May Reads

I didn’t get around to a lot of reading this month. I know, #ShameOnMe.

My semester finished up at the beginning of the month so I spent a little bit of time unwinding and clearing any remaining brain fog left in my noggin. Plus, I spent a lot of time with Jessi planning our joint project for next semester. Also, I played a ton of D&D. I’m that kind of nerd.

But I’ve still been chugging along at A Court of Mist and Fury, so I’m starting to get a little obsessed. Just last week, I sat down to read a chapter before bed and before I knew it, it was one in the morning and I’ve read over a hundred and fifty pages. Oops.

What can I say? I’m coming around to Rhysand.

I also started The Seafarer’s Kiss while at work last week. ACOMAF is just a little bit too big to fit into my purse, meanwhile The Seafarer’s Kiss is the perfect size to keep with me all day. So I started it, but I’m only a few pages in. I’m very excited to read this queer retelling.

But that’s all I managed to read this month! Any fun reads y’all had?

Useful Apps for Writers

I’ve been called a lover of apps. Mozzarella sticks, nachos, onion rings… wait. Not those kinds of apps. What I actually mean are applications, useful bits of tech that make my writing process smoother and a little more enjoyable.

I’ll start this off by saying that none of these apps are sponsored, I’m just a 20+ writer who loves using these apps. Most of them are free (#brokewriterproblems), some have a one time or monthly fee. There are probably other apps that achieve a similar goal for free, but I’ve found what works for me and my operating system. All of the following apps are 100% compatible with Android and Windows, as I don’t use Apple or iOS, so if you use a Mac or iPhone, be aware of that!

Onto the apps!

Pacemaker.press (Base functions, free/Premium functions, $8/month. Web)

I’ve talked a little about Pacemaker before, and how much it’s helped me keep a good schedule throughout my drafts, but my deadline anxiety has been eased significantly thanks to the Pacemaker. It’s a progress tracker that lets you input your goal, be it word count, chapters, pages or anything else, and a deadline. Then you select the type of workload you want, like Steady, a Mountain Climb, Random, and it’ll determine your daily goal in order to finish on time. You can even designate certain days to do more work. Prefer to work more on weekends? Do you work part time or have certain days where you’re at school and can’t write? You can plug in those exceptions and it’ll calculate around them.

pacemakerIt was vital when I knew I would be working weekends and traveling to school two days a week during my undergrad, since I was able to get more writing done on certain days than others and still meet my deadlines. 

There are a dozen different ways you can customize your Pacemaker, but my favorite will always be the ability to see my progress in a graph and the calendar export that lets me keep tabs on my goal on my Google Calendar. The basic functions are free, and you can have up to two projects running at the same time on the basic plan. The premium plan is $8 a month but gives you access to a calendar feature on the site which tracks all of your projects, of which you can have an unlimited number of on the premium plan. But the best part of Pacemaker is that you can use the base of the app for anything, not just tracking word count. I use mine to keep track of when blog posts need to be written, and if I’ve done my daily lessons on Duolingo, and all my writing projects. It’s versatile and I love that about it.

Writeometer (Free, Android/Google Play Store)

writeometerI love graphs and trackers. I’m such a visual person. And Writeometer was the first tracker I fell in love with. It’s a free mobile app only available on the Play Store for Android systems.

Writeometer offers pretty much everything you might need in a mobile word count tracker: multiple projects, reminders to write (customizable to your schedule), it’ll calculate an exact word count or end date for you, and it has a timer to write to. The default timer is set to 25 minutes and you can access the timer directly  through the notification it sends you, and you’re encouraged to write through the whole time, then you can input your word count.

It even has a widget you can stick on your home page that is a shortcut to your project and has a little bar that fills up with your word count as you get closer to your goal! It’s so satisfying to watch it fill up day by day.

Freedom (Free trial, then $6.99/month or other pricing plans. PC/Mac/iOS)

dashboard-ca302c0a5f9210e467742f1b4c817364b9e9ba61b2a03efa1b869b756cad66baFreedom is a site and app blocking app that works across all your devices to block websites and apps. It’s incredibly  handy and I love it because you can have different lists of what to block. Say some days you only want to block your social media, you can make a list for your Facebook and Twitter and any other time wasting site you love. Need to block the entire internet? You can make a list for that too.

The other thing that sets Freedom apart from other app blocking sites is that you can set schedules into it. So say you need to block certain sites and things between 9 and 5 on weekdays, or only certain days. You can do that. This isn’t available in the free trial, last I checked, but the full program includes it.

Since Freedom isn’t available on Android devices, they provide a free promo code to download Offtime, which tracks your mobile app usages and can block apps on your phone for you in the same manner as Freedom.

Whatsapp (Free, mobile, web and PC/Mac)

Okay, okay, I see the irony of suggesting a messaging app right after suggesting an app blocker. I know.

whatsappBut Whatsapp is actually just the latest in my long history of favorite messaging apps. I’ve tried Slack and Skype and Google Hangouts. But Whatsapp is one of my favorites right now for plenty of reasons.

But I mainly use WhatsApp to stay connected and chat with my writer friend(s). Mainly JM Tuckerman. But we use it to chat when we’re writing and reading, and the app runs both on our phones and on our computers and browsers so we can chat while one or both of us are at work. We’re collaborating on a project together so it’s vital that we have a reliable app that lets us chat easily and quickly and also exchange media files if need be.

Plus, the built in gif search is integral to sending each other reaction gifs to our writing or whatever book we’re reading.

Rainymood.com (Free, web)

rainymoodI like listening to something when I’m writing. Usually white noise or my Deep Focus playlist on Spotify. It helps me, unsurprisingly, focus.

Rainymood.com is my go to white noise generator. Technically all it generates is a constant stream of rain and thunder, which is just fine by me. I love the sound of rain and it really gets me in the creative zone when it’s playing.

Some people need more than that, like a generator you can control exactly what kind of white noise you hear. For that, I recommend the mobile app, White Noise Generator by Relaxio on the Play Store. It lets you generate different soundtracks, like rain, a stream, birds or a fire place, and then save that track for listening later. It also has a timer in case you want to use it to fall asleep after a long day of writing!

Those are all the apps I’ve come to love while I write, and I hope they can be of some use to you as well. If you liked this content, be sure to follow me on Twitter and if you want to help me create  more awesome bookish and writerly content, consider buying my a coffee at my ko-fi!

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Monday Reads

I spend most of my Mondays at work, usually 10 to 5, but because I work in a BBQ restaurant, not a lot of people want ribs for lunch (JM Tuckerman is, of course, the exception. She wants ribs all the time). So Mondays tend to be pretty slow at work, and my managers don’t mind that I sit around and get some homework done during the semester.

But now that the semester is over, I feel less inclined to actually bring a book or notebook with me to get something done. So I’ve been playing Magikarp Jump lately.

Today’s Memorial Day though, so everyone and their grandmother’s are going to be out getting BBQ because that’s what people like to do, I guess. So I’ll be extra busy.

But I 100% plan on getting home, throwing some yoga pants on, and lounging around and finishing A Court of Mist and Fury after work.

What are you Monday reads?

On Starting Up Again

I’m pretty open when it comes to my depression and how it affects my writing. Mainly that I find myself unable to write pretty often.

I talked a little bit about how this past semester was a rough one on this blog before, but yesterday I vented a little on my Twitter about how I decided to start up daily writing again.

Over the semester, I spent most of the month trying to read as much as a I could and then cramming all of my writing down into four or five days before everything was due. Mostly because I kept telling myself that I had more time to write than I actually did. So I ended up panic writing with my deadline quickly approaching.

Time management skills, I do not know ye.

But I’ve made a personal promise to myself to finish at least one draft this summer. I’ll have a lot of time to write when I go to Poland this summer, especially since a change of scenery always kick starts my creative drive into high gear.

pacemakerBut while I’m still stuck in New Jersey, with the same old scenery I’ve had for 20+ years, I decided to use this neat program called Pacemaker.press. It keeps track of multiple projects for you and it comes with this new calendar feature for its premium users and it’s been really helpful in keeping track of my daily work.

It’s been a tremendous help, especially since I’m such a visual learner and seeing it all laid out like that in front of me helps me keep in mind what I still need to get done. Plus, it lets me set up small, attainable goals every day that will eventually lead to a completed project. So it’s really neat.

Not that this blog post was supposed to be me telling you about this cool thing. I never really know how these blog posts are going to end.

But I’ve started work on my YA Fantasy again, and I’m really glad to be back in that world. I’ve also started a YA piece with the coolest lady around, JM Tuckerman, and that project is going to be fun.

Review: The Dragon Waking ★★★★☆

9780807517048_The-Dragon-Waking-1An endearing tale of a girl who meets her best friend in the Nevada desert, who just so happens to be a dragon. The Dragon Waking by Grayson Towler is a heartwarming tale of friendship, adventure and a splash of magic.

For thirteen-year-old Rose Gallagher, having a friend who is really a dragon and can perform magic, change shape, and fly her away from the predictability of small-town life feels like a dream come true. But secrets have a price, and the more Rose learns about her friend Jade and the world of dragons, the more dangerous her life becomes. Helped only by her fantasy-obsessed friend and a local occult enthusiast, Rose soon finds herself risking her life to help Jade recover a mysterious fragment of a meteorite called the Harbinger, which has the power to awaken countless dragons from their sixty-five-million-year slumber. Can they find the Harbinger before Jade’s enemies? As their battle unfolds over the neon-drenched skies of Las Vegas, Rose must face this overwhelming threat by drawing on the magic that humans possess the power of friendship, compassion, and trust.

The Dragon Waking is a little slow to start; we’re introduced to a lot of characters that don’t show up again after the first chapter or two and we’re not even given the meat of the reasoning of how Jade, our dragon friend, got to Earth until nearly three-quarters of the way through the book. For more than half of the book, we’re led to believe that dragons are aliens of some sort, since the only dragon we meet is tied to a meteorite–a tektite–that fell from space. When we do learn that dragons actually roamed Earth 65 million years ago, alongside the dinosaurs, it’s a little unbelievable.

The most redeeming quality of The Dragon Waking are the main characters, Rose and Jade. Their friendship was strong, built up slowly through lots of work, and their success relied heavily on their teamwork and them being stronger together. Rose is artistic and clever, able to think her way out of sticky situations and patient with Jade when trying to teach her English–another great thing about The Dragon Waking was the huge difference between the human language and the dragon language, and the barrier both girls had to overcome. The language barrier wasn’t swept aside and solved because Jade had magic and instantly learned how to speak human, but it was something both girls learned to process and communicate with through time.

Many of the characters did seem a little unnecessary; Rose’s friend Clay held no particular plot relevance other than to show that Rose had at least one human friend at some point, and to marvel at Jade being a dragon a little later on. But once the climax was approaching, he was put to sleep by the antagonist and didn’t appear again until the closing chapter. There was a heavy reliance on Mrs. Jersey, a teacher and neighbor of Rose’s, and also an adult. Middle-grade ought to have kids solving their problems on their own, but Mrs. Jersey seemed to smooth every problem and question and provide a little too much counsel to the girls in the first half of the book. Though, once she’s put to sleep at the same time as Clay, the girls are left to fend for themselves in true middle-grade fashion.

All-in-all, The Dragon Waking was a cute story about friendship and the prospect of human progress now that dragons are waking from their 65 million year slumber. Poetic language and plenty of lost in translation humor, this book is sure to please any kid with a love of dragons and dinosaurs.

Grayson Towler

 Barnes & Nobles . Amazon

 

Review: Freeks ★★★★☆

28220899Magic abilities, a traveling performance troupe and a monstrous secret that could kill everyone sounds like the perfect recipe for a great story. That’s exactly what Amanda Hocking’s Freeks delivers!

Welcome to Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow, where necromancy, magical visions, and pyrokinesis are more than just part of the act…

Mara has always longed for a normal life in a normal town where no one has the ability to levitate or predict the future. Instead, she roams from place to place, cleaning the tiger cage while her friends perform supernatural feats every night.

When the struggling sideshow is miraculously offered the money they need if they set up camp in Caudry, Louisiana, Mara meets local-boy Gabe…and a normal life has never been more appealing.

But before long, performers begin disappearing and bodes are found mauled by an invisible beast. Mara realizes that there’s a sinister presence lurking in the town with its sights set on getting rid of the sideshow freeks. In order to unravel the truth before the attacker kills everyone Mara holds dear, she has seven days to take control of a power she didn’t know she was capable of—one that could change her future forever.

Mara is a no-nonsense type of girl; someone who gets the job done and makes sure everything is running smoothly. Which, when it comes to their magical band of performers, doesn’t always happen. Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow is often the source of ridicule for their strange and often freakish acts, but they always manage to draw a crowd.

Caudry is a small town in Louisiana and when Gideon’s troupe arrives, things seem to start bad and get worse. When members of the troupe start to get attacked by a mysterious creature, it takes everything within Mara and her family to not turn tail and run. Mara struggles with staying to settle down for a normal life with town hottie Gabe and sticking to her family and helping to uncover who–or what–is killing them.

A slow start that goes from 0 to 100 in 3.5 seconds when the first attack happens to one of Mara’s childhood friends, Freeks will consume you and your entire afternoon. Once I got to the meaty bits of the plot, I didn’t want to put the book down at all. Mara’s internal struggle and desire for a normal life was enough to carry me through the first few chapters, because I cared about Mara.

Hocking does a fantastic job about painting these characters and showing you their best and worst parts all at once. I wanted Mara to find her gift and a place within the troupe other than roadie. I wanted her to fall in love and lead a normal life (though, I mainly wanted her to fall in love with Gabe’s sister Selena, and not Gabe himself, but that’s just me).

Freeks had a great voice; Mara’s unique perspective and choice of snappy comebacks left me giggling and really enjoying the story even more. If you’re already a fan of Amanda Hocking’s work, this is a great addition to your library. If you love paranormal oddities and thrilling mysteries with a sprinkle of romance, Freeks ought to find its way onto your TBR list.

Freeks publishes January 3rd, 2017.

Amanda Hocking is doing a blog tour with us starting January 2, 2017! Check out the first chapter here and the fifth chapter here, the giveaway here, and her Q&A interview here!

Author’s Website
Amazon . B&N . Goodreads

Free for the Summer!

*sings aggressively*

Spring semester is over! Well, I just need to wait for feedback from my mentor, but I’ve submitted all of my work and I’m ready to relax!

This past semester has been really rough. I went through a lot of lows. I spent a lot of time fighting my depression and it took a toll on my work. I felt like I hadn’t been doing my best work at all, and it felt like I was letting my mentor down. (Despite her saying otherwise!)

Depression isn’t easy, y’all. I spent day after day in bed because that was all I could do; I could barely get the energy to get up to go to the bathroom. And when you have to create, you lose steam fast and I ended up not being able to do the things I needed to do.

But I’m surrounded by positive forces, people who care and understand the things I’m going through, and I’m able to get help. So, I’m a work in progress.

But all my work is in and I’ve got two and a half months before I’ve got to get back into student mode and I’m excited for the summer. I’ve got a lot of reading lined up, and writing plans to follow. Jessi and I have a new bookish blog, bookedallnight.wordpress.com, to work on and I’m looking forward to a lot of things.

This summer, we’ve got BookCon! The Round Robin girls are heading out together in one last hurrah before the site closes, and I can’t wait to spend time with them.

I’m also spending a month abroad this July. I have a few cousins getting married in Poland this summer so we’re spending three weeks in Europe. And immediately after I’m flying out for my summer residency at SNC. So I’ll be dealing with a 9 hour jet lag after two days of weddings.

Now, just to figure out what books I’ll be bringing to read on the plane…

Review: The Hate U Give ★★★★★

32075671Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give blew up the book community when it released in February 2017, and for good reasons. The Hate U Give is an intense look into the lives of black kids living in a racist society that’s trying to keep them down. It was not only an incredibly well written story that had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish, but it was also very heart-wrenching in a way that made me, a white woman, realize my privilege because I knew that I would never be found at the end of such an injustice.

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

In The Hate U Give we follow Starr Carter, a sixteen year old girl from Garden Heights, a predominant black community, as her life gets turned upside down when she’s the sole witness in the shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil. She’s pulled into the rollercoaster of the movement to give Khalil the justice he deserves.

The Hate U Give comes right on the heels of the Black Lives Matter movement, the largest movement of the current generation. It’s a must read for anyone and everyone.

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of contemporary stories. They’ve never been for me. I mainly read fantasy for the escapism, but when it comes to police brutality and the state of our world, there’s no place for escapism. The Hate U Give hooks you in and keeps you in the real world, a world where violence against children isn’t always met with the right justice, a world that can still have hope among all the darkness, a world worth fighting for.

Angie Thomas’s Website

Amazon . B&N . Indiebound

Originally published on Round Robin Writes

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Review: Windwitch ★★★★☆

29939390.jpgI’ve got so many emotions about this one guys, I was a wreck reading it from start to finish. I loved Windwitch, and it definitely lived up to the high bar Truthwitch set up.

Sometimes our enemies are also our only allies…

After an explosion destroys his ship, the world believes Prince Merik, Windwitch, is dead. Scarred yet alive, Merik is determined to prove his sister’s treachery. Upon reaching the royal capital, crowded with refugees, he haunts the streets, fighting for the weak—which leads to whispers of a disfigured demigod, the Fury, who brings justice to the oppressed.

When the Bloodwitch Aeduan discovers a bounty on Iseult, he makes sure to be the first to find her—yet in a surprise twist, Iseult offers him a deal. She will return money stolen from him, if he locates Safi. Now they must work together to cross the Witchlands, while constantly wondering, who will betray whom first?

After a surprise attack and shipwreck, Safi and the Empress of Marstok barely escape with their lives. Alone in a land of pirates, every moment balances on a knife’s edge—especially when the pirates’ next move could unleash war upon the Witchlands.

It was a little weird to start Windwitch off, I’ll be honest. I didn’t exactly read Truthwitch. And before y’all get mad, I first listened to the audiobook. This was back when I first started commuting back and forth to school, so on my daily three hour car ride, I’d get through a lot of books. And Truthwitch was one of the ones I picked up one day. And I loved it so much I rushed out and bought a hard copy when I was done listening to it.

And now Windwitch is here and I actually read it. Listening to a book and reading a book are two completely different experiences. For instance, I never knew Kullen’s name was spelled with a ‘K’ (I always thought it was a ‘C’) and every time I read Iseult’s chapters, I heard the narrator’s voice (which was cool).

But Windwitch is a story that works in whatever format you consume it. Mainly, because it consumes you with emotion. I have so many feels about this story, about Merrik and Safi and Isuelt and Aeduan. I just want to hug all of them and tell them it’s going to be okay. The writing was immediately grabbing, the action had me staying up all night just so I could find out what happened, and let me tell you how much I fell in love with all the POV characters.

Windwitch is the sequel you don’t want to miss. This entire series is something you 100% need on your shelves. Plus, the third book, Bloodwitch, will be coming out soon! Not soon enough, mind you, but eventually!

Susan Dennard’s Website

Amazon . B&N . Indiebound

Originally published on Round Robin Writes

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Review: The Edge of the Abyss ★★★★★

26219455.jpgIf there’s anything I love in my YA books, it’s feels and queer pirates. And The Edge of the Abyss threw my feelings through the mouth of a vicious Reckoner, chopped it up and spit it back out to have Emily Skrutskie stomp on it. The point I’m trying to make is that The Edge of the Abyss destroyed me for the rest of the weekend when I finished reading it.

Three weeks have passed since Cassandra Leung pledged her allegiance to the ruthless pirate-queen Santa Elena and set free Bao, the sea monster Reckoner she’d been forced to train. The days as a pirate trainee are long and grueling, but it’s not the physical pain that Cas dreads most. It’s being forced to work with Swift, the pirate girl who broke her heart.

But Cas has even bigger problems when she discovers that Bao is not the only monster swimming free. Other Reckoners illegally sold to pirates have escaped their captors and are taking the NeoPacific by storm, attacking ships at random and ruining the ocean ecosystem. As a Reckoner trainer, Cas might be the only one who can stop them. But how can she take up arms against creatures she used to care for and protect?

Will Cas embrace the murky morals that life as a pirate brings or perish in the dark waters of the NeoPacific?

I can’t remember the last time I thought the sequel was better than the first book. But The Edge of the Abyss outshone it’s predecessor—which wasn’t easy, since I also gave The Abyss Surrounds Us five stars—and had me staring at a wall for at least fifteen minutes when I closed the last page.

Edge of the Abyss opens a few weeks after Cas promised herself to the Minnow as one of Santa Elena’s protege’s, and we’re immediately thrown into the thick of the plot when a rogue Reckoner attacks the ship. All the illegally sold Reckoner pups were set loose in the NeoPacific and are tearing the ecosystem apart.

So it’s up to Cas and the rest of the Minnow to fix the problem, or die trying.

Skrutskie’s mastery of language left me speechless at the narrative, and I would be lying if I said that I didn’t want to tattoo some of the gems she dropped into the book somewhere on me as a badge of honor. (Which I totally want to do.) I immediately tore through half of the book while sitting at work one morning and I didn’t want to put it down at all. I was sucked in and I needed to know what was going to happen next.

And let me tell you how the last third of the book had me in tears; from the moment they set sail with the rest of the Salt until the very last page, it was Feels Central on my face. I was my own little waterfall with how deeply this book hurt—in all the best ways possible.

If you haven’t already pre-ordered The Edge of the Abyss, or for some silly reason haven’t read The Abyss Surrounds Us, go and buy those right now. I won’t even mind if you stop reading this review to head over to your preferred book shop and bought these books. Not only are they masterfully written and insanely good, the queer characters are my absolute favorites. And if there’s ever a time to read a story about two girls in love and kicking ass, it’s right now.

The Edge of the Abyss releases on April 18th, 2017.

Emily Skrutskie
Amazon . B&N . Indiebound

Originally posted on Round Robin Writes

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