The Mid-Year Goal Update

Back in January (as you may remember), I posted my goals for this year. Now that June is over and the year is more than halfway gone (holy cow, seriously?), I figure it’s time to take a look, see how things are going, and make some updates.

Physical
Work out at least twice a week for 30 minutes apiece.
Well, I started working out with my roommates, which means I haven’t so much been working out “twice a week for 30 minutes” as I’ve been working out “4-5 times a week for at least an hour.” So yeah, I’m accomplishing this goal in spades.

Drink at least six glasses of water per day.
I’ve done a good job with this as well, especially since I got a 20-oz. water bottle that makes it easier to keep a lot of water at my desk.

Writing
Finish draft 4 of my ’06 NaNo for CPs.
Completed in January.

Finish a first draft for at least two of the three projects I want to complete (my NaNo novels from 2012, 2011, and 2008).
I finished the draft of my NaNo 2012 novel in April, but I haven’t worked on the other two yet. Not sure if I’ll get to them, unless I make finishing one (or both!) my goal for NaNo this year.

Attend the OWFI conference in May and the OCW conference in October.
I had a great time at the OWFI conference, but I’m not sure if I’ll be attending the OCW conference this year.

Pick two of the pictures in my “holy cow I want to write a story about this” folder. Write at least a short story for each one.
Well, the urban fantasy I’ve been working on for the past two months? That is based on one of these pictures. I think if I finish the draft of an entire novel, I can count this one complete.

Set up a Facebook page for my writing.
Haven’t even looked at this one.

Blogging
Review at least one new movie each month. Except for months where the idea of actually giving money to a movie in the theater makes me sick to my stomach.
I…have not been doing quite as good with this one. However, I have actually made an effort to go see the movies I want to. They’ve just all come out in the past 2 months. 🙂

Keep to a posting schedule of twice a week.
Some weeks I do better than others!

Comment more regularly on the blogs I follow.
I’ve been doing all right with this, but I’ve kind of faded a little more on it lately. I’ll try to pick it up once again.

Career
Attend another CSS summit.
I have actually attended three summits so far this year, for responsive web design, user experience, and WordPress. LEARN ALL THE THINGS!

Up my coding game in PHP, MySQL, and JavaScript.
I’ve certainly been doing this…

Intellectual
Read 70 new books in 2013.
I’m a little behind, but I’m getting through a lot of books that have been on my list for awhile (see below!).

Read all the unread books currently on my shelf/Kindle. (Or at least, attempt to.)
Slowly but surely.

Read at least three non-writing-related non-fiction books.
So far I’ve read one, and I’ve got two more on my library list. I’ll put them on hold once I clear out a few more from my shelf.

Take more books off my gigantic TBR list than I add to it. (Borrowed from Marissa Meyer.)
I…yeah. No. I don’t think this is going to happen, but I’m trying!

Fiction:
Endymion by Dan Simmons
Long Lost by David Morrell
If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino
The Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis
Shadows in Bronze by Lindsey Davis
The Course of Honor by Lindsey Davis
Young Men in Spats by P.G. Wodehouse
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

Kushiel’s Avatar by Jacqueline Carey
Kushiel’s Chosen by Jacqueline Carey
Shada by Douglas Adams
The Street Lawyer by John Grisham
The Honor of Spies by W.E.B. Griffin
Foreign Influence by Brad Thor
True Blue by David Baldacci
The Passage by Justin Cronin
Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold
A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold
Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Gone by Michael Grant
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
The Ancient by R.A. Salvatore
The Demon Awakens by R.A. Salvatore
The Demon Spirit by R.A. Salvatore
The Demon Apostle by R.A. Salvatore
The Wind Merchant by Ryan Dunlap
Triple Play by Abigail Barnette
Long Relief by Abigail Barnette

Nonfiction
The Pirate Queen: Queen Elizabeth I, Her Pirate Adventurers, and the Dawn of Empire by Susan Ronald
Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain
Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
Story by Robert McKee
Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin
Creating Characters: How to Build Story People by Dwight V. Swain
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Recently Added
Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger
Winterblaze by Kristen Callihan

The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross
Beyond Shame by Kit Rocha
Lamb by Christopher Moore
The Dame by R.A. Salvatore (Actually was a Christmas gift for a friend, but he loaned it to me once he finished)
Exclusively Yours by Shannon Stacey
Yours to Keep by Shannon Stacey

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett
Mort by Terry Pratchett

Men-at-Arms by Terry Pratchett
Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett
Jingo by Terry Pratchett
Queen of Shadows by Dianne Sylvan

Book Review – A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold

a-civil-campaignI wanted to read A Civil Campaign as soon as I read this introduction to a review of the omnibus Cordelia’s Honor:

Lois McMaster Bujold wrote what is quite possibly the most famous, beloved, and awesome science fiction romance ever, A Civil Campaign. A Civil Campaign is a Regency Romance set in space, with manners, fantastic clothes, and awkward dinner parties mixed with cloning, recovery from physical and mental trauma, inter-galactic politics, humor, sadness, glowing HEAs, and much more.

Doesn’t that sound fantastic? Really, why wouldn’t you want to read it?

I am here to report that A Civil Campaign lives up to the hype. I absolutely adored it.

This picks up a few months after the events of Komarr, with Miles back on Barrayar and bound and determined to start courting Ekaterin properly. However, he knows that she’s not all that keen on getting married again, so it’s a SECRET courtship. A secret courtship that he tells absolutely everybody about except for her.

(Don’t worry. He gets smacked for this. A few times.)

Then there’s his brother, Mark. Mark returns home from university with a brilliant scientist (that he may have helped escape from prison), a girlfriend, a bunch of bugs, and a business idea that involves all three.

And during all of this, Miles’s foster brother, Gregor (who also happens to be the Emperor of Barrayar), is getting married, which means that wedding preparations are taking up a great deal of everyone’s time.

It. Is. AWESOME.

I loved the way the various plot threads intersect and the culture clash between the staunchly traditional and conservative Barrayar society and the more progressive Beta Colony. I loved the more serious political plots moving under the romances.

I loved getting to meet Miles’s family: Mark, Ivan, Gregor, and his parents, Cordelia and Aral. Even though I hadn’t read the previous books that built the relationships between these characters, I still got the sense of camaraderie between them all. And I loved seeing how Ekaterin and her son, Nicky, slowly became integrated into the Vorkosigan family.

I loved seeing Miles in love and generally stumbling over himself and becoming his own worst enemy as he tries to do what he assumes is the right thing. (Because it’s what he wants, of course it’s the right thing.) And when he screws it up and it’s identified how badly he screws it up, Miles does apologetic like nobody’s business.

Ekaterin really grows in this book as well. After all the events of Komarr, it’s wonderful to see her come into her own, to stand up against people who want to beat her back into the mold she just escaped. And over the course of this novel, she becomes more than a match for Miles.

A Civil Campaign is much longer than most of the romances I’ve read (400 pages in a hardback), but it never feels that long. With everything that’s going on—the wedding plans, romantic plots, political plots, and business plots—it needs the space. The pacing’s brisk, and I was never bored.

There are so many things I want to talk about in this, but half the fun of the book was the discovery, seeing how all the best-laid plans you learn about in the first few chapters of the book just go straight to hell by the middle of it.

If the idea of a Regency-style romance set on another planet intrigues you, and if the elements from the quote at the beginning of this post pique your interest, then you must add A Civil Campaign to your TBR list. It was such a joy to read. I really couldn’t put it down.

I’d recommend reading Komarr first to get to know Miles and Ekaterin before you jump into this one, but as both are really, really good, you won’t be sorry.

The Updated Reading List

Now that we’re almost three full months into 2013, let’s see how I’m doing with the actual reading list, shall we?

Fiction:
Endymion by Dan Simmons
Long Lost by David Morrell
If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino
The Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis
Shadows in Bronze by Lindsey Davis
The Course of Honor by Lindsey Davis
Young Men in Spats by P.G. Wodehouse
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

Kushiel’s Avatar by Jacqueline Carey
Kushiel’s Chosen by Jacqueline Carey
Shada by Douglas Adams
The Street Lawyer by John Grisham
The Honor of Spies by W.E.B. Griffin
Foreign Influence by Brad Thor
True Blue by David Baldacci
The Passage by Justin Cronin
Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold
A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold
Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Gone by Michael Grant
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
The Ancient by R.A. Salvatore
The Demon Awakens by R.A. Salvatore
The Demon Spirit by R.A. Salvatore
The Demon Apostle by R.A. Salvatore
The Wind Merchant by Ryan Dunlap
Triple Play by Abigail Barnette
Long Relief by Abigail Barnette

Nonfiction
The Pirate Queen: Queen Elizabeth I, Her Pirate Adventurers, and the Dawn of Empire by Susan Ronald
Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain
Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
Story by Robert McKee
Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin
Creating Characters: How to Build Story People by Dwight V. Swain
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Recently Added
Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger
Winterblaze by Kristen Callihan
The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross
Beyond Shame by Kit Rocha
Lamb by Christopher Moore
The Dame by R.A. Salvatore (Actually was a Christmas gift for a friend, but he loaned it to me once he finished)
Exclusively Yours by Shannon Stacey
Yours to Keep by Shannon Stacey

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett
Mort by Terry Pratchett

Men-at-Arms by Terry Pratchett
Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett
Jingo by Terry Pratchett
Queen of Shadows by Dianne Sylvan

I think I’ve actually done a not-terrible job on reading books I actually own, and a particularly good job of reading more in genres that are not romance. I’ve also managed to hold off on buying too many more books; the one exception, as you might be able to tell, is Discworld. And I don’t really count that because I buy them as much for my roommates as for me; all three of us are kind of in love with the series.

What books have you read lately? Anything worth adding to the TBR list?

Book Review: If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino

If on a winter's night a travelerIf on a winter’s night a traveler was given to me by one of my WriMos during our TGIO party after NaNoWriMo 2011. Half a glance at the book and I knew it was so far out of my typical reading zone that it may as well have been in another solar system. However, he assured me it was good.

Of course, I put off reading it. I had a draft to finish, then other books that were more interesting, that I was more excited about. But finally, finally I sat down and started it, because I wanted to expand my reading horizons and because I needed clear off some of my growing TBR list before I’m allowed to get any more books.

It’s not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a book to make you think, really think, where the author never uses a ten-cent word when he has a shiny five-dollar word at the ready, and where every single person talks as though they picked up their vocabulary from a doctoral thesis in the fine arts.

And the paragraphs are longer than a football field.

And the paragraphs are longer than a football field.

It’s difficult for me to review because it’s not the type of story I’m most familiar with. It’s almost as though If on a winter’s night a traveler is an experiment in storytelling, a new way to write a novel, through the lens of a reader reading other novels.

That being said, the style and structure of it ultimately fascinated me, and that was what kept me reading. I wanted to see how Calvino was ultimately going to tie all the disparate threads together.

The novel begins with, perhaps, the most meta opening sentence in the history of novels:

You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler.

That’s your first clue that this isn’t the typical novel: every other chapter is written in second person, talking about you, the Reader, on your journey not just through If on a winter’s night a traveler, but the beginnings of nine other novels, each interrupted for one reason or another at a very tense moment.

It’s a viewpoint decision that makes sense, considering what Calvino is doing, but it definitely takes some getting used to, and it was a struggle for me to initially get into the story.

However, there were a number of slyly amusing moments early on, like this excerpt about types of books that any booklover will recognize:

Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven’t Read, which were frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you. But you know you must never allow yourself to be awed, that among them there extend for acres and acres the Books You Needn’t Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading… And thus you pass the outer girdle of ramparts, but then you are attacked by the infantry of the Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered.

Sections like this made me smile and made it easier to read, particularly early on. Calvino has a wonderful way with words and an adoration of long sentences and longer paragraphs. He excels at putting words to universal concepts, so that while you’re reading you have to stop and consider the words and say, “Yes, I understand that. I’ve felt that.”

And it’s very interesting to follow the Reader and the Other Reader on their journey through the books, through what novels mean to them and through the search that brings them closer together. It’s so unlike anything I’ve ever read before that it was cool just to see how it would turn out.

About halfway through the book, though, the main story gets to a point where it starts requiring a suspension of disbelief far more sizable than I usually allow, and I read fantasy and sci-fi on a regular basis.

Not to mention Ludmilla (the Other Reader) is the type of female character I don’t particularly like: the attractive, mysterious, slightly aloof woman, whom every male character in the story is absolutely captivated by for no discernible reason.

And frankly, the less said about sex scenes here, the better. Yeesh.

However, mentioning those things seems almost like I’m missing the point of the book. While they might have annoyed me, it wasn’t enough to stop me from reading, or to keep me from recognizing Calvino’s skill, particularly in handling what had to be an ambitious project.

It’s like this is a book you read because it does something more than simply tell a story, and if you look at it only on that level, then it’s like only seeing one part of a picture. It might be a very pretty part, but if you take a step back and refocus, you’ll find so much more.

This book is certainly not for everyone, but it what I’ve mentioned intrigues you, then you should pick it up and give it a try.

The Book List for 2013

As with last year, I have a scary pile of books sitting on my shelf that I would like to attempt to read at some point during 2013. Some were on there last year (Um, oops?), some were gifts, some were recommendations, some were “Oh, hi, massive sale at the used bookstore,” and still others were “I have disposable income and no willpower.”

No willpower whatsoever.

No willpower whatsoever.

And as with last year, this list will expand as my favorite authors publish their newest books (come on, February!) and as I discover new shiny things that make me go “Oooh!” (Example: Brandon Sanderson has a handful of novellas I have not yet read. I MUST AMEND THIS.)

Fiction:
Endymion by Dan Simmons
Long Lost by David Morrell
If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino
The Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis (finished on January 4!)
Shadows in Bronze by Lindsey Davis
The Course of Honor by Lindsey Davis
Young Men in Spats by P.G. Wodehouse
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi
Kushiel’s Avatar by Jacqueline Carey
Kushiel’s Chosen by Jacqueline Carey
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Shada by Douglas Adams
The Street Lawyer by John Grisham
The Honor of Spies by W.E.B. Griffin
Foreign Influence by Brad Thor
True Blue by David Baldacci
The Passage by Justin Cronin
Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold
A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold
Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Gone by Michael Grant
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
The Ancient by R.A. Salvatore
The Demon Awakens by R.A. Salvatore
The Demon Spirit by R.A. Salvatore
The Demon Apostle by R.A. Salvatore
The Wind Merchant by Ryan Dunlap
Triple Play by Abigail Barnette
Long Relief by Abigail Barnette

Nonfiction
The Pirate Queen: Queen Elizabeth I, Her Pirate Adventurers, and the Dawn of Empire by Susan Ronald
Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain
Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
Story by Robert McKee
Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin
Creating Characters: How to Build Story People by Dwight V. Swain

Anything on there look good to you guys? What does your 2013 reading list look like?

The Book List for My Soon-To-Be Niece

If you’ve followed me for a few months, you’ve probably heard me freak out about my brother and his wife having their first child in December, a little girl.

My thoughts run along two different lines regarding this development.

First off: Holy cow, my baby brother is gonna be a dad.

Scanners Head Explody

It breaks my brain.

Second off: I’M GONNA GIVE HER SO MANY BOOKS.

With thought number two in mind, I asked Facebook for book suggestions a couple of months ago and compiled a list. I figure with this, I’m set for birthdays and Christmases for every niece and nephew I have for the next few years.

Here’s what my Facebook friends recommended:

The Baby/Young Kid Books
Where the Wild Things Are (purchased)
Oh Say Can You Say (purchased)
Goodnight Moon
Are You My Mother?
Caps for Sale
A Pocket for Corduroy
Green Eggs and Ham
I’ll Love You Forever
Eloise
Blueberry Girl
The Wolves in the Walls
Amelia Bedelia
Henry and Mudge
Guess How Much I Love You
The Just So Stories
The Runaway Bunny
I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew
The Giving Tree
Oh the Places You’ll Go!
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
The Kissing Hand
The Velveteen Rabbit
Rainbow Fish and the Big Blue Whale
Cat in the Hat
The Berenstain Bears
The Pokey Little Puppy
The Tawny Scrawny Lion

The Joke Books
Go the Fuck to Sleep
That is Not Your Mommy Anymore – A Zombie Tale
All My Friends Are Dead

Books for When She’s Older
Ramona Quimby
A Little Princess
The Secret Garden
Heidi
The Little Prince
Call of the Wild
Charlotte’s Web
Chronicles of Narnia
A Wrinkle in Time

Are there any books I’ve missed? What was your favorite book as a child?