May Reading Wrap-Up: My 4 and 5 Star Reads

Since This Dread Road is in edits right now, I’m taking a bit of a breather before launching full-speed into my next writing project. I’m using this time to read as much as I can, for what better way is there to rejuvenate after a long, grueling seven months than pausing to “fill up” on creativity?

Unfortunately,  I didn’t love everything I read during the month of May, but I did have good luck. Out of fifteen books read, I gave ten four- or five-star reviews. If you’re looking for something read this month, I recommend these!

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Why I’ll Never Participate in NaNoWriMo Again

I have dreamed of successfully completing at least one NaNoWriMo competition since 2011, and this past year I finally realized that dream. I wrote 50,014 words of This Dread Road, Book Three of The Bennett Series, in November 2015.

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I was so proud of myself. Not only had I finally managed to complete a challenge, I did it in the same month my husband and I purchased a home and moved.

For several months after I finished, I was convinced that participating in NaNo was a great thing that everyone should do. After all, I’d never managed to write so much so quickly in my life. But now that I’m finished with revisions, I can look back and say with all manner of certainty that NaNoWrioMo, while well-intentioned, did me far more harm than good.

 

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For one thing, it ushered in a horrific period of burnout. I never stopped working on This Dread Road, but it took nearly six months for me to finish the second half of the book. I went through several weeks of just not caring about the story anymore. Working on it was painful and torturous. For a while, I worried I wouldn’t finish it in time. Or at all.

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Our trip to South Carolina in March forced me to rest and rejuvenate. I came home more excited about the story than ever, having seen places like Stella Maris Church (pictured above) that were connected to the story of This Dread Road. It took another month after our return, but I finally finished the draft. I was so happy to finish, and still eternally gratefully for NaNoWriMo. If I hadn’t written that 50,014 words last November, how much further behind schedule would I be?

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But when I started revisions a few weeks ago, I realized that those first 50,000 words were essentially useless. That section of the book was packed with filler words, unnecessary characters, and subplots I hadn’t taken the time to flesh out. I could almost map my exhaustion during the month of November just looking at that first half.

I had to rewrite the first twenty-seven chapters.

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I don’t wish that I hadn’t participated in NaNo last year–it was a fun experience, and I enjoyed the camaraderie and solidarity that I experienced all across the Internet. It was finals week, but without the stress of grades hanging over my head. I got a lot done. Had I not participated, I most likely wouldn’t have taken a break to redesign all three of the covers for The Bennett Series. I wouldn’t have been able to let my experience in Charleston influence my descriptions nearly as much.

Most importantly, I wouldn’t have learned a valuable lesson: what works for others does not necessarily work for me.


This Dread Road is currently in the editing stage and is tentatively scheduled for a December 2016 release. I will hopefully have a firm date for you soon! 

An Open Book – June Edition

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Thanks to Carolyn Astfalk and CatholicMom.com for hosting!

Holy cow, I haven’t posted here since last month’s version of An Open Book! I had no idea how much I’d been slacking lately. Last month passed in a blur with exams, essays, and portfolios, and I’ve been pouring ever spare second since into finishing up revisions on This Dread Road and updating the covers for all of The Bennett Series books. (Don’t worry, I’ll post on that soon!)

I have been getting a lot of reading done, though. It might seem a bit odd to spend time reading when there’s so much writing to be done, but I consider it research. I’m constantly finding new ways to improve, and what better way than to study what others in my genre are doing?

 

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As always, I have a couple of irons in the fire. From my Netgalley list (which is about as conquerable as a hydra right now, to be honest), I’m reading Dear Thing by Julie Cohen. Ben and Claire have struggled for years to conceive a baby. After yet another failed embryonic transfer, Claire decides she’s done with treatment, but Ben’s not ready to give up so easily. When his best friend Romily finds out, she makes what seems like a reasonable offer: she will carry their child for them. Well, Ben’s child. Claire’s not able to produce a viable egg. Romily’s convinced that being a surrogate will be easy enough–she’s a single mom already, and she doesn’t want any more children. But as the pregnancy progresses, things get a little . . . complicated.

I’m about halfway through this book as of this morning and I’m enjoying it. The writing is superb, the characters are well-developed, and it’s provoking a lot of internal dialogue and debate about medical ethics. I have a strong feeling this will receive a five-star rating from me.

 

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On the audiobook front, I’m listening to Cinder by Marissa Meyer. I haven’t finished listening to Harry Potter yet, but I won’t have the credit to download Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows until next week, so here we are! I think The Lunar Chronicles will be my next audio project. I loved reading these books, and I love listening to them too. Rebecca Soler is a fantastic narrator.

 

Up Next

I’m going to spend this month (and the next, and probably the next) slowly whittling away at my entirely too long NetGalley queue, in addition to a few titles I own but haven’t gotten around to reading. What I hope to read in June:

Dreaming of Antigone by Robin Bridges
Undecided by Julianna Keyes
Lucky Me by Saba Kapur
Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell by Liane Shaw
A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry
Practical Applications for Multiverse Theory by Noa Gavin and Nick Scott
A Thousand Salt Kisses by Josie Demuth
Anything You Want by Geoff Herbach
Whisper to Me by Nick Lake
The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
Summer of Sloane by Erin L. Schneider
The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson
Lady Susan by Jane Austen
Seize the Flame by Lynda Cox
The Martian by Andy Weir

Fifteen books seems like a tall order, but I managed to read 8 last month without even really trying, so hopefully I’ll get through this bunch!


 

Would you like to participate in An Open Book and share what are you reading? 

The rules are simple:

  1. Include a link back to My Scribbler’s Heart and CatholicMom.com somewhere in your post.(http://carolynastfalk.com/category/my-scribblers-heart-blog/ and http://catholicmom.com/tag/open-book) Better yet, link to the week’s post.
  2. Link up your post.
  3. Use the hashtag #OpenBook on social media.
  4. Visit some of the other bloggers’ sites and see what they are reading. Let’s build a community and expand our reading horizons.

An Open Book – May Edition

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Thanks to Carolyn Astfalk for starting off the #OpenBook link up this month. (Visit her original post here.) Now, let’s get started!

 

 

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Over the past week or so, I’ve been working on Lights Out in the Reptile House by Jim Shepard. I received a free electronic copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for a review. The description there said that it was released last year, but I realized after starting the book that the original edition was published in 1990.

Lights Out in the Reptile House is a literary fiction coming of age tale set in an unnamed dystopian country in an undisclosed location. While the police state government pervades the background of 15-year-old Karel Roeder’s life, the story focuses more on the birth of his political awareness.

To be honest, it’s looking like it will get a two or three-star review from me at this point (I’m about 90% finished). The writing is excellent on a technical level, but the characters are very wooden and I’ve had a hard time connecting with them. Conversations are mostly summarized instead of written out, and while that is a valid technique, I don’t care for it as a reader. I feel like I’m watching a movie in a foreign language with the simplest of subtitles.  I also dislike dystopian novels in which the government system is largely ignored and unexplained; that seems to defeat the purpose of writing a dystopian work. But we’ll see–maybe the end will turn everything around for me.

 

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I am also revisiting the Harry Potter books via audio. I’m currently on Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which is one of my least favorites in the series. It’s a nigredo-stage book, which in literary alchemy means the protagonist is going through a stage of dissolution. Harry has several horrible things happen to him right as he hits a stage of natural teenage gloominess and moody despair. It’s incredibly frustrating and heartbreaking to listen to. I can’t wait until it’s time to move on to Half-Blood Prince.

This is only the second “reading” I’ve done with the series, as I wasn’t formally introduced to the wizarding world until 2014, and I’m loving the opportunity to explore the intricacy of J.K. Rowling’s planning. I was aware of it beforehand, obviously, as it’s been the source of many an academic paper and literary discussion, and I noticed a lot of the foreshadowing as I made my way through the books the first time, but it’s interesting to see how even the tiniest details all point toward the end. If you haven’t listened to the audiobooks, you’re missing out on a treat. Jim Dale’s narration voice is a treasure.

Up Next

I’m going to spend this month (and the next, and probably the next) slowly whittling away at my entirely too long NetGalley queue. What I hope to read in May:

Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau
13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Regrets Only by M.J. Pullen
A Stolen Kiss by Kelsey Keating
Dear Emma by Katie Heaney
The Syndicate by Sophie Davis
The Tried and True Tales of Phineas Ichabod Rate by McKenzie Ruth
Cold Calling by Russell Mardell
Fair Play by Tracy A. Ward
Dear Thing by Julie Cohen
Dreaming of Antigone by Robin Bridges
Undecided by Julianna Keyes
Lucky Me by Saba Kapur
Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell by Liane Shaw

Fifteen books in one month might seem a little ambitious, but since I’ll be dropping the responsibilities of school for a while starting tomorrow, I think I’ll be able to pull it off! Reading for class and finishing homework take up a lot of what used to be recreational reading time.


What are you reading?

 

Would you like to participate in An Open Book and share what are you reading?

The rules are simple:

  1. Include a link back to My Scribbler’s Heart and CatholicMom.com somewhere in your post. Better yet, link to the week’s post.
  2. Link up your post.
  3. Use the hashtag #OpenBook on social media.
  4. Visit some of the other bloggers’ sites and see what they are reading. Let’s build a community and expand our reading horizons.

Add your link by clicking the #OpenBook image below.

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#OpenBook is a monthly link-up each first Wednesday of the month. Check out the rules here.

You can sign up for an Open Book reminder email, which goes out one week before the link-up.

An Open Book – April Edition

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Thanks to Carolyn Astfalk for starting off the #OpenBook link up this month. (Visit her original post here.) Now, let’s get started!

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My husband is still reading Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea in the little free time he has. As far as I can tell, he’s enjoying it! I’ve never read any Jules Verne, which I should probably change sooner rather than later. This particular selection doesn’t sound like it would be my personal cup of tea, but whatever works!

 

 

 

 

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After giving up on Helen Simonson’s The Summer Before the War yesterday, I picked up Eleanor by Jason Gurley. I’ve heard a lot about this book–a lot of critical acclaim, not just buzz on the book blogger circuit–and I was able to get a copy on NetGalley, so I’m going to give it a try. At 11% I’m not quite sure I understand the plot fully enough yet to attempt an explanation, but I’m enjoying it so far. The writing is beautiful, and from what I’ve heard there are elements of magical realism to come. I love magical realism! And I haven’t experienced it in quite a while. I’m excited.

 

 

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I am also revisiting the Harry Potter books via audio. I’m currently on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which is my favorite in the series. This is the last book in which Harry can really be considered innocent, in my mind. Hereafter, he’s an adult in an adolescent body, and the plot grows ever darker. This is only the second “reading” I’ve done with the series, as I wasn’t formally introduced to the wizarding world until 2014, and I’m loving the opportunity to explore the intricacy of J.K. Rowling’s planning. I was aware of it beforehand, obviously, as it’s been the source of many an academic paper and literary discussion, and I noticed a lot of the foreshadowing as I made my way through the books the first time, but it’s interesting to see how even the tiniest details all point toward the end. If you haven’t listened to the audiobooks, you’re missing out on a treat. Jim Dale’s narration voice is a treasure.

Up Next

I’m going to spend this month (and the next, and probably the next) slowly whittling away at my entirely too long NetGalley queue. What I hope to read in April:

The Dressmaker’s War by Mary Chamberlain
A Girl’s Guide to Moving On by Debbie Macomber
Baker’s Magic by Diane Zahler
The Infinite Air by Fiona Kidman
13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad
Regrets Only by M.J. Pullen
Dear Thing by Julie Cohen

I doubt I’ll finish all these, especially since there are only four more weeks left in the semester and I have essays and papers to write, but a girl can dream, can’t she?


What are you reading?

Would you like to participate in An Open book and share what you are reading? 

The rules are simple:

1. Include a link back to Carolyn Astfalk’s blog somewhere in your post. (Better yet, link to the week’s post.)

2. Link up your post. 

3. Use the hashtag #OpenBook on social media. 

4. Try to visit some of the other bloggers’ sites and see what they are reading. Let’s build a community and expand our reading horizons. 

Add your link by clicking the #OpenBook image below.

bonnets_wwrw-buttons

#OpenBook is a monthly link-up each first Wednesday of the month. Check out the rules here.

You can sign up for an Open Book reminder email, which goes out one week before the link-up.

Top 10 4- and 5-Star NetGalley Reads

It’s time to confess that I have a problem. I request entirely too many titles on NetGalley. Between taking classes, writing, and working, I really don’t have time to be reading for pleasure, but what can I say? I’m a glutton for punishment.

Thanks to the generosity of several publishers and authors, I’ve been exposed to some truly amazing reads lately. I post my reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, and my review site Read Yourself to Sleep, but I rarely share my thoughts on books here. Today, I’d like to change that! Here’s a list of the ten most recent 4- and 5-star reads I’ve experienced thanks to NetGalley!

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A Trip in Photos: Charleston and Asheville

Vacations are intoxicating in the Ard household. My husband and I both work six days a week, with a different off day to boot, so we spend most of the year circling one another and communicating via text message. We usually only have off days together on federal holidays, so when we’re given the opportunity to have a full six days off together, it usually goes straight to our heads. We dive into our vacation with little to no plan and just get drunk on free time together. We forget to keep track of the great restaurants we discover and the wonderful places we visit.

This year, I was determined our experience would be different. I planned out an itinerary for us. I booked hotel rooms and purchased tickets to attractions in advance. And I (most likely, to the great annoyance of my Facebook friends) took tons and tons of pictures.

Spring Break coincided with our third wedding anniversary, and since this is likely the last big trip we’ll take for a few years, we decided to go a little bit further from home this year. We made it to a city I’ve been dying to revisit for years–Charleston, South Carolina–as well as Flat Rock, Asheville, and Maggie Valley, North Carolina.

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Obligatory rest stop selfie, taken somewhere in Morgan County, Georgia.

We arrived in Charleston on Sunday afternoon in the middle of a rain storm. The harbor was completely shrouded in thick clouds, and the roads were borderline flooded. Our original plans of eating seafood on an open-air porch and taking a carriage ride through the historic district went quickly out the window. But despite this upset–and a few wrong turns, thanks to an outdated GPS map–we ended up having a nice dinner at a neat little place called Sawyer’s on the Boulevard, a sprawling country-style house with a mini swamp and a gorgeous patio.

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Not pictured is the appetizer, which we decimated before we were able to photograph it: a plate of potato straws piled high with bacon, beer cheese, green onions, and sour cream. Delicious.

The next morning, we grabbed a biscuit at a trusty Chick-fil-A, since our hotel didn’t offer complimentary breakfast, after we headed out to Sullivan’s Island to check out Stella Maris Catholic Church. We’re both super Protestant, but I had to go see this church in person because it’s the place that Annemarie, one of the protagonists in the upcoming This Dread Road, worshipped as a child and teen. It wasn’t open to the public Monday mornings, but I made sure to take plenty of pictures of the outside!

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We followed that exciting morning up with a trip out to Fort Sumter, the fort on a manmade island that served as the site for the first gunshots of the Civil War. Those who’ve read The Partition of Africa will remember that this was a place Hattie was eager to see. It wasn’t my first time visiting the fort, but it was the first time since writing Partition, so it was definitely a special experience!

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After disembarking the Fort Sumter ferry, we went straight into another adventure–the South Carolina Aquarium! We experienced a 4D movie, which was totally geared towards children but fun nonetheless, a shark and sting ray touch tank, lots of beautiful fish and wildlife exhibits, and MERMAIDS!

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We capped off the afternoon with a scrumptious meal at the Charleston Crab House and a quick visit to Folly Beach, the setting for my upcoming Christmas Novella ‘Tis the Season, just in time for sunset. It was my husband’s first time to see the Atlantic Ocean!

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Tuesday was jam-packed! We started out the morning attending 8 o’clock Mass at Stella Maris before visiting Boone Hall, one of the country’s oldest working plantations. The main house was actually built in the 1930s, well after the property stopped running on slave labor. In addition to serving as a museum and attraction, several crops are still grown on the property. The oak-lined drive served as inspiration for the road into Twelve Oaks in the film Gone with the Wind. We visited a black history in America mini-museum housed in some of the surviving slave cabins, toured the home, took a motor carriage ride to survey the current agriculture, and attended a fascinating presentation on Gullah culture. We capped it all off with a wonderful pizza and house-made candy bar at EVO Pizzeria.

We discovered EVO Pizzeria by mistake. The previous night, we were absently watching a show called Unique Sweets. Neither of us had been paying much attention until the narrator said, “And if you ever find yourself in Charleston, South Carolina…” Both of us perked up, and were excited to learn about this pizza place that also made their own candy bars in house. It’s definitely worth the trip!

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After a quick visit to Lowcountry Harley-Davidson–my husband works at a Harley dealership and loves seeing how other dealers work–we thought about dropping by Fort Moultrie to see the other side of the Fort Sumter story, but instead we stopped back at the hotel for an unexpected but much-needed nap. Then, it was off to the Market district for a quick bite at Tbonz Gill and Grill before our walking ghost tour!

We spent some time in the Washington Square Park while waiting for our tour to start. Also, we tried to walk off what can only be described as diabetes in a cup–a cookies and cream milkshake with a hunk of cookies and cream fudge thrown right in. We kicked off the tour with a gorgeous cotton candy sunset, which was the perfect view while hearing about the first documented female serial killer in the US.

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The next morning, we checked out of our hotel and made a quick stop by Page’s Okra Grill for breakfast before we headed for North Carolina. This place hands down has the best breakfast food you can imagine! The shrimp and grits I had actually was designated as best shrimp and grits on the East Cost by Southern Living. JD’s chicken and waffle was pretty amazing, too! The food was really heavy–we only managed to eat about half of both dishes.

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After a few hours on the road, we stopped in Flat Rock, North Carolina to tour Connemara, the estate of late poet and biographer Carl Sandburg. Carl’s wife Lillian ran a goat farm while they lived on the estate, and the National Park Service actually maintain a herd of goats descended from her original herd. It was great fun!

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We ate dinner at the Asheville Pizza and Brewing Co. The food was okay, nothing to write home about, but the best part about this restaurant was the discount movie theater in the back. We ended up staying to watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens for $3 each, because why not?

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Our last day, we drove up to Maggie Valley, North Carolina to visit the Wheels Through Time Museum of Transportation. I took a ton of pictures there–this is only a sampling!

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.We punctuated the end to our week of fun by stopping in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to eat a late lunch at The Terminal Brewhouse, one of our favorite restaurants there. After that, it was home sweet home!

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I didn’t write the entire week, but I’m beginning to think that’s a good thing. I got lots of sleep, spent quality time with my love, managed to exercise quite a bit through our walking adventures, and learned a lot of interesting stuff. When we left I felt ragged, worn down, and on the verge of severe burn-out. Now I feel energized, inspired, and motivated! This Dread Road, ‘Tis the Season, and One Last Aria–watch out. I’m coming for you.