August Wrap-Up

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

This month's wrap-up brought to you an entire day early! I'm ahead of the game for once. This is everything I read in August. I also hit my yearlong reading goal of 50 books this month, so I'm doing much better this year than I expected!


1. This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
4.5/5
Genre: Action/suspense, YA, fantasy/sci-fi...?
Goodreads link

2. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany
3.5/5
Genre: Play script, fantasy
Goodreads link

3. Lumberjanes, Volume 2: Friendship to the Max by Noelle Stevenson
3.5/5
Genre: Graphic novel, fantasy
Goodreads link

4. The Wide Window (Series of Unfortunate Events, #3) by Lemony Snicket
[childhood reread]
3/5
Genre: Middle-grade fiction
Goodreads link

5. The Big Thing by Phyllis Korkki
2.5/5
Genre: Self-help, creativity, inspiration
Goodreads link

6. A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
5/5
Genre: Fantasy
Goodreads link

7. Lowcountry Stranger by Ashley Farley
3.5/5
Genre: Fiction, women's fiction
Goodreads link


Things I Plan to Read or Finish in September:
1. Natchez Burning by Greg Iles
2. Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
3. Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder
4. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
5. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

I'm keeping the list a bit shorter because I know I'll also have lots of assigned reading for the new semester as well!

What Else Am I Up To?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Annie's Life Update

Lots of things have been changing and happening in my life lately, so I've decided to create this one short post to update anyone who's interested in hearing about my life at the present.

This Saturday I move into a brand new apartment in a totally new area. Last year I lived in a (pretty crappy) apartment right off of the West Bank campus. While that was cool and all, this year I'll be living in Dinkytown, in much closer proximity to food, entertainment, classes, and my lovely friends. My new apartment building is the Venue, which is located directly across the street from the world's first TargetExpress. [my heart weeps with joy whenever I think about that] I'll be sharing the apartment with 3 super-fly roommates, all of our stuff, and probably a fish [fish in progress].


One block away from my new apartment is the Book House, where I was recently hired and started training a few weeks ago. Starting this semester, I'll officially be working there a few days a week doing all sorts of amazing stuff where I get to sort/sell/clean/organize/stare at books. Dreams do come true, people.

Most of you probably already know that I've had an online writing internship with Odyssey since the very beginning of this year. But there's new exciting news! A couple of weeks ago I was selected as one of two new Contributing Editors for our University of Minnesota branch of Odyssey! I'll still be writing an article every week [don't panic!] but I'll also now be responsible for editing a portion of our articles every week, as well as helping to make plans and progress our group so that it gets even more awesome. I'm super jazzed about this new chance to improve my skills and help our team.

In the past few months I've also taken on some other freelance positions: transcribing and editing podcasts, writing articles for local neighborhood magazines, and reviewing books on my blog.

My fall semester starts in ~12~ days [the summer went way too fast] and as much as I always dread homework and tests and junk like that, I'm really excited to be back on campus every day, seeing my friends, doing fun stuff, and living the dream. Plus my classes this semester are totally kick ass, at
least in my opinion.





Other exciting things(!): UMN football is back next week and I'm super ready to break out my season tickets, FALL IS COMING. I got a new tattoo, and I have two family vacations coming up this winter!







Quick Stats:

Number of classes this semester: 5
Those classes are:
*Editing, Critique and Style
*Intermediate Poetry Writing
*American Novel after 1900
*Sci-fi and Fantasy Lit
*Ivory Tower (a full-year course that creates its own literary magazine, including editing, publishing and marketing aspects)

Total number of required class books [I just counted]: 29
Total number of hours in class each week: approximately 15
Number of semesters left: [If all goes according to plan] 3 + a summer abroad



Book Review: Lowcountry Stranger

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Lowcountry Stranger by Ashley Farley

3.5/5
Genre: Fiction, Women's Fiction, Drama/Family

From the publisher: There's a stranger in town. And it’s no coincidence when she shows up uninvited at a Sweeney family wedding. All eyes are drawn to this urchin who seems to have washed in with the tide. Before the night is over, the doe-eyed waif charms young and old with her street smarts and spunky personality. For better or worse, Annie Dawn is here to stay.
The memorable Sweeney sisters from Her Sister’s Shoes have returned with more suspense and family drama to hold you spellbound until the dramatic conclusion. As she approaches the next stage of her life as an empty-nester, Jackie is torn between expanding her fledgling design business and spending these last precious months with her boys before they fly the coop. Her own worst enemy, Sam is terrified of making a commitment to Eli Marshall, handsome police officer, true love of her life. Her resolve is tested when a ghost from her past shows up after nearly two decades. Faith nurtures her seven-year- old daughter who is recovering from the trauma of her abusive father. Is the threat in the past, or is there more danger on the horizon? The sisters seek guidance from their mother, Lovie, a true Southern matriarch who shows them how to respond to adversity with grace and dignity.
Things are heating up in the Lowcountry. The Sweeney sisters remind us, once again, that being a part of a family is about more than sharing the same DNA.

....................................................................................................................................

Technically, this book is a sequel to Her Sister's Shoes, which was released last summer. Though I was offered a digital copy of that book in addition to this one, I declined, knowing I probably wouldn't have enough time to read both before this review date. I was assured, however, that it wasn't necessary to read the first book before reading this one, and for the most part I think that was true. I'd definitely recommend that anyone interested in this book pick up Her Sister's Shoes first, because I imagine that that debut book gives a much richer background to the characters than we get in this sequel. However, this book does do a great job of recapping the various very dramatic-sounding events of the previous novel. Still, I plan to get the first book soon and do a backwards reading of the series.

I liked a lot of things about this book. The characters are well-established, and by the end of the novel prove to be a truly amazing team and family. It's clear that Farley has no trouble writing strong, independent female role models, as this book is full of them. Even so, they're also characters with plenty of flaws and dark pasts, which makes them all the more realistic. I also truly enjoyed the other characters in the story--the various children, spouses, and family friends. I absolutely love the character of Moses, the huge, ex-football star-turned family therapist who provides so much support and guidance for every character. I honestly wish I had him around to be my personal therapist and life-guide.

While the story starts off at a more leisurely pace, it builds to quite a gripping and dramatic climax. There were a few predictable aspects of this story for me, but some of the more shocking revelations and moments were definitely surprising, and I felt a genuine sense of happiness at the conclusion of the novel. I wasn't as attached to the characters as I believe I would've been if I'd read the first book, but I still hoped for their happiness and read with held breath to see what the outcome would be.

My main complaint about this book deals with the dialogue, which I felt at times was stiff or unrealistic. This is definitely a personal opinion, as each reader prefers to read dialogue in their own way. But I'm someone who prefers and connects to fluid dialogue that uses contractions and seems to match the character it belongs to. In this book, which was very dialogue-heavy, there was too much "you are" and "she is" versus "you're" and "she's" for me. That style of writing (which could also very well be a reflection of the characters' dialects) feels a little more forced to me, and I never feel reflects the way people really tend to talk.

Considering that that's my biggest complaint, this book definitely doesn't have anything to apologize for. It's a truly sweet, touching and charming story about a close-knit Southern family with a ton of love and challenges to go through. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and it was definitely easy to get through at a quick pace.



Find Ashley Farley's author website, Twitter and Facebook at these links.
Get a copy of the book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, or iTunes. Add it on Goodreads too!

Check out the rest of the blog tour here!
P.S. The author of this book is hosting a giveaway for a $50 Amazon gift card here! Check it out and enter!

If You Liked [This] Book, Try [This] One

Thursday, August 18, 2016

I've always wanted to try one of these posts, and here it is! These are my recommendations of what you should try reading next based on some very popular books you may have already and read and enjoyed. In my opinion, if you liked one (particularly for the reasons listed), you might enjoy the other. Give them and try and let me know what you think!



If you liked Water for Elephants, try The Museum of Extraordinary Things 
Similarities: Rich historical basis, mystery and intrigue, heartbreaking moments, people and animals on display, surges of hope

Differences: romantic relationships vs. family/friend relationships, elephants vs. mermaids








If you liked Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, try I Was Told There'd Be Cake
Similarities: True stories, hilarious mishaps, perspectives of successful women

Differences: Memoir vs. essay collection, differing family/ethnic backgrounds









If you liked The Maze Runner, try Alive
Similarities: kids thrown into bizarre situations, teamwork and tension, shifting leadership roles, monsters and mystery

Differences: Maze vs. endless corridors, awakening in elevators vs. coffins








If you liked Divergent, try This Savage Song
Similarities: Divided societies, urban setting, systems of power, young protagonists, good vs. evil, internal struggle

Differences: internal demons vs. real-ass monsters, divided by values vs. divided by families/power








If you liked The Girl on the Train, try Shutter Island
Similarities: Mental health recognition, tons of suspense, unexpected twists, psychological mind games

Differences: 1950s East Coast vs. Modern Day England, male protagonist vs. female protagonist








If you liked Me Before You, try Where Things Come Back
Similarities: Growing up, finding yourself, examining relationships, drama, emotionally wrenching

Differences: Romance vs. family relationships, adult vs. teen characters









If you liked Pride and Prejudice, try Daddy-Long-Legs
Similarities: Strong female protagonist, female friendships, unexpected romance, humor and lightheartedness, examination of people

Differences: Time period and setting, college education vs. at-home education








If you liked Gone Girl, try Silence of the Lambs
Similarities: Aspects of horror, psychologically deep, cat and mouse, thrilling and forceful, violent

Differences: Husband and wife vs. killer and detective, creating a mystery vs. solving a mystery









If you liked the Harry Potter series, try the Poison Study series
Similarities: Magic, poison, blossoming romance, epic fighting, taking back the power, amazing female characters

Differences: Intended for young readers vs. adult-oriented, enchanted castle vs. foreboding palace







If you liked The Hunger Games, try Birthmarked
Similarities: Girl power, far-future societies, changing power dynamics, fighting for justice, questioning authority

Differences: Hunter vs. midwife, poor vs. privileged










Book Review: The Big Thing

The Big Thing by Phyllis Korkki

My Rating: 2.5/5
My Estimated Rating for someone who actually has a Big Thing in the works: 4/5

Genre: Nonfiction, Self-Help, Creativity, Inspiration

From the publisher: New York Times business journalist explains why it’s important for people to pursue big creative projects, and identifies both the obstacles and the productive habits that emerge on the path to completion—including her own experience writing this book.
Whether it’s the Great American Novel or a groundbreaking new app, many people want to create a Big Thing, but finding the motivation to get started, let alone complete the work, can be daunting. In The Big Thing, New York Times business writer and editor Phyllis Korkki combines real-life stories, science, and insights from her own experience to illuminate the factors that drive people to complete big creative projects—and the obstacles that threaten to derail success.


"On the other hand, the twisted path can be quite complex and beautiful in its way, and more so for not being so simple and straightforward."

Let me start by saying that I actually see a lot of good in this book. While my personal rating of it is relatively low, I do see why so many people are already loving it. However, for me, I think this wasn't the right or necessary time to read this book. While I do have a vague fantasy of writing my own novel someday, I'm still young and more focused on a balanced day-to-day life than cracking down to write the next Great American Novel. I do think I'll hold onto this book, though, as I can see myself later in life appreciating it so much more as I actually look realistically at the possibility of my own Big Thing, whatever it may be. 

In this book it is incredibly clear that Korkki did extensive research and interviewing during the writing process. I was consistently impressed at the amount of information included, as well as her willingness to try any advice she received from experts. As an estimate, I'd say about 30% of this book is Korkki reflecting on her own experiences, 60% is her interviewing people and discussing their multitude of diverse outside experiences, and a mere 10% is her talking about what YOU should do. Keep that in mind as you pick it up. If you're someone who thrives on being informed and inspired by the experiences of others, this is absolutely a perfect book for you. A huge majority of the book is dedicated to 2-8 page long interviews/mini-biographies of people who range widely from rich and famous to poor and modest, and both living and dead. These people are artists, writers, entrepreneurs, housewives, aging drug addicts, long-dead cultural icons, and so on. Some of these mini-stories fascinated me; some dragged on or felt far-removed from the overall point.

I will say, this book would be very easy to skim. There were certainly portions even for me that I speed-read through or glazed over. In other parts, I was riveted, underlining passages and making notes in the margins. And I think that variation is okay. This book is separated into larger overarching topics, including things like physical studies on sleep, breathing and wellness, as well as more typical topics like loving your work and building piece by piece. Every reader will relate to some concepts more than others, and that's alright. The parts I found interesting in this book could easily be the opposite for another reader. I read this primarily to gain some insights, and I certainly did. However, I do still think I'll receive it better at another point in my life. 

If you have a Big Thing in progress, or an idea waiting in the back of you mind, I highly recommend this book as the next step in teaching and inspiring you towards your goal.

I received this book through TLC Book Tours and I'm a part of the blog tour for this book! Check out the full tour here to see some other great opinions from other bloggers. 

Book Links for Amazon, B & N, Goodreads and HarperCollins
Author Twitter page

What It's Like to be a Thrill-Seeker with Anxiety

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

This was originally an article I wrote for Odyssey, but I wanted to share it here as well, for those who never saw it originally.
What It's Like to be a Thrill-Seeker with Anxiety
About a year ago, I went skydiving for the second time. Rather than feeling the understandable fear and apprehension that comes with jumping out of a moving airplane, I felt rather relaxed and peaceful, looking down over the rolling green landscape and anticipating the freeing moments of falling. Even the first time I'd done it, I never felt panicked or filled with dread. Certainly I felt a bit nervous, but the real fear part never actually hit me. I trusted the system and the experience not to let me down.
Several months earlier, you could have found me jumping off of cliffs into cold, dark water with my cousins, as we'd done the past several years. I'll ride any roller coaster, go whitewater rafting or zip-lining, boulder over steep rocks or rappel off of towers. Someday, I'd love to cage dive with sharks, scuba dive in the Great Barrier Reef or hang over the edge of Victoria Falls in Devil's Pool.
Heights and speed don't bother me, and thrills are something I seek out, rather than avoid.
But I also struggle with day-to-day anxiety. I am someone who looks at a thrilling experience as nothing but exhilarating, but fear things most people never even consider.
As a result of a previous accident, I often panic as a passenger in a car. I feel anxious in small spaces or large crowds, interacting with large groups of strangers, and when I consider the thought that the people I care about may not care about me in return. My anxiety causes me to have bouts of inexplicable sadness, and sometimes makes me feel as though I've lost control of my own emotions or that I'll drive people away. I get intensely paranoid about things I know full-well are completely unrealistic, and sometimes lose sleep considering terrible what-ifs.
Anxiety is a personal experience. It can't be generalized or standardized among the thousands of people that have it. You can't look at me and say: "Everything makes you anxious or afraid," because that's so far from the truth. And just looking at me, you probably wouldn't have a clue what anxieties and thoughts may be running through my mind, but they're there nonetheless.
I never feel fully comfortable talking about my anxiety or trying to explain it, because in many ways, anxiety doesn't make sense. It's a spectrum, and it can vary hugely from person to person. There's also a sense of discomfort that seems to come when you say that you have anxiety. People still aren't sure exactly how to deal with it, what they can do to help and what might just make things worse.
Once again, this is impossible to pinpoint, as it can be different for every person. But I will say this: My anxiety doesn't make me fragile and breakable. My fears and emotions may not always make sense to you, or even to me–however, I'm trying to let them just be a part of my life, rather than completely command me, and hopefully one day they may be gone altogether. But in the meantime, I can still remind myself that fear won't always control me. Not as long as I'm watching sharks swim below me, zip-lining across a canyon, or jumping out of an airplane.

Book Review: Nimona

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

5/5

I'm so glad I picked this up at the library and finally got around to it. This was one of the best graphic novels I've read this year, and possibly ever. It was so fun, fleshed out, and unique. The book is a classic hero vs. villain story, with a lot of very original twists. First, the story's protagonists are the "villains" rather than the hero, who actually plays a secondary role. It also doesn't shy away from the unexpected, and includes plenty of death and destruction. That being said, it's funny and lighthearted as well.

This graphic novel opens on a notorious villain named Ballister Blackheart, who has a visitor named Nimona, a young spunky woman who adamantly wants to be his sidekick. She's a shapeshifter, which he decides will be beneficial to have around. Plus, after a while she grows on him and they become both partners and friends. The banter between the two of them is SO funny. It had me chuckling and laughing out loud very often. There's a page somewhere in the second half with a comment about churros that I still laugh about when it comes to mind.

Together, Nimona and Ballister devise a plan to get back at the Institution, an organization that claims to be peaceful, but has some nefarious secret motives. Throughout the story, they transition from villain to hero, and back again, as plenty of drama and action follows them wherever they go.

The art is simple, but it's also colorful and lovely. Stevenson does a great job of depicting action through her drawings, and the chance to visually see all of Nimona's transformations is a very effective use of the graphic novel format.

One of my favorite things about this novel was that it actually had depth and character development. A problem I encounter in a lot of graphic novels is that they're entirely surface level, with very little deeper meaning or character evolution. This book completely abandoned that normal format, and managed to surprise me often with its depth and risk-taking. The second half of this book goes in an entirely unexpected direction, which was a far cry from some of the more predictable graphic novels I've read in the past. I was thoroughly impressed by the characters and their individual development throughout the book.

All in all, this was an excellent addition to the graphic novel genre, and deserves a place among the best. Highly recommended.

Cover: 3.5/5
Shapeshifting: 5/5
Humor: 4.5/5

Pages: 272


July Wrap-Up

Monday, August 1, 2016

Right on time this month, here is my July reading wrap-up. I did pretty good this month, and I hope to do even better in August! I have a couple of books sent for review that I have to read for sure this month, as well as some others that I've started and want to finally finish! Stay tuned for August's wrap-up and check out some of these awesome books in the meantime!

1. My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows
4.5/5
Genre: YA historical fiction/humor/romance/adventure
Goodreads link

2. The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
[reread]
5/5
Genre: Middle-grade fiction
Goodreads link

3. Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
[audiobook]
4.5/5
Genre: Suspense/thriller/mystery
Goodreads link

4. Lumberjanes, Volume 1: Beware the Kitten Holy by Noelle Stevenson
Art: 4.5/5
Story: 3.5/5
Genre: Comic/Graphic novel
Goodreads link

5. The Girl with All the Gifts
4/5
Genre: thriller/dystopia/horror/drama
Goodreads link

6. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
5/5
Genre: Fantasy/adventure graphic novel
Goodreads link

7. Fairest by Marissa Meyer
4/5
Genre: YA Sci-Fi/Drama/Prequel
Goodreads link


What I Plan to Read or Finish in August (some of these carry over from last month!):
1. This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
2, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling and Jack Thorne
3. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
4. A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
5. Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
6. Lumberjanes, Volume 2 by Noelle Stevenson
7. The Big Thing by Phyllis Korkki
8. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K Rowling
9. The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma
10. Natchez Burning by Greg Iles
 
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