Mrs. Harlow’s Quarantine Reads Ep. 2!

In just a couple of days, my first video has almost 100 views. I received a lot of wonderful comments from friends on Facebook and a lot of enthusiasm from students and staff! So here, have another episode!

I’ll be back on Monday with a *drumroll please* Weekly Update, and another Quarantine Reads!

Thank you all and have an awesome day!

 

BZ

 

Mrs. Harlow’s Quarantine Reads!

Hello Blogland!

As I’ve mentioned, I’m a Library Media Assistant at a nearby high school here in Oregon. If you’re paying attention to all this Covid-19 madness, you may have noticed that Oregon schools have been ordered to close from March 16th until at least April 28th. That’s a long time to be away from my library and my students. So, I came up with a crazy idea to keep in touch with them and keep the library a relevant space in this time of Social Distancing.

Let me know what you think!

BZ
 

New Year, Same Look

Hey Blogland.

It’s been a minute. As I mentioned last week, I faced some major burnout last fall and really the last half of the year was just me, derailed. Getting laid-off from a job you love sucks the big one. But, I’m feeling much more settled in the new job, and turns out, I super love it too. A nice lesson to learn, nothing is the end-all-be-all of your existence. We grow, adapt, change, and come to find fulfillment and success in a multitude of ways.

But, that lesson had a steep price, namely my discipline and work ethic when it came to my more creative endeavors. I simply didn’t have the bandwidth to attend to all my writing routines, so, in the interest of mental wellbeing, I didn’t attend to any of them. I allowed myself to take several steps back and only do what felt right or good. I think that helped me recover and get my head on straight once again.

So, three months late, let’s talk about 2019.

In 2019 I said I wanted to:

  • Finish the Tavi rough draft.
  • Finish Santa Sarita. 
  • Revise Cards.
  • Publish something!
  • Publish two blog posts a week.
  • Read 70 titles.

How’d I do?

  • Finish the Tavi rough draft.
    • YES! I finished the rough draft back in May and it was a huge, wonderful, exhausting accomplishment.
  • Finish Santa Sarita.
    • Nope. Not even a little bit. I don’t even think I wrote anything on this fic last year.
  • Revise Cards.
    • Nope. And, actually, I think I’ve finally accepted that this might be a trunk novel. Not that I think it’s bad, but it needs a lot of revision and basically an entire rewrite, and when I have time, energy and drive, I’ll come back to it. Until then, I’m taking it off the plate of possible projects.
  • Publish something!
    • Yes? I sold something, but it won’t be published until June 2020. It’s exciting and a big win for me, so I’m counting it as accomplished.
  • Publish two blog posts a week.
    • Nope. I published 90 posts, which honestly isn’t too shabby. It’s the second most I’ve ever posted on the blog since 2011, so I don’t feel as bad about this as I did earlier today.
  • Read 70 titles.
    • Nope. I reached 60 and pretty much ran out of gas. I couldn’t focus, couldn’t get anything to really grip me. I was in full on burnout mode by then and basically just gave up.

2019 Total Word Count: 122,187

Honorable Mentions

Even though there were several months in the summer and early fall where it just felt like I couldn’t get any writing done, I actually wrote a fair amount last year. Two flash pieces (under 500 words) and two longer short stories (both over 4k words), the last half of Tavi, and a ton of fanfic in November and December. In the moment it felt like nothing, but there was a lot of work happening in between all that nothing.

I went to a write-in thing hosted by Willamette Writers… I think it was in May. Anyway, that was fun and cool and I hope to go to more writerly events, once all this Covid stuff gets sorted.

I hiked a bunch last year which is always a good thing, and really found my *thing* outside of reading and writing books.

I read 15,104 pages across 60 books!Img bookstack 72

 

I’m trying not to feel so down about missing my reading goal last year. It’s the first year since 2015 that I haven’t reached my goal. Which felt like a big fat failure on my part. And yet… 60 titles is nothing to sneeze at. That number amazes a lot of people, even if it feels a little short to me. But, I read a lot last year and I shouldn’t feel bad just because it wasn’t as much as I’d hoped. I’m working on it.

Um… I think that’s it. You know, aside from that whole, got a new crazy job that absorbed my whole soul for awhile but turns out I super-duper love. So that’s cool too, I guess.

2019’s word was INTENT. I wanted to be purposeful in my actions and choices when it came to writing and reading. I don’t know how well it worked, but I do recall thinking of it a lot and letting it be the word that grounded me in moments of indecision. So, better than not having a word I suppose. Choosing a word for 2020 was one of the only New Year’s routines I didn’t ignore/avoid. The word for this year is…

REPLENISH.

Makes sense when you consider that I was recovering from the world’s worst case of burnout around the New Year. So, how will “Replenish” guide me in 2020? Well, I’ve decided to only do things that feel right, restorative in some way. For instance, my reading goal this year started at just 1 book. Once I read a few over that, I bumped it to 10. Now that I’m at ten, I bumped it to 20. I’m letting the year dictate the goals and learning to let go a little bit.

What does that mean for my writing? I’m not entirely sure. I think the idea is to stop feeling guilty for any perceived lack of progress. Letting my interests and energy take me where I need to go. Basically, relinquishing some of that all-important control. So far, I think it’s working.

So, if I’m not setting active, ambitious goals, what the heck will I do in 2020?

  • Revise Tavi
    • I think this is one that I absolutely have to do. I can’t let this novel sit for much longer, and honestly I don’t want to. I want to get back in this world I made and really make it shine.
  • Read!
    • That’s it. I just want to read whatever sounds interesting. I have a fat stack of fat books I’d been lusting over, but avoiding because of how long they would take me to read. This is the year I finally get to them.
  • Submit Two New Short Stories
    • I already have one that’s just about ready to go out. Maybe a few more rounds of editing to perfect it, and then it’s good. I’m working on a new short story now, but it feels pretty far from submission level. Good thing it’s only March!
  • Write Book Reviews
    • This is one thing that bummed me out about last year. I read a lot of good books at the end of last year and the beginning of this year, but I didn’t write reviews for them. And now it’s been too long for me to do them justice. I don’t want to do that anymore, so I’ll be trying to write reviews again!

I’ll be honest. I expect Tavi revisions to take up the majority of my year. All of my writing time will be on short stories or fanfic while I edit my novel. I want to get this right, because I really believe in this story and the world I’ve built. I want to get the first book right so I can jump into the second book for NaNoWriMo this year. So I need to get to work.

So, yeah. A different approach to 2020. A less regimented approach. I don’t know what the blog will look like this year. I might stick to my weekly format, I might not. I haven’t decided yet. I’ll do whatever feels good and useful without stressing me out. That’s the plan.

Talk at you soon, Bloggarts.

 

BZ

 

An Introvert’s Dream

I want to start this out by saying I am not making light of, nor dismissing Covid-19. Shit’s scary and we should all do our part to mitigate its spread.

However, I’m out of work for the next two weeks and want to make the most of this unexpected free time. I have a short story to edit, another to write, and a whole novel I’ve been ignoring for entirely too long.

Now, I know I have a perfectly good office at home. It’s actually a delightful office that makes the house a home for me, but I haven’t been very productive there lately. And, this Covid business is killing small businesses. I have lots of favorite spots in town that I want to support, while being as socially distant as I can manage.

So, here I am, at my favorite coffee shop by day, cocktail bar by night, drinking black coffee and attempting to get some work done. It’s crazy how empty downtown is. The only other person in the bar is a guy reading in the comfy chairs. And that’s when it occurred to me that, as awful as this virus is, it really does make things pretty ideal for us introverts. All our favorite places are empty, everything is quiet and the crowds are all at the grocery stores. Even if we do happen to share a space, there’s so much distance between us that we don’t even have to acknowledge one another’s existence. Reader Guy gets his corner and I get mine. It’s a win-win!

If the governor doesn’t force all restaurants and bars to close, then I’ll be here every morning, drinking black coffee and attempting to get some work done. I need to stick to some sort of routine, otherwise I’ll go crazy. I’m trying to avoid that cabin fever feeling for as long as I can.

Wish me luck.

 

BZ

So… it’s 2020.

Here’s the deal:

I was so. fucking. burned. out. at the end of last year. This new job has been the steepest learning curve ever, and not because I’m responsible for running a 10k+ material library, but because teenagers are beings of pure emotion. I was not prepared nor equipped for the emotional labor this job would require.

That said, I’m feeling much more balanced this semester. I’m working out again, eating better, drinking lots of water. I’m even reading again! And there’s been lots of fanfic writing and even a little work on a new short story.

I feel like a budding flower, poking my head out of the dirt and wondering if there’s enough sunshine to make the work worthwhile. But, I’ve worked on the new short story twice in the last week. I reread and started contemplating editing the last short story I wrote. I’ve read 10 books this year already. I don’t want to say I’m back, because we all know that doesn’t mean shit.

But I’m here right now. I’ve thought about the blog and the routines I used to have. And the novel that’s waiting for me to revise it and make it the best thing I’ve ever written. I don’t know if it was a bout of Seasonal Affective Disorder, legit depression, or just a case of this introvert being utterly sapped of all energy, but I’m feeling better now. I even went on a hike on Saturday!

So yeah. I’m around, I guess. Maybe tomorrow I’ll finally do the 2019 recap. I kept all the stats, I just haven’t talked about them yet. I haven’t been tracking any goals or stats for 2020, because I literally haven’t thought about what I want to accomplish this year. It seems… unfathomable. Or, at least, it did. Right now I have a couple ideas of things I’d like to do and I do have an intention for the year, so I guess I didn’t *completely* ignore my routines.

Maybe, if I’m feeling similarly motivated tomorrow night, I’ll finally write that recap. There’s also a bunch of book reviews I could write. Maybe you’ll see more of me in the coming weeks.

Maybe.

Goals Summary 2019 – Wk# 48

Bloggos! Happy Thanksgiving! I know I’m a day early but I’m excited about it and this is my blog so I’m going to scream about the holiday. I have family in town from AZ, our house is super-duper clean, and I’m off work until Monday. So, you see, lots of reasons to be obnoxiously upbeat about the season.

Last Week

  • Publish two blog posts
  • Finish Gideon the Ninthgideon the ninth
  • Write 3000 words

How’d I do?

  • Publish two blog posts
  • Finish Gideon the Ninth
    • Yes! That book was difficult to put down, I tell ya what.
  • Write 3000 words
    • YES! I finally just went where my interest was and wrote some Solavellan fanfic. Dragon 4ge day is December 4th (my birthday!) and there was a list of prompts for fanworks. I’ve been writing to a few of those prompts, with plans to share the oneshots throughout the day on Wednesday.

Weekly Word Count: 3,199

This week went by SO fast. I spent the majority of my time cleaning and mentally preparing for having visitors over. Plus a bit of writing and reading. So, a good week. I went to a party hosted by the Editor of The Audient Void which was specifically for creatives. I got to listen to some amazing poetry, see a woman play her custom harp (which was probably one of the most beautiful, bewitching things I have ever seen in my life), and even read my short story, The Cost of Rain. It was a fun night full of support and good vibes. Hopefully they’ll do it again sometime.

There was a Friendsgiving over the weekend, which was a blast as usual. So basically, lots of housework, reading, writing, and social activities.

So, What’s Next?

  • Publish 2 blog posts
  • Read 2 titles
  • Write 3,000 words

Keeping things simple this week. It’s the holiday, we’re hosting, and we have family from out of town. This is not the week to set lofty goals. I do plan to post the book review for Gideon the Ninth over the weekend, and I just finished reading a graphic novel last night. The big question mark for the week is the writing. I won’t have much time, just late friday and all day Saturday. But, I’ll be recovering from the holidays, so who knows what that time will actually look like.

So yeah, easy peasy lemon squeezy. Hopefully. I’ll be back later this week to talk about Gideon the Ninth.

Until then, Bloggarts.

 

BZ

 

Book Review – City of Ghosts (Cassidy Blake #1) by Victoria Schwab

Blogland! My reading is picking up as the year draws to a close, as is tradition. I’m too competitive not to make a mad dash for my Goodreads Challenge goal, no matter how far behind I am.

City of Ghosts was not on my radar at all until quite recently. I discovered V.E. Schwab this year when a migraine struck and I listened to the A Darker Shade of Magic audiobook. The next two weeks had me feverishly consuming the sequels and adding any and all of her books to my TBR. But somehow, this book got missed.

Then I saw it on the shelf of my school library’s YA section and had a minor heart attack. I bought the audiobook with an audible credit and listened to it in two sittings. I have zero regrets.

Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars

city of ghosts

Cassidy Blake is eleven years old and like a lot of only children, she has an invisible friend. The difference is that Jacob is very, very real. He’s just a ghost! After she fell in an icy river and quite literally died, Jacob saved her and brought her back to the land of the living. They’ve been inseparable ever since, and Cassidy has been able to cross the “Veil” to the land of ghosts, where she explores and takes creepy photographs of the beyond.

It’s all innocent fun until her parents announce they’re starring in a new show, The Inspectres, where they travel the world and investigate haunted cities. The traveling bit sounds cool, but the haunted bits sound… problematic. Especially since, out of her whole family, she’s the only one who’s ever actually seen a ghost.

So off to Scotland they go, with Jacob and the cat, Grim, in tow.

What I loved:

  • I loved the characters. I know, what a surprise, right? But, man, Victoria Schwab writes people so so well. I loved Cassidy’s wry humor and her affection for Jacob. I love Jacob, his nervousness, his timidity, and his sarcastic banter with Cassidy. I loved that Cassidy has a good relationship with her parents and that they seem to really love one another. I thought the whole family dynamic was super believable, especially since I was an only child, at least until I was almost 16.
  • The setting! I’ve always entertained the idea of visiting Scotland, but don’t really know much about the country, or of Edinburgh. Schwab’s descriptions really struck me. I’d love to see the city and the castle and absorb the general vibes of the place. So, thanks for that Schwab.
  • The narration! Reba Buhr read the book and did a fantastic job. I’ve read enough of Schwab now to recognize her writing no matter who’s reading, but I liked the voices and accents she did. It really helped me get immersed in the story.

What I didn’t love:

  • Um… it was a bit lower level than I’m used to reading. That’s not really a problem with the book, it just left me wanting more. The plot was largely predictable, but still good. I just wasn’t as engaged with the material as I would have been with an older Teen or Adult story.
  • I didn’t super like Laura. She felt sort of forced and I can’t really say how or why. I kept waiting for her to be the bad guy, and she wasn’t, so maybe that had something to do with it.

I love Victoria (V.E.) Schwab and this book is no exception. Not necessarily her best, but I’m also not the target audience. For middle school-aged me, it would have been an instant favorite.

There is a sequel, which I’ve already downloaded on audible, but I’m… hesitant. Ok, really talk, the sequel is called Tunnel of Bones and is set in Paris. They are FOR SURE going into the catacombs and… I can’t. Like, just the idea of the catacombs makes my heart race. Creepy, underground tunnels are a major fear of mine. Dunno why but just thinking about them makes me break out in a nervous sweat.

So, yeah. Might have to take it slow with that one.

I finished Gideon the Ninth and started reading Vengeful tonight. Lots of reading and a little writing. Life is good.

Talk soon, Bloggarts.

 

BZ

Goals Summary 2019 – Wk #47

The end of the year is creeping up. Does anyone else feel like they’re running out of time?

Last Week

  • Publish two blog posts
  • Read Gideon the Ninthgideon the ninth
  • Write 5000 words

How’d I do?

  • Publish two blog posts
  • Read Gideon the Ninth
    • No. But, I read two graphic novels and finished an audiobook, so I’m not sad about it.
  • Write 5000 words
    • Hahahaha… No.

Weekly Word Count: 649

I hit a major inspiration block in writing this week. I don’t know if I’m just burned out, if work is too stressful, or if this just isn’t the right project for Nanowrimo, but I’m not being very productive this month. I keep bouncing between the novella and fanfic, and then bouncing between fanfic projects. Then, when I feel totally uninspired, I play video games instead.

I like the idea of writing, I feel that familiar mental swirl of a story taking form, but I lack the motivation to actually put ass to chair and make it happen. I’d rather read, play video games, or watch Disney+. It doesn’t help that my family will be here in a week and there’s still a lot of chorin’ to be done.

Let’s just blame it on stress and move on.

I finished playing Uncharted 4 and Beyond: Two Souls. I liked them both, a lot, and am glad to have played them. They were both right up my alley and long overdue.

I decided to withdraw Lifelike from a market that had it for over six months. The website hadn’t been updated since April and the email for the editor was no longer valid. I think it’s safe to say that wasn’t going to get picked up. Exodus: Descent was rejected today, but it was a personal rejection, which is always nice. Both stories will be submitted somewhere else by the end of the week.

So, What’s Next?

  • Publish two blog posts
  • Finish Gideon the Ninth
  • Write 3000 words

Keeping it pretty straightforward again. I have no idea what writing project I’ll work on, and honestly, I don’t much care. I just want to write before the holiday sneaks up and steals all my time. We’ll see if anything demands my attention.

I’m just over halfway through with Gideon the Ninth now. I expect to have it done in the next couple of days. I finished listening to City of Ghosts and will have the book review up before the end of the work week. I want to start listening to the sequel, Tunnel of Bones sometime this week too.

So, yeah. Lots of reading, writing, cleaning, and working. We’ll see where that takes us before the holiday season swallows me whole.

Talk at you soon, Bloggarts.

 

BZ

Book Review – Circe by Madeline Miller

This book was not on my TBR. I’d heard of it, thanks to my work in libraries; there was a lot of buzz around Circe when it first came out. Co-workers raved, it made several awards lists that season, and patrons kept checking it out. And yet, it never once lured me to add it to my To-Be-Read list.

And then my school’s staff book club chose it for its Fantasy Month. Despite my misgivings about it not really being a fantasy novel, I read it all the way to the end. My book club hasn’t met yet to discuss it, but I’m ready to share my thoughts here.

Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars

circe book cover

Circe is the story of the Witch of Aiaia, daughter of Helios, exiled for eternity. She turned evil men to pigs, loved Daedalus, and Odysseus, and later Telemachus. She’s a figure from Greek Mythology, and this book is her first person account of her life.

The problem is, I had no idea who she was before I started this book. You see, the last time I studied mythology was my sophomore year of high school. We read Edith Hamilton and I remember hating it. Sixteen year old me found mythology so incredibly boring I blocked out all memory of the entire unit. Which really did me a disservice because this whole book HINGES on the reader knowing the bare minimum of who the F*&K Circe is! I missed out on a ton of dramatic irony and tension because I literally knew NOTHING about Circe going into this book. Whoops!

What I loved about this book:

  • The writing! Madeline Miller’s prose is absolutely gorgeous and I frequently had to stop and reread lines that took my breath away. The novel is extremely atmospheric and I appreciated how she brought these deities to life.
  • I really liked how Miller wrote Circe’s love for the various men in her life. She described them with details that showed Circe’s affection, that the way she saw them proved her love. It was beautiful.

What I didn’t love:

  • Um… the whole plot? It meandered and not a whole lot happened. Circe spent most of her time moping around and being extremely passive. She didn’t actually become an active character until she suffered at the hands of some stranded dudes who attacked her. She then takes her vengeance on pretty much all men by turning them into pigs. She doesn’t settle down until Odysseus charms her into freeing his men and sleeping with him. Which in hindsight is pretty wack.
  • The pacing. It felt very one note until the last 80 pages or so, when more characters showed up and started interacting with Circe. Looking back I think that was intentional, that Circe let her self-worth be so wrapped up in others for so long, but damn was that a looooong story to get through for her to grow.

I gave this book a 4/5 star rating pretty much purely because of the sheer beauty of the writing. For instance, “But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me.”

Or perhaps, “He showed me his scars, and in return he let me pretend that I had none.”

Those are just the two examples that came to me off the top of my head and I love them. They are gorgeous. Profound. The constellation one in particular hit home while I was reading.

So, my final verdict is this: a gorgeous book that’s just a little too slow for my taste. I like an atmospheric read for my short fiction, but expect a bit more punch for my novels apparently. I’m reading Gideon the Ninth right now, which more than makes up for what Circe lacked in grit, so I’ve got that going for me.

If I get City of Ghosts finished before the end of the weekend I might eke in a book review for it. If not, I’ll talk at you all on Monday!

‘Til then, Blogland!

 

BZ

Goals Summary 2019 – Wk #46

Ah geez, here we are again, late on a Tuesday. But, we’re here and we’re ready to talk about the week.

Last Week

  • Publish two blog posts
  • Finish reading Circecirce book cover
  • Write 5000 words

How’d I do?

  • Publish two blog posts
    • Yep. Reading Round Up is out now!
  • Finish reading Circe
    • Not technically. But I did just finish it before writing this so… hurray?
  • Write 5000 words
    • Hahaha no. Writing ground to a halt over the long weekend. Whoops.

Weekly Word Count: 3,414

That’s not a bad word count. At least if it wasn’t non-Nano season.  But it is Nano season so, uh, that’s not so great. I needed at least 5k to stay on track, but I’m feeling really unmotivated with this story. I don’t know if it’s all the distracting video games right now (Uncharted 4, Beyond Two Souls, Jedi: Fallen Order) or if I’m really just not ready to tell this story.

There’s also the fact that my weekends are pretty full this month. November is always a struggle for me, creatively, because it’s the holiday season and there are birthdays to boot. My social life doesn’t mellow out until the late winter and that’s when I can really start pumping out words. Which means I really have to hunker down and focus if I want to hit 25k this month.

In personal news, I’ve started a new medication to potentially help prevent my migraines. I’m skeptical, mainly because I don’t want to get my hopes up, but I’ll know in the next couple of weeks if it helps or not. Fingers crossed.

So, What’s Next?

  • Publish two blog posts
  • Read Gideon the Ninth
  • Write 5000 words

Well, here we are. Reading. Writing. Lather, rinse, repeat. The two blog posts will be a cinch this week because I’ll have the book review for Circe. If Gideon the Ninth is as gripping as it sounds, I might even have that review to write too. And I’ve only got two hours left in the City of Ghosts audiobook. Reviews could abound.

I’m not too optimistic about the writing, but I won’t give up. I can come back to it and keep going out of sheer force of will. That’s my usual m.o. anyways.

I don’t have much by way of plans this weekend, other than cleaning and prepping for holiday visitors. Writing and reading should definitely happen.

I’ll be back soon Bloggarts with the Circe book review!

‘Til then,

 

BZ