Amber Morrell

writer, reader, librarian

Month: January 2016 (Page 2 of 2)

REVIEW: QUEEN OF SHADOWS by Sarah J. Maas

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QUEEN OF SHADOWS by Sarah J. Maas
Release Date: Sep 1, 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Format: Purchased
Purchase: Amazon

I recently finished Queen of Shadows and I wanted to share some thoughts on it. I read the first three books at the beginning of 2015 and I fell in love with them, even though some aspects of them were problematic, and I eagerly awaited the release of Queen of Shadows. Of course between school and life I wasn’t able to finish it until recently even though it was released several months ago–and for many reasons, I was ultimately underwhelmed. I know that Queen of Shadows is a few months old at this point and that it’s already been reviewed to death, but I wanted to share some of my thoughts on it.

My first issue is more with Maas’ plotting technique. I think she does a great job keeping readers in suspense by hiding information that the characters know but don’t divulge. This is what made learning Celaena/Aelin’s secrets so fun, because even though we were in her head, we didn’t know the whole story. She creates really complex strategies and plans for the characters in this novel, and I love how cunning they are when they try to figure out how to solve their problems. BUT. Everything always works out for them without a hitch. Even in situations where they are going against all odds, where failure seems certain, they succeed–and they don’t just succeed, but they do it with minimal losses and setbacks. I found myself rolling my eyes whenever characters talked about how they couldn’t believe this plan or that really worked, or when they were being all angsty about the possibility that they would die, because their plans ALWAYS work out. I wish Maas would throw a wrench in things every once in a while to make things interesting. And while she does have some interesting plot twists, everything just fits together much too simply.

That was my biggest problem with the book. My second issue is the direction Rowan and Aelin’s relationship goes in this novel. One of the things I loved about the two of them in Heir of Fire was that they counted on each other and trusted each other wholly and completely, but it didn’t need to be romantic to be such a deep bond. Well, all that character building goes up in flames in this novel, because the two of them finally take the plunge. And it’s… cringey. Maas tries to make it sexy, but it’s just awkward.

Now, all of these problems together would have made this a two star book, if it weren’t for… the WITCHES. Manon Blackbeak is by far the best part of the novel. She develops as a character more than any of the other characters do, and her development is awesome. Every time I reached a Manon or Elide chapter I got excited; yes, even Elide, the new character, who at first made me groan because I thought it was going to be another boring, dumb Sorscha, is totally awesome. There’s a point in the novel where Asterin, Manon’s second, divulges a dark secret to Manon, and I CRIED. Another moment of note was when Manon and Aelin have the best most epic and badass fight scene of the entire series. It was probably my favorite part of this book.

I love the witches so much, and they are the whole reason this book has three stars. If it weren’t for the witches, I probably wouldn’t continue reading this series. I mean, I do want to find out how it all ties together, but… mostly I just want more witch action.

three-star

New Year’s Resolutions

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2015 was a very successful year for me. I set out with somewhat low expectations. At the beginning of the year, my local writer’s group created a shared document of each of our goals. My goals were “read more books” and “finish my novel”–not very specific, and also not very ambitious. But what I did this year far surpassed those modest resolutions. I read 37 books this year and, though I still haven’t finished the manuscript I initially referred to, I completed the first draft of a middle grade novel during NaNoWriMo. I also moved twice, went back to school and got good grades, got a new and better job, started a blog, and made many good friends along the way. 2015 challenged me and impressed me in ways I didn’t expect. And I’m ready for 2016 to do the same.

My goals for 2016 are much more ambitious. Because of that, it’s very possible that I will end this year in failure. But I think it’s that chance of failure, and the drive to complete even the most arbitrary goals, that will really push me this year. 2015 showed me, for the first time, that I can believe in myself. And though reaching my goals for 2016 will be tough, I believe I can do it.

So, without further ado, here are my 2016 New Years Resolutions:

Finish it. No, really finish it.

This past NaNoWriMo was a landmark year for me because it’s the first year where I was able to type THE END. My story was completely contained within those 50,000 words, and for the very first time I could i say I had a DRAFT. Maybe not a first draft, maybe not even a zero draft, but a draft in some iteration nonetheless. I put it down for about a week before I realized, however, that this was merely the beginning. The tip of the iceberg. Writing that draft was like pregnancy. It sucked and I snacked way too much and I just couldn’t wait for it to be over, but at the end it didn’t really end because it was really just the beginning. I gave birth to a slimy, rough-around-the-edges blob of something, but now I have to turn it into an actual functioning and breathing thing.

I gave my draft a read through, and realized that much of what I wrote in Novemeber needs to be completely reworked–especially my tacked-on-the-end, 8k-in-one-day ending. Only the first act–the first 10,000 words or so–is being kept more or less in tact plot-wise. But November wasn’t a waste, because all that brain fodder I barfed out during those thirty days helped me to refine my story, my characters, and the heart of why I wanted to write this novel in the first place. Now I just need to make that heart shine through.

And so, my first goal of 2016 is to really, really finish it. Rewrite it. Edit it. Polish it. Get it to beta readers. A process I’ve never done before, a process that terrifies me, but one that I know will make me grow as a writer. My tentative timeline for this goal is to have the rewriting finished by the end of January, and then move on to the next round of editing. I’d like to have it ready for beta readers by March 1st. (I need deadlines because, without them, I really won’t get anything done. That’s why NaNo is so great.)

Read 50 books–and write about them!

In 2015 I read 37 books, and I was able to count a few of my school books toward that total (I didn’t count textbooks or shorter works from anthologies, because it feels like cheating). 50 is quite a jump from last year’s number, but as long as I don’t read any more Outlander novels I think I’ll be okay. Not to mention my classes this semester will focus on a lot more novels than last semester. I’m taking a YA lit class and a 19th century lit class with a focus on longer works, plus a Shakespeare class. The amount of reading honestly terrifies me, especially because I’m taking five English classes at once, and I’m fairly certain you’ll find me halfway through the semester collapsed under a pile of books a la Sciezka from Fullmetal Alchemist. But, one of the things I learned in 2015 is that reading is absolutely essential to writing–and so I will do as much reading as I can, whenever I have the chance to.

I’ve also found, however, that just reading them is not enough. If I want to really absorb a text, I have to engage with it. Which means at the very least I need to write about it. I need to critically synthesize what I think about it and share those thoughts with others. Hell, maybe even have a discussion with someone about it! But short of that, I want to write about every book I read. It doesn’t have to be a fully-fleshed out commercial review (especially because a lot of the books I’m reading are older, so writing a huge review seems kind of pointless). But I want to at least write a few paragraphs of my thoughts for each book. I will post likely post all of those on Goodreads, but it would be nice to post maybe a monthly roundup of what I read on this blog too.

Move on and move forward.

One thing I have a problem with is that I constantly feel like I suffer from impostor syndrome. I want to be a writer, but I always have a nagging self-doubt. I’m no good. I don’t write enough. I never finish. It will never sell. But I need to constantly remind myself (and really, this is a reminder for everyone that wants to be a writer): every writer started here. No one was born clutching a fully-idealized manuscript in their tiny, bloody fingers. Every writer started by typing words that were no good and made no sense. Every writer backspaced and hit their head against the keyboard and thought they weren’t good enough. But the writers that we admire–the ones that got published, the ones that were successful, or the ones that weren’t that successful but we read their book anyway and we absolutely loved it and we wished they were more successful than they are–they are the ones that were like us but didn’t quit. They were the amateurs that kept going. And even if they didn’t write every day, or if they didn’t write for months, they still picked the pen back up again and started anew. This is something I have to constantly remind myself–that I’ll never get there if I don’t keep going, so I have to keep going.

To translate this to an achievable goal–after I accomplish my first goal of completing the revision process of my current manuscript, I want to move on to the next one. Maybe I’ll go back to a manuscript I’ve abandoned, or maybe I’ll start with an entirely new concept, who knows. But I want to have some sort of draft with a THE END at the bottom by the end of the year. Maybe it’ll happen during NaNo, maybe before then. But I need to have the ability to completely a project and then pick up the next if I’m ever going to accomplish my goals.

Networking

This is probably the goal that I dread the most, because it’s a well known fact that I hate people (just kidding. kind of.). But I actually really enjoy talking to people, online or in person, about books and other nerdy writer-ly things. That’s why I love being an English major so much. This year, I want to network more with other writer-ly bookish people. In order to do that, I’ll be attending AWP this Spring. It’s coming to Los Angeles, which is close enough to justify going. I think it will be an interesting insight into the world of the MFA as well. I’m not terribly interested in getting an MFA, but it will be an experience nonetheless.

Secondly, I’d like to get to know more bloggers as well. I don’t know that I consider myself a “book blogger” in the way the book blogging community uses the term. I talk about books, and I gave my blog a cute bookish name, but this is also my personal blog and website. I’m going to be talking about books of course, but also writing and my own personal and professional development as a writer. I don’t necessarily want to have author interviews or book tours or what have you. But it would be nice to be more involved in the community. This is a very loose goal, but I think I can accomplish this by reading other blogs, making comments, and interacting more with bloggers on Twitter.

Graduate. Finally.

Second-to-last but absolutely definitely not least, and assuming all goes well, I will graduate with my BA in English in December! This is a huge milestone for me. I’ve been in and out of school over the past five years, and going back to finish my degree this past fall was a huge commitment. It’s not easy to work part time, be a full-time student, be a mother, and still read and write. I am very privileged to have this opportunity as I know that many young women with children do not. Because of that, I will not waste it. I am going to try as hard as I can to do my best in school and to open up as many doors for myself as possible. I plan on joining Sigma Tau Delta, the English honor society, and hopefully participate in at least one conference before I graduate. I would like to go to graduate school, but I will probably take a couple years off first in order to catch my breath and save up some funds while I decide what I really want to do. There’s the possibility of moving to a commune in Idaho for a while–but we’ll see.

Take care of myself.

I have a lot on my plate this year, most of it self-inflicted. But something I think is worth mentioning is that I need to take care of my health, both physical and mental. On the first of January I deactivated my Facebook account. I need to really rethink the ways that I use it–there’s too much politics, and too many “friends” I met once or never see anymore that post toxic trash. I needed to get away from it and get into a more positive headspace. Twitter is nice, because all I follow on Twitter are authors and agents and other book lovers, and know very few people personally. I feel a lot of freedom on Twitter because of that. But really, Twitter has the potential to be just as bad. I am happy when I am accomplishing my goals, not when I am a victim to the endless scroll. I want to spend less time staring at screens and more time doing–even if it’s not reading or writing. It could be making a craft or going for a walk. I want to do more things that are good for me and less that are bad. That’s a total oversimplification, but you get the idea.

 

This has been a very long, very rambling post about my 2016 goals. I hope you all are having a great year so far, and I look forward to accomplishing our long lists of goals together. Happy New Year!

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