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Nice Dragons, Collapsing Empires, and Musical Holograms: My Favorite Books of Winter 2018

A while back I ran a book blog called Temporaryworlds over on livejournal (which should give you an idea on what I mean by “a while back”). And although it’s been some time since I’ve felt the urge to review every single book that I read, I still come across a lot of great books that I want to talk about and recommend to others. So, I figured why not do that here on a quarterly basis? Below you’ll find my top reads for Winter of 2018- or January, February, and March. Selections include both novels and graphic novels, as I read plenty of both.

Last Dragon Standing by Rachel Aaron (Fantasy/Science Fiction)- The fifth and final book in Rachel Aaron’s wonderful Heartstriker series combines the vastness of epic fantasy, the fast moving plotting of urban fantasy, and the worldbuilding of post apocalyptic sci-fi. Julius, once shamed for being a nice dragon, has gained plenty of allies and BIG responsibilities over the course of multiple books. And he’s going to need all the help he can get if he’s to face his biggest challenge yet: the literal embodiment of the end of the world. This is one of my favorite series, filled with lots of action, great humor and compelling relationship dynamics (both of the romantic, and platonic variety). I was so happy to see it end on a high note.

Lady Killer, vol 2 by Joelle Jones (Horror)– The second volume in this story about a housewife who moonlights as a contract killer doubles down on both the gleeful violence of the first, as well as the nail biting suspense. I don’t know what I find more impressive, the skill in which Josie’s double life is brought to page on a visual level (the colorful fashions of the 60s against all the bloody carnage is an interesting contrast), or how Jones creates sympathy for a protagonist who does such awful things. We’re going to get a volume three, right? You just can’t leave things on that cliffhanger! Artwork also by the writer, Joelle Jones.

Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson (Fantasy)- The third volume in the Stormlight Archives delves deep into the character of Dalinar Kholin, and brings our heroes face to face with some hard truths about themselves, and the world around them. If you’re a fan of massive fantasy tomes, no one is dong the genre better right now then the master of magic systems, Brandon Sanderson. Filled with high stakes, sympathetic characters, and worldbuilding that you can really delve into, Oathbringer earns every one of its 1200+ pages. The only bad thing about finishing this book is knowing that I will need to wait years before the fourth volume hits the shelves.

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi (Science Fiction)– The first book in The Interdependencey series has everything you could want from a John Scalzi book: humorous dialogue, eye opening sci-fi concepts, and characters you can really fall in love with. The fact that the audiobook version is narrated by Wil Wheaton makes it even more impossible to put down. As you may have guessed from the title, The Collapsing Empire tells the story of a large inter-planetary empire, and what happens when it’s discovered that the intergalactic channels that connect its many pieces are about to collapse. I am eagerly looking forward to book two, which is set to come out later this year.

Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi (Science Fiction)–  Fuzzy Nation is actually a book that I’ve owned for a while now, having purchased the audio version in a sale YEARS ago. Despite being a fan of the author’s work, I put off reading it because it was a retelling of a classic sci-fi novel-Little Fuzzy-which I had yet to read. But after enjoying the shit out of The Collapsing Empire, I decided to it was time to dive in, regardless of how familiar I was with the source material. And you know what? I really enjoyed it. Fuzzy Nation tells the story of a prospector on an alien planet who comes across adorable cat-like creatures that he dubs “Fuzzies.” Only when he introduces his latest find to a local biologist, he discovers that these creatures might be more than just animals, but sapient beings who rightfully own the planet they are currently mining the shit out of. Fuzzy Nation combines adorableness with genuinely interesting ethical dilemmas, and the suspense of a court room drama. It was a fast read (I flew threw it in just a couple of days), but a really worth while one.

Jem and the Holograms, vol 1: Showtime by Kelly Thompson (Contemporary)Showtime is the cartoon Jem rebooted in comic book format, and boy is it great. Think about everything you loved about the cartoon as a kid, only less soap opera-y, and updated for a modern audience. They even make the music performance aspect really work, despite the fact that it’s not an auditory medium. Unfortunately, my library does not have access to any of the other volumes in this series, so I’m going to have to go through other avenues if I want to continue the series. Artwork by Sophie Campbell.

Saga, vol 8: by Brian K Vaughan (Science Fiction)– Here’s a great example of a comic book series that’s still going strong, years after its debut. While previous volumes of Saga have taken things to epic sci-fi heights, volume eight takes a smaller route by examining the very real tragedy that comes with a miscarriage. We see this on a practical level, as Alanna and Marko struggle to find a place that will perform a late-term abortion on the dead fetus, as well as a more emotional one, as Hazel must come to terms with the loss of the brother she never had a chance to meet. Really strong stuff this time around. Artwork, as always by Fiona Staples.

Ms. Marvel, vol 8: Mecca by G. Willow Wilson (Superheroes)– Ms. Marvel remains one of Marvel comics most consistent offerings, and the latest volume Mecca really shows you why. Author G. Willow Wilson uses the storyline of people targeting super powered individuals in Jersey City as a metaphor for examining prejudice and radicalization. There are some pretty big twists this time around, and things end on a bit of a cliffhanger. I can’t wait to see how things are resolved in volume 9, which is supposed to come out on my birthday (!!!) July 31st.

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (Historical Fiction/Romance)– This has to be the strongest stand alone graphic novel I’ve read in years. The Prince and the Dressmaker is a love story, set in France, between a poor dressmaker with big dreams, and a prince who sometimes likes to wear dresses. This book is filled with lovable characters that you can route for, and wonderful artwork (especially when it comes to the dresses!). If you have any interest in graphic novels and historical romances, I’d recommend picking this up ASAP. Artwork done by the writer, Jen Wang.

Geek Actually: Season 1 by Cathy Yardley, Melissa Blue, Cecilia Tan, and Rachel Stuhler (Contemporary/Chick Lit)– Now here’s something a little different. Geek Actually is a Serial Box Production, meaning that it’s basically a television series in fiction form. Each serial is written in “seasons”, and the story is broken down into episodes that roughly take the same amount of time to read as it does to watch an episode of television. Geek Actually is my second serial that I’ve experienced through Serial Box, and I’m really impressed with the results. It focuses on the story of five different nerd women from different walks of life, each struggling with the challenges related to their professions, love lives, sexualities and more. I think the thing I like the most about Geek Actually is the variety of perspectives presented, covering everything from the gaming industry, to publishing, to cosplay. The characters themselves are both complex and diverse, each one having a significant arc. The story starts off lighthearted and fun, but it’s not afraid to examine with some of the darker struggles that women have to deal with- including stalking and sexual assault. It’s clear from the finale that there is more story to tell, and I look forward to seeing where our five leading ladies will go in season two.

Honorable Mentions: Desperate Hours by David Mack, Black Bolt: Vol 1: Hard Times by Saladin Ahmed, Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant, How to Market a Book by Joanna Penn, The Rise of Io by Wesley Chu.

So that’s it! What books have you fallen in love with lately?

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Game On: Ready Player One Review

Ready Player One is #1 at the Box office. Does it deserve it?  Click the link below to hear my thoughts and that of a handful of my co-columnists over at Speculative Chic.

Welcome back to Sound Off!, a semi-regular column where members of Speculative Chic gather together to chat about the latest BIG THING in entertainment. This time, log into the OASIS and discuss Ready Player One, which premiered in the United States on Thursday, March 29, 2018. Sound Off! is meant to be a reaction, but not necessarily…

via Sound Off! Ready Player One — Speculative Chic

Do you think Ms. Marvel deserves her own movie?

Then check out this coulumn I just posted over on Speculative Chic! Now is clearly the perfect time for Ms. Marvel to enter the MCU.

The future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has never looked brighter. With the incredibly cool-looking Black Panther and the much hyped Avengers: Infinity War set to hit the screen before the summer, the short term is sure to be filled with excitement. And the long term looks just as good, thanks to Marvel’s acquisition of…

via 5 Reasons Why Ms. Marvel Needs Her Own Movie — Speculative Chic

Where I’ve been

Hello, world! It’s certainly been a while since I posted anything here (so much shame!). It’s just that 2017 was such a big year for me. I bought my first house! I quit my job of seven years and started a new one! I completed another successful NaNoWriMo and wrote A LOT of words throughout the year. But being caught up in all of that meant that my blogging ended up falling off a bit. But now I find myself wanting to come back to it. Why? Because I have OTHER big plans for 2018, and I hope to document it all here.

So until I get started on those plans, I’d thought I’d keep you up to date on some of the things I have been writing. Because I’ve been doing plenty of blogging, but just not here. Below you can find a list for all of my posts on the fanzine Speculative Chic. That includes my regular monthly column (where I talk about books, comics, fiction serials, and even video games and music), as well as my contributions to group columns. There are the Sound Offs, which are (mostly) reviews of current movies, Roundtables, where we share our thoughts on a particular topic, and My Favorite Things where we talk about our speculative favs. Interestingly enough, I also used to edit My Favorite Things, but dropped it when 2017 got too overwhelming. The column still exists, but as a solo column (I even did one this November!).

So until I start getting new material up here, check out the following links:

Monthly Columns
January- Psychic Romances and Passive Protagonists: A Review of Connie Willis’s Crosstalk
February- Wonder Woman Comics: Five Suggestions for New Readers
March- Shaking up the Genre: A Review of Mishell Baker’s Borderline
April- “The Flow of Time is Always Cruel”: On Finally Finishing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
May- Doomed Love: Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Failure of Relationships in Superhero Comics
June- Television in Book Form: A Review of the Serial Bookburners
July- Reading the Hugos: Best Graphic Story
August- Magic at the Vatican: Bookburners Levels Up in Season Two
September- Women of DC Rebirth
October- Give Brains a Chance: Five Reasons Why You Should Check Out the White Trash Zombie Series
November- A Team Divided: The Serial Bookburners Goes Big and Small in Season Three and My Favorite Things with Nancy O’Toole Meservier
December- One Nerd + One Violin = Endless Possibilities: An Introduction to the Music Videos of Taylor Davis

Sound Offs
Hidden Figures
Zootopia (Throwback Sound Off)
Deadpool (Throwback Sound Off)
Guardians of the Galaxy, vol 2
When the Moon Was Ours (Triptee Winning Book)
Wonder Woman
Spider-Man: Homecoming
IT
Thor: Ragnarock
Justice League
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Roundtables
Resolution Project 2017 (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time)
My First Fandom (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Favorite Love Stories (The Glamourist Histories)
Leave it Alone! (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Finales that Fell Flat (Fables)
Cancellations that Killed Us (The Legend of Wonder Woman)
How’d We Do? Resolution Project Wrap up-2017 (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time)
Biggest Disappointments of 2017 (The Treatment of Iris West)
Future Favorites: Our Most Anticipated Releases of 2018 (The Lady Astronaut Series)
Resolution Project 2018 (Oathbringer)

My Favorite Things
My Favorite Things: Fantastic Beasts, Nerdy Handbags, Wonder Woman, and Custom-Made Comic Book Covers (Greg Rucka’s First Run on Wonder Woman)
My Favorite Things: Graphic Novel Adaptations and Complex Characters (The Obelisk Gate)
My Favorite Things: Mad Scientists, Life Model Decoys, Horror Biographies, Episodic Board Games, and The Legend of Zelda (Agents of SHIELD: LMD Story arc)
Non-Speculative Edition (Capsule Wardrobes)
My Favorite Things: The CW, Comedic Sci-Fi, Cartoon Cats, and Penny Dreadful Continued (Arrow’s Prometheus)
My Favorite Things: Fantasy Video Games, Obscure Fairy Tales, and Ghost Stories (Erstwhile)
My Favorite Things: New Gods, Monstrous Comics, and “Lost Girls” (The music video for Lindsey Stirling’s “Lost Girls”)

How I Learned to Write (Pretty Much) Every Day- On Creating Regular Writing Habits- Part One

One of the biggest tips that you hear from people when it comes to writing is the advice to “write every day.” This makes a lot of sense. I find that the quality of my writing goes up when I’m writing on a regular basis. Also, it just makes it a lot easier to accomplish something when you’re committing time to it every day.

I’ve gotten pretty good at creating a steady writing habit over the past few years, even if I fall short of writing every day. Since I know it’s something that a lot of people struggle with, I thought I’d share what works for me. The key words there being “what works for me.” Everyone approaches their writing differently. I don’t claim this to be a full proof method. All I can claim as that’s it’s made me a hell of a lot more efficient as a writer. And it mostly breaks down to being prepared, being specific, and being realistic.

Tip #1- Decide that You’re Going to Make Writing A Priority- This one may sound unnecessary. If you’ve decided that you want to write every day (or at least on a regular schedule), haven’t you already done that? To me, there’s a very big difference between saying “I’m going to write more” and “I’m going to make writing a priority” and the key word there is “a priority.” By mentally preparing myself in advance by setting up this specific goal, it ends up being a great way of dealing with distractions. Say I feel the urge to spend time clicking around on the internet during writing time. The second I pull up my browser, I hear a little voice saying “but Nancy, writing is supposed to be a priority.” Maybe there’s a book I really want to read, or TV show I want to watch? “No, writing is a priority.” But I want more sleep! “Nope. Priority.”

Of course, there are things in your life that are going to take priority even over writing (or at least should). You probably shouldn’t neglect your kids for example. And while it’s one thing to fight the urge to sleep in, neglecting your need for sleep for an extended period of time just doesn’t work. But creating this goal has really helped me stay focused in times when I would otherwise be distracted. We’ll get more into dealing with distractions in Part Two!

Tip #2- Pick a Project That You’re Excited About, and Prepared to Dive Into- This was something a concept introduced to me in Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k (a great book about writing), and one that’s worked well for me. Each year, I do NaNoWriMo. The years that I enter NaNoWriMo with a project that I’m really excited about, and well prepared for, are years that I’m a lot more productive. And by “prepared,” I don’t necessarily mean having a detailed outline written out in advance (although that may work for you!). Instead, I make sure that I when I sit down at my computer, I know what I want to write that day. Beyond that, I have a really solid idea of what I want to do for the next few chapters, and a vague idea of what I want to do for the rest of the book. This allows me to stay true to my discovery writer roots, without having to worry about my flow getting derailed by simply not knowing what to do next.

As far as excitement goes, I think it’s natural to become frustrated with a project during certain points of the writing project. But for me, the better prepared I am, I’m less likely to find myself dissatisfied on a regular basis. So that’s another example where a certain level of preparation can help.

This process works a little differently while editing (which is what I’m working on now), but I find that it still helps to go into the day excited about your project, and with a really solid idea of what you’re going to do next.

Tip #3- Pick and Time to Write, And Stick to It- One of the biggest tips I see when talking about setting up New Year’s Resolutions, or any kind of goals, is to make sure that they are specific and within your control. So, instead of saying “I’m going to lose weight this year!” you say “I am going to work out for at least a half hour, five times a week.” The second goal is focused around daily tasks that you can do, rather than some general goal you want to do sometime during the next year. Another benefit that comes when setting goals like this is it helps to break down something large, into smaller, more manageable parts. It’s why during NaNoWriMo, you’re more likely to succeed if you think “I need to write 1667 words today” not “holy hell, I only have a month to write a whole book!”

When it comes to writing on a regular basis, I find it’s best to set aside a specific time that you can write every day. Ideally, this will be the same time every day. For me, that’s an hour before I go to work every day. As my work schedule fluctuates from day to day (but is pretty stagnant week to week), this means I have to be a little flexible. Still, for the most part, my mornings go like this- wake up, eat breakfast, get ready for the day, write.

Of course, my path isn’t going to work for everyone. Maybe you’re a baker, and have to be at work at some ungodly hour in the morning. Maybe your work schedule fluctuates from week to week. It’s why, before actually sitting down to write, I recommend taking a good look at the limitations of your actual schedule. This may mean that you don’t find time to write every day. Maybe your weekends are just too full. Maybe your weekdays are too full, but you can find a nice chunk of time on Saturday and Sunday. The point with these tips isn’t to find an ideal situation, but to find something sustainable.

Cause that’s the point, isn’t it? To create a pattern. To make your way steadily toward a goal, step by step, through creating daily habits that you can stick with.

And speaking of step by step, this is turning out a lot longer then I suspected it to be. So as a result, I’m breaking this post into two parts. This is the end of Part One. Please check back for next week’s post for Part Two!

Fallen to Earth: The Trials and Tribulations of The New 52’s Supergirl — Speculative Chic

Hey there! I have a new entry up on Speculative Chic! This one’s all about Supergirl, and adventures during The New 52. I break down both the good and bad (and trust me, there are both!)

Back when Greg Berlanti first announced that he was making a Supergirl TV show, I realized something very important. I knew embarrassingly little about Supergirl herself. Sure, I knew that she was a Kryptonian, and Clark Kent’s cousin, but beyond that? Yeah… not so much. To rectify this, I found myself hitting up my library,…

via Fallen to Earth: The Trials and Tribulations of The New 52’s Supergirl — Speculative Chic

Meet Squirrel Girl: Your New Favorite Superhero, Role Model, and Best Friend — Speculative Chic

I used to think that Squirrel Girl was just a joke. In my defense, that was usually how she was brought up, in a laughable, dismissive way. I distinctly remember some form of the phrase “Even Squirrel Girl will have her own Marvel movie before DC figures out how put popular character X on film”…

via Meet Squirrel Girl: Your New Favorite Superhero, Role Model, and Best Friend — Speculative Chic

Hey! My first post on Speculative Chic just went live! Are you a Squirrel Girl fan? Then you’ll love this post. Not a Squirrel Girl fan? Then maybe you will be after reading this post 🙂