Sunday, September 4, 2016

time to disappear for a bit // *vanishes in a poof of smoke*

You all probably know that one of my main career goals is to become a published author. I talk a lot about it on here - what books I'm writing, what struggles I'm having, what worlds I'm creating. But some of you may not know that I have a second career goal (though if you've been around at all frequently, you'll probably know this too). My university degree is actually chemistry, and in two years (TWO SHORT YEARS!!) I hope to be starting medical school.

Yup. That's right. I want to be a doctor AND an author. Because why not? Who said you can only have one career at a time? I want it ALL.

For the last few years, I've managed to balance all parts of my life rather well - or, not so, if you look at my sporadic posting schedule on here. But what I mean is that I get it all done somehow, even if I don't get it done perfectly, or come out of it entirely sane. I get pretty super grades in school, post (relatively) regularly on here, post daily on instagram, tweet plentifully (if a little too much for my own good), and even manage to squeeze in some novel writing here and there occasionally. *pats self on back*

But, I think I've reached a Thing that requires me to give up a little more than, say, blogging once a week instead of three times. And what is that Thing? Oh, just a little exam called the MCAT.

*dun dun*

MCAT: Medical College Admission Test. Basically one of the major things that determines whether or not I'll get into medical school, and, therefore, whether or not I can become a doctor. Pretty important, don't you think?

And I'm taking mine in January. FIVE MONTHS FROM NOW.

Five months can be a long time, when you're taking a boring class, or when you're waiting for a highly anticipated book to come out, or when you're looking forward to vacation.
But five months can also be an extremely short time when you realize that approximately 150 days are all that stand between you and your future.

So I'm sure you'll understand when I say that I'm going to disappear from this blog for a bit (five months, actually). I've taken unofficial hiatuses before, out of necessity, but those never lasted for longer than a few weeks. I need the next five months to be entirely blog-responsibility-free so I have one less thing to think about. And as much as I love blogging, it's become a slight chore lately, so thanks to you, blogging slump, for coming at this opportune time when I have a perfect excuse to succumb to you. :-)

But saying I'll dissappear ENTIRELY is a bit of a lie, because I'm basically just disappearing from Ravens and Writing Desks. Here is a summary of my statuses elsewhere on the interwebs:

  • Twitter: VERY VERY PRESENT. As always. Of course. :-)
  • Instagram: Moderately present. I may not keep up my daily post as the months go on, but I will definitely be around!
  • Goodreads: Also moderately present (though I'm not much on there anyway even now). It'll be a place to keep track of reviews and reading statuses now that I'm no longer posting on the blog.
So if you're not connected with me on any of the above places - hit me up! I want to stay chatty with you all, and I promise not to groan about MCATs too much if you ask me how I'm doing.

Oh! One last thing! You probably want to know what I'll be doing for NaNoWriMo! (Actually, you probably didn't even think that far ahead, because who is planning for NOVEMBER right now?) My answer is - most likely? I would love to? I hope so? It really depends on how far my studying has gotten and if I can be all motivated and organized and disciplined and stuff. 

So! Farewell! (Though not really because I'll still be on Twitter etc.) I'll post again in January when the monstrous MCAT is over and I'll update you on what the state of the blog is (and, frankly, what the state of my brain is, because who knows, it might be imploded). 

Au revoir! See you elsewhere on the interwebs! 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater // it legit gave me nightmares and i love it

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Nothing living is safe. Nothing dead is to be trusted.

For years, Gansey has been on a quest to find a lost king. One by one, he’s drawn others into this quest: Ronan, who steals from dreams; Adam, whose life is no longer his own; Noah, whose life is no longer a lie; and Blue, who loves Gansey… and is certain she is destined to kill him.

Now the endgame has begun. Dreams and nightmares are converging. Love and loss are inseparable. And the quest refuses to be pinned to a path. 

(This review is SPOILER FREE!)
I always feel that the hardest reviews to write for me are the ones of books that I ADORE. So this review is going to be particularly difficult, because The Raven King absolutely blew my mind. Okay, where do I even begin?

When I finally got The Raven King from my library, I decided to get all the others along with it, and do a reread, because if there's one thing I love about Maggie Stiefvater, it's how her writing has so many layers and how things in previous books pop up later on in the series. Foreshadowing! Symbolism! It's fabulous. So I reread the first three (The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, Blue Lily Lily Blue), and finally dove into The Raven King. (I also listened to a reread of The Scorpio Races before this Raven Cycle adventure, so my life was REALLY full of Stiefvater words. This is the opposite of a bad thing.)

The Raven King is absolutely the perfect conclusion to this perfect series. Everything just kept rising towards the inevitable culmination of all the plot threats and - oh dang it was just beautiful. Everything tied up perfectly and, as I had expected, things in the past three books showed up to haunt us in the last one.

If you thought the first three books were getting dark and dramatic, let me tell you - the final chunk of The Raven King had me considering the conclusion that literally everyone was going to die and the world would dissolve in darkness. But at the same time, in between chapters where you legitimately are afraid for the ending of the book, you discover scenes that are some of the happiest and sweetest and squee-worthy in the entire series. And amazingly, it doesn't disrupt the flow at all, or feel in any way out of place. MAGGIE HOW DO YOU DO THIS?

Talking about darkness, the night before I finished the book I decided to put it down for the night since I was waking up early the next morning and couldn't afford a reading-until-midnight sort of thing. I ended at what was one of the aforementioned happy scenes in the midst of horror, and thought it was a good stopping point. Well. Usually I don't have dreams affected by what I think about before bed, but that night I dreamed about about raising people from the dead and black magic and a possessed black raven who talked in my head. NO JOKE, I SWEAR.

Okay I don't know how that is any sort of commendation for this book - "Read The Raven King it will give you creepy dreams!" - but I promise that I am telling you this story with the intention to show you how Maggie's writing worms its way into your head. MY NIGHTMARES ARE A GOOD THING OKAY? least in the context of this review :-P So yes, the dark levels for this were WAY more than the previous books, but dang I loved The Raven King for just how much it freaked me out.

Let's talk characters! Because you all know how much I adore good characters, and Maggie's are some of the best. The development of all the main characters has been spot on throughout the series. I legitimately felt proud for my baby Adam growing up in BLLB, and in The Raven King Ronan got all my love and hugs. It's been amazing to see Ronan develop and, as readers, to be able to figure out what hides behind his rough exterior.

AND OMG THE SHIPS. I won't spoil any for you, but - dang, I just love all the characters. <3

With a series conclusion, it's important that everything wraps up well. and in The Raven King  it definitely did. Questions from the beginning of the series were answered, and prophecies fulfilled. But I am a forgetful little squid, and the first time I read anything, all I get from it are feelings (which, though are useful in reviews, you can't just write 100% about them - or can you?). In a book like The Raven King where there is so much going on and so many layers, I think I'll need to do another reread just to fully work out all the secrets and the twists. Maggie Stiefvater's magic never happens just because. Her worldbuilding is so on point that I know that everything happens for a reason. And because of this, I really think a reread is necessary for me to logic through the ending, as satisfying as it was.


Have you read The Raven King? LET'S TALK IN THE COMMENTS. Feel free to talk spoilers down there, but please use spoiler alerts! (And if you haven't read The Raven King yet, tread lightly to avoid spoilers.)

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Snazzy Snippets // read fetus sophia's bad writing

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So this round of Snazzy Snippets is technically Childhood Edition, but I decided to ignore questions 2 and 3 and just inundate you with my answer to question number 1:

A snippet from something your wrote more than 2 years ago.

I scoured my basement and family bookshelves for my childhood scribbles, and I was EXTREMELY SUCCESSFUL in my quest. Travel with me into my hobbit history, and cringe with me at my "stories." (Though I realize that I didn't write enough of my crazy ideas down, so I share my thought processes too.) Shall we dive into the madness?

*whoosh**time traveling noises**it's 2005*
my first ever notebook (thanks for writing dates on all my scribble-books, mom!)

The evil Butler Matt
Almost-9-year-old me has just discovered that I can WRITE BOOKS. (Before this, I thought writers were magical sorcerers or something, beings with powers far beyond those of mere mortals like myself.) My first novel is called Great-Great-Aunt and tells of the adventures of a family going to stay with their 99 year old Great-Great-Aunt Margie (who is extremely lively for her age) and the conflict involved Great-Great-Aunt's butler irrational hate of children (which is suddenly resolved without any sort of explanation because I am sick of this story and want to end it fast and write something with MAGIC). This book is five chapters long and involves a very innocent Chapter 3 that I just read out loud with my father and sister, and we all laughed way too hard at all the unintentional sexual innuendos. Oh innocent baby Sophia. I'm not sharing those here but I might on twitter eventually... if I feel like it... ;) Behold instead some other pages of my manuscript, rife with illustrations, cross-outs, and misspellings.

After conveniently finishing that book, I move on to A FANTASY NOVEL OBVIOUSLY because WHAT IS A STORY WITHOUT MAGIC? It's called Princess Katherine and is abandoned after two pages.

Soon after, I move on to The Magic Door which is basically Narnia, except Professor Diggory Kirke is an old, grumpy, and old fashioned man named Mr. Wistly. Oh, and all the children have names that start with the letter S because that's not confusing at all. (You can also always tell how old I am because it's the narrator's age too. *coughcough*MarySue*coughcough* Particularly here because her name is FREAKING SOPHIE. NOT OBVIOUS AT ALL SOPHIA.)

Obviously, my best work is the prophecy that the children find:

That book is left unfinished, right after I introduce an actually fascinating character named Duke Kochel, who is actually a pig in a tri-corner hat.

Next, I begin my first story that actually has a tiny sliver of potential. I call it Edwarde Story, beginning a long tradition of placeholder titles. (Years later, I try again and rename it Kings and Traitors.) IT IS NOT NARNIA, which is something to be proud of. IT IS ALSO PLOTTED ALL THE WAY THROUGH (though not written all the way through), and even has a SEQUEL PLOTTED OUT ALL THE WAY THROUGH which is (if you know my current plotting troubles) something absolutely to be proud of. (2006 Sophia the Plotting Queen please come back!) However, the writing is still obviously cringey, and I actually refer to someone as "substantially pretty," at one point. Like, what does that even mean? Her prettiness had substance? Sophia, what?
Below is my hero being all pensive in a dungeon.

I decide next to try my hand at romance (though still within the genre of fantasy and adventure), and started Over the Mountains, about a badass peasant girl who is recruited to guide a prince over the mountains and to his home. This one was also plotted all the way to the end - granted, it was only 8 chapters long from beginning to end, but still, child-Sophia, please come back with your plotting abilities!

Also, I don't know if you've noticed, but I had a thing for naming my characters normal names but SPELLED INSANELY. Alyce, Olyver, Nykolas, Wyliom, and PHREDRICK. SERIOUSLY.

And now we reach 2007 and The Ancora. I don't really know how to summarize this book. It involved a boy named Alon who somehow got wound up with a bunch of outlaws in a heist to steal a powerful jewel called the Ancora while simultaneously on the search for his father. I even dressed up as one of the lady outlaws for Halloween that year. Think LOTR meets Robin Hood meets God-Knows-What-Goes-On-In-11-Year-Old-Sophia's-Head, and that's basically what this is.

It had a plot bunny of a sequel called The Vong which was basically The Ancora meets mystic cults, and thankfully that plot bunny withered and died.

I think we'll end on that note, yes? Would you actually READ any of these books? And I want to hear about YOUR crazy childhood writing. Isn't it so fun to travel back in time like this?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Uprooted by Naomi Novik // lush and eerie and beautiful and polish

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows - everyone knows - that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn't, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

Sadly, I don't have a goodreads progress screenshot for this one, because I read it on a ship in the middle of the North Sea with no wifi. :( 

If you are around here often (or around my twitter often) you know how much I desperately desire more fantasy based in cultures that are not Western-European-Medieval. I'll be happy with any culture (give me all the immersion!) but I PARTICULARLY am always on the search for anything with Slavic roots. This may have just a little bit to do with my own Ukrainian heritage? (Just a bit.)

Thus, I was super super excited to read Uprooted, because there had been rumors of its Slavic-ness. And when I read it, I quickly realized that it wasn't only very Slavic, it was through-and-through-no-questions Polish. SO POLISH. (Which makes sense, I suppose, because that is the author's heritage.) It was as Polish as you could get without setting it in actual Poland. Here's why I felt this way:

  • The country was called Polnya
  • The country they were at war with was called Rusya (*cough cough Russia cough cough*)
  • The main character was Agnieszka (only Poland creates sounds with that many s's and k's and z's next to each other.)
  • The spells had equally difficult smushings of consonants in them. 
But this isn't to say I didn't LIKE the Polish vibes - I actually super adored them (except for the obvious Polnya/Rusya deal). I (being Ukrainian) was able to sound out the spells and figure out sometimes why they did what they did, which was epic. It's kind of like in Harry Potter, where, if you know Latin, you can see the correlation between spells and their results. For example, kalikual, which is a crippling curse in Uprooted, sounds very similar to a word in Ukrainian meaning cripple - kalika - and to the Polish word too - kaleka. Also, one of the towns that had been destroyed by the evil, sentient Wood was called Porosna - sounding very much like the word for empty.  It was really cool to notice little things like this, where I could see the worldbuilding actually happening. 

Yay! My need for Slavic folklore was satisfied.

Let's talk about what else I liked:
  • Agnieszka! (Which, by the way, is a gorgeous name and the diminutive of the Polish version of Agnes, if you were wondering.) I love her as a character. She is insanely clumsy and always manages to have dirt on some part of her clothes, no matter how hard she tries. She's thrown into this world of being a witch, and manages to wrap her head around it effectively enough to make good use of her powers - but it doesn't happen so quickly that it felt like one of those fantasy cliches. I just adored watching her grow as a character.
  • Kasia! Kasia is Agnieszka's friend, and is gorgeous and elegant and strong in ways that Agnieszka isn't. But I loved the way her character developed too. To be honest, I didn't expect her to become more than an introductory beautiful maiden contrasted with our clumsy MC - but she totally defied my expectations. The way her development was intertwined with Agnieszka's was beautiful to read.
  • The descriptive writing - this book is written so gorgeously! The eerieness, the beauty of the country, the elegant magic, all of it was so immersive. It really made me think of paintings of folktales - quiet, pretty, with an ever-present foreboding of something malicious around the corner. i mean, just the idea of a sentient and evil Wood is fascinating and chilling and I love it. As a disclaimer, I do love full descriptions and all that, so see my last bullet point of this review for more commentary on that. 
  • The spells - I kind of mentioned this already, but I really love the way the spells sound and feel in my mouth. I read them all out loud (in a whisper, obviously, so people didn't think I was cursing them or something), because I wanted to see if I could translate them. A side effect of this was that I got to experience what they would sound like if actually spoken. The sounds repeat themselves in each spell, in different orders, sometimes slurred for less effect, sometimes enunciated for full power. Just say this: Paran kivitash farantem, paran paran kivitam. See what I mean? THEY. ARE. GORGEOUS. I also love the interplay between the way that Agnieszka works magic and the way that the Dragon works it. 

But I didn't give it five stars on goodreads! Why not?
  • In general, books with really old wizardy love interests that look like young men just creep me out. Agnieszka is SO MUCH younger than the Dragon, literally like a toddler compared to him. I can forgive the creepy bits about him taking girls from the village - the explanation for that is satisfactory enough - but I'm just not aboard shipping him with Agnieszka. It happens too fast (he's immortal, for heaven's sakes), and if Agnieszka doesn't know better (she's young, I'll give her a pass), he should. 
  • I... kind of didn't know this wasn't YA? It read like a YA for a lot of the book (though some people say that the flowy writing isn't super YA characteristic, but I liked the writing, so didn't really notice). But then suddenly - SEX SCENE. It wasn't very graphic compared to other NA/Adult books, but it was definitely not your average YA fade-out-to-black sex scene. I didn't mind it necessarily, but I didn't like it because (a) see bullet point above and (b) I was thinking "YA" this whole time and it was a bit of a shock at first. (This isn't really what brought the rating down to four stars, tbh).
  • Granted, the writing could be a little slow at times (even for me!) though not frequently. As much as I loved the fullness of her descriptions, it was less of an action adventure fighting book (though it had those scenes) and more of a slow, beautiful, eerieness to it.
Have you read Uprooted? What did you think? What is your favorite fantasy not set in Western-Medieval-Europe? And what is your opinion on immortal and old but young-looking handsome love interests?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Ch1 Con // i went to a writing conference and loved it!

This past Saturday (the 6th) was one of the happiest of my life, and a very major reason was that I spent most of the day at Chapter One Young Writers' Conference in St. Charles, a suburb of Chicago. A short summary of why this conference was awesome:
  • Published and agented authors giving superb advice!
  • Meeting online friends in real life!
  • Free books and swag!
Let's start with the advice :-)

First, there was a query writing workshop, led by Christina Li and Patrice Caldwell of the Ch1Con team, and even thought I'm not anywhere near querying yet, I'm filing away all the awesome things I learned in my mental folders (and hopefully it'll still be there when I'm in need of it in a year or two). One of the most useful things I collected at this workshop was: The Hook, The Book, and The Cook. This is a general outline of a query: first, you grab the reader with a one-sentence Hook. Then, you summarize the Book in a paragraph or two. And finally, you talk about yourself, the Cook, in a few final sentences. What a handy outline!

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Next, Jordan Villegas, an unpublished but agented author, gave us a general overview about the non-technical aspects of writing. It really helped me feel better about not writing every day when he pointed out that we are not robots of inspiration, churning out stories. Perhaps there's a reason why you aren't producing writing on your slow days - you were experiencing some other aspect of life. After all, you can't write if you haven't lived!
Another one of the most useful things I got out of his talk was his "solar system" analogy when it comes to finding the theme of the novel. A good novel is like a solar system, where the theme is the sun in the center, and the plot points are the planets surrounding it at a good distance. But you have to be careful so the sun doesn't turn into a black hole and suck in the entire novel (the theme is too heavy and overwhelms the story), or so the sun doesn't shrink and allow the planets to float away (the theme is too light and doesn't hold the story down). 

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Next, Susan Dennard talked about her path to becoming a writer. I'm currently reading her book Truthwitch so this was perfect timing! She shared many of her own insecurities when it came to feeling valid in the publishing world, which is something so many writers face but you never hear about, and she said that even now, with a bestselling book like Truthwitch, she still faces those same insecurities every day. But one of my favorite things she said was - "There are no expiration dates on dreams." We've got to keep trying because no one gets it right on the first try!

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The next talk, by Jennifer Yu, was about finding time to write in college, and was mostly focused on the high-school and younger audience. I agreed with a lot of her advice, since I'm two years into my college adventure, and I'm sure that were I in high school I would have gotten a lot of good advice out of her talk.

The final talk was by Francesca Zappia, whom I forgot to take a picture of. (Ooops.) It was about character building, and super useful! She suggested we draw pictures of our characters, even if we weren't good artists, and that we write out scenes from our characters pasts, even if those scenes didn't end up in the book. 

Finally, there was a panel by all the authors, and here is a photo that I stole from the Ch1Con website. :-)

In addition to meeting these wonderful writers who spoke at the conference, I also got to hang out with people who's faces I only knew from their twitter profile pictures! Here are only a few of those marvelous people:
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Brianna (on our Friday Chicago adventure where I got to play tour guide for a bit :P )
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Lily (center) and Katie (Right)
And THEN. I got books signed! I also acquired some ARC's and swag. The most exciting was an ARC of The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart, MG author of The Mysterious Benedict Society series, which my sister and I ADORE.

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All in all, it was a fabulous Saturday! I drove the hour long ride home with the windows down and the radio blasting (even on the interstate - ESPECIALLY on the interstate) and I legitimately almost cried because I was so full of happiness. (The gorgeous glowing clouds of afternoon sunlight didn't help either.)

If you are a young writer (as in college age-ish or younger), I HIGHLY suggest you check out Ch1 Con. I am definitely coming back in 2017!

Have you ever been to a writing conference? What's your favorite bit of writing advice?

Thursday, August 4, 2016

July // NaNo + Micro + Shelves (oh my!)

The reason why this post is late is because I was taking summer school finals on August 3rd and I couldn't afford to take any time off to blog. And it paid off! Well, with the help of my splendid microbiology professor:

Now I have two weeks until the fall semester starts, and, lovelies, do I have a LOT planned. Writing and reading and blogging and photography and...

Oh talking about writing! I completed July's Camp NaNoWriMo with 51k, but am just barely halfway through the novel. #SlavicNovel is turning out to be a 100k monster of badass women and creepy forests. My ultimate goal is to finish this draft before school starts, but I'd be happy if I can manage it by sometime around the beginning of September, really. And then I'll put it aside for a bit, because I've got plot bunnies to tend to and eeeee NaNoWriMo!

You may have noticed that I've been rather AWOL around here lately, but that's all because of summer school. Don't worry! I'll be around much more! I've got a lot of reviews coming up and a lot of random and fun posts hopping around in my brain. My blog inspiration has been a little dead lately, but now I think it's BACK!

I've been saving the biggest news for the end here, but it's not really July news, since it only happened this morning. BUT IT'S GOING IN THIS RECAP BECAUSE I SAY SO.
Anyway, look! I have a NEW BEAUTIFUL FLOOR-TO-CEILING BOOKSHELF! It's right across from my bed in my room so it's a perfect thing to wake up to. I am so in love. (Thanks dad for doing all the heavy work <3) GAZE AT IT AND BE HAPPY:

Yes, it's color coded. Yes, some of the series are split up. If you are bugged by that, go commiserate with my sister, who is organizationally annoyed though aesthetically enraptured with the whole thing. BUT I COULD NOT RESIST THE RAINBOW. 

So guess what's on the horison? BOOKSTAGRAM #SHELFIES. I have never taken a shelfie and look! That picture I just shared! That was my FIRST EVER SHELFIE. 

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Something Strange and Deadly, A Darkness Strange and Lovely, and Strange and Ever After by Susan Dennard - in preparation for Chapter One Young Writers Conference on Saturday! Susan Dennard is the keynote speaker, and will be having signings afterwards - I'm so excited! I haven't read any of them yet :-)
Made You Up by Francesca Zappia - also for Ch1 Conference! Also TBR!
The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue - found at my train station free-book shelf. Changelings and fairies!
Truthwitch by Susan Dennard - from the library, unfortunately, and not to keep for the signing. But I'm currently reading it and I love it!

(all photos link to their instagram versions!)

Friends! Lovelies! How was your July? Tell me everything! What did you read? What did you write? What did you do?