitude, even more magnified, aimed at people who love TWILIGHT, almost like it’s some secret, bookish community test. “Oh, look at the n00b. You love TWILIGHT? You love DIVERGENT? Clearly you have no taste and don’t know this genre and are just pretending to be a reader. Those are probably the only book titles you know. Real readers don’t give books like DIVERGENT five stars. Blah blah blah.” 

A lot of these people are trolls, and their opinion shouldn’t matter, shouldn’t affect me. But sometimes it does anyway. 

Maybe you have not encountered these attitudes. Maybe you couldn’t care less. I know I care far too much about how other people see me, and that frustrates me. DIVERGENT managed to overcome my desire to hate it. It made me fall in love against my will. Yes, I see more of its faults now. But I am still the person who read that book, even if I have had more experience since. And I’m tired of trying to convince myself to see DIVERGENT as sub-quality literature because a bunch of people have tried to use peer pressure to change my positive experiences into negative ones. (Goodness, I sound paranoid here. I promise I’m not paranoid. Is that a camera?) 

In two weeks, I’m going to be talking about INSURGENT (and DIVERGENT a bit more), because I do want to spend time discussing the stories themselves. I just felt it was important to talk about this, because it was a phenomenal reading experience for me, and the idea that I will get judged for that makes me want to stick a butterknife in my eye (but, not my eye, if you know what I mean). 

So here is a list of things to keep in mind, for your sake as well as mine:  

You are allowed to love a book, no matter how hyped or over-hyped it might be. 

You are allowed to love a book, no matter how popular it might be to hate it. 

You are allowed to love a book, even if you also see its flaws. 

You are allowed to love a book, even if loving it makes you look like the new kid on the block. 

You are allowed to love a book, even if loving it makes more pretentious readers turn  up their noses at you. 

You are allowed to love the books you love, and you are not even required to give a good reason. Other people don’t get to determine whether or not your love for a book is valid. 

That is all. 

What about you, my little coffee beans? Have you read DIVERGENT? What were your thoughts about it? And if you’re curious about my short-term reviewing schedule, next Monday I will be reviewing MISERY by Stephen King, followed by more DIVERGENT discussion the Monday after that.