February’s Distractions

February’s Distractions

I feel so unproductive, unaccomplished, and very overwhelmed, but in a good way. The distractions are getting to me. (Curse you Korean manhwa.)

cooking-rabbit-300pxThe Donut Making Game

I started a new job at a bakery last October, and about two months ago became an actual baker. That was my goal since last summer, after I took off to California and spent June and July figuring out what I wanted with my life. So, I’m pretty proud of getting a job as a baker, even if that means I’m the bottom of the totem – the donut fryer.

OK, let’s begin. Game start.

  1. First, you make the french-style cruller
  2. Then comes the regular cake donuts
  3. And then the old fashioned (and if you finish up fast enough you get a break.)
  4. Around 5:30 am you start on the raised donuts.
  5. What kind? We’re talking bars, rings, fritters, persians, and bismarks. They come glazed, sugared, or frosted – with maple, chocolate, or white buttercream -also bavarian-cream-filled, jelly-filled, or german-chocolate-on-top.
  6. You need to one type of each donut as fast as you can, and then extra maple bars, because everyone loves those maple bars.
  7. The tricky part about this game? The customers, you can never quite guess what the customer will snatch up, or how quickly donuts will disappear off the shelf. (We’re out of maple bars! Already?)
  8. Fry some. Frost some. Glaze some.
  9. This is happening in real time.

Is it intimidating? Yes, but I had an idea how to conquer it. Instead of getting overwhelmed, I treated it like a game. I made myself a strategy guide – one for weekdays and one for weekends (Friday/Saturday/Sunday). Every day I get a little better, a little faster. The bavarian-cream-filled don’t look as pathetic as they used to. The chocolate rings aren’t swimming in chocolate.

I play the donut making game every morning. My shifts start at 3:30 am, and it’s pretty non-stop until about 7:30.

The last two months, I’ve also been living on bakers hours, about 5 hours ahead of everyone. (Or if you want to think about it this way, I’m living in Brazil’s time zone, instead of the mountain time zone.)

On my days off I still wake up around 4 am. What exactly do I do with myself?

Anime

Ah, Nodame Cantabile,  an anime from 2007 that I first found on-line in 2011 and finally imported the DVD collection from Australia in February 2016. Now I legally own it and can watch it whenever I want. (I also own two of the Japanese DVDs.) This is one of my all-time favorites. As soon as I got it I had to test it out to make sure it worked. (Thank you cheap DVD player for becoming region free.)

nodame 3I can report, that it is still a fantastic series. I would highly recommend it for anyone interested in a quirky- romantic-music anime, except its hard to get a copy and it’s no longer streaming anywhere. Such a shame.

The story follows two college music students, uptight and proud, Shinichi Chiaki and the goofy, yet talented, Megumi Noda, aka Nodame. They happen to be neighbors, attend the same school, both as piano majors, and make a surprising connection playing a Mozart sonato for two pianos. The music is a highlight, so many great classical pieces, and the main characters are amusing, especially how they influence each other over the coarse of the show. There are some dated parts, the show is nearly ten years old, and some annoying characters, but most of that is confined to one or two episodes.

24 episodes on DVD available in English if you import it from Australia. There is a Korean drama version of the story available on hulu called Tomorrow’s Cantabile.

Erased

 

erased

A more recent anime that I’ve fallen hard for is called Erased. It’s a winter 2016 season show, a sci-fi thriller about twenty-nine year old Satoru, who has a unique ability. He calls it Revival, a phenomena where he repeats about 5 minutes, or so, in time. In that short space of time he has the opportunity to prevent something terrible from happening – such as a truck running over a grade schooler, or a someone kidnapping a young child.

Everything changes when his mother is killed, and suddenly he’s framed for the murder.

Luckily, Revival kicks in. However, he ends up back in 1988 when he was ten years old. He has a chance to relive his grade-school life, and try to prevent a terrible series of abductions that is somehow related to his mother’s murder. Poor Satoru has it rough, and I can’t wait to see how the series plays out. The manga it’s based on is finishing up this March, so I suspect the anime will have a complete and proper ending.

It will have a total of 12 episodes, find it on Hulu or Crunchyroll, Funimation. Visit their website.

Manhwa

I recently discovered some manhwa available for free. There’s an app, or you can go to Webtoons.com, which features both amateur and professional comics. The company started in Korea, before going international, and I’ve been reading the popular Korean manhwa. Well, devouring them is more like it.

Nobelesse by Jeho Son, and Kwangsu Lee

raiThere is an anime version on crunchyroll. It’s a short but decent introduction to the characters and the world.

But what about the story? Nobelesse is about a vampire attending high school in South Korea. He is the nobelesse, the most noble of noble vampires.

This is all action, with a bit of comedy. It features ridiculously overpowered vampires, modified humans and innocent teens who have no idea who their new classmate really is. This is fluff, action fluff: enemies become allies, buildings explode, powers collide, one of the characters is named Frankenstein, but (gasp) it actually works with his backstory. The main character Rai says very little, and drinks a lot of tea and eats ramen all the time, but he’s not so bad. My favorite chapters are the ones where Rai walks into a room of people who have never met him before, and they all gasp because of how utterly gorgeous he is. Their reactions are hilarious. Read chapter 201. I love it.

Currently there are about 395 chapters.

Winter Woods by Cosmos and Van Jiwinter2

Winter Woods is a contemporary fantasy with a bit of romance. This one is more focused on character drama than action.

Winter was created hundreds of years ago by an Alchemist, and doesn’t have emotions, or a heart that works properly. He doesn’t know how to be human. The experiment begins when he is dropped off with a young woman named Jane and begins living with her and experiencing the world.

Slowly we meet the occupants of Jane’s apartment building. One man named Zoe is not who he seems, but someone who kills people for a living. Zoe also has a surprising connection to Winter – he was created by the same Alchemist, and suffers from the same lack of heart. However, Zoe once rescued a blind girl from prostitution. Their “love” stands in stark contrast to the “love” blooming between Winter and Jane.

winter
The alchemist who spent his days in tears

The story unfolds piece by piece, some chapters devoted to Winter, and some to the other characters, like the blind girl.

 

There is not an excess of words in this story (except one which features Jane’s story. She’s a struggling unpublished writer.) It’s stunning how the blind girl is drawn, and how the comic shows visually how she perceives the world as only sound. Everyone here struggles. Winter tries to to understand things like kissing and grapples with emotions like sadness and despair, and the scientists meanwhile continue to observe. As a reader, we’re kind of like those scientists peering into the intimate lives of these broken, yet resilient humans.

 

Currently there are about 61 chapters.

 

Tower of God by SIU

bam

How can I even explain this one? It’s a video-game fantasy, but it’s set in a secondary world and the characters don’t even know they live in a video-game world. No, that’s no good.

Tower of God is a character driven story about a young boy named Bam who just wants to be reunited with the girl he cares most about. Rachel visited him when he was all alone in darkness, when he knew nothing. She taught him how to speak and about the world. Then she left to climb the tower.

In order to find her, Bam must climb the Tower, but he was not chosen. He is an Irregular, talented and strong, and there are powerful people who want to use him for their own means. Will he be a pawn in their game? What awaits poor young Bam in the Tower? Friendship? Hope? Or betrayal and despair?

The story follows Bam’s journey floor by floor up the Tower. The art is rough in the beginning, but improves. The world is vaguely familiar with its video game elements: ranks are given to certain people, they have a “pocket”, weapons can be put away inside the pocket, and each floor has tests and games in order to get to the next one. Each floor is like a separate world, a different dimension with different creatures and rules.

The characters make the story vibrant. They are flawed, complex people. Each with their own desires and struggles. A fake Princess seeks revenge, a girl wants to see the stars at the top of the tower, a giant bipedal crocodile wants to hunt “turtles”. (Did I mention the other races? There are more than just humans in this world. There are lizard-girls and bunny-eared creatures and bunny-girls, horned people, bee-people and whatever alien-like creation the creators want to draw. Gender can also be a bit confusing, but that might be due to poor artwork designs in some of the early chapters. Don’t let that stop you.)

This story is utterly compelling. Addictive. The readers are passionate, and that excitement and energy is very contagious.

Currently there are about 241 chapters


 

What I find most refreshing about the manhwa? They’re missing a lot of the Japanese cliches and tropes that fill so many light-novels and manga.

Some words of caution if you’re interested in these. The translations are sometimes iffy, and the art in the beginning of the really long running series is rough, but that does improve. They are not short series either. Chapters take me about 6 minutes to read, and there are hundreds available right now. Thank god.

If I find other good ones, maybe I’ll let you know. Such dangerous distractions. I should have put a disclaimer somewhere.*

* Warning: the above anime and manhwa may distract you from doing anything productive, such as dishes, other housework, like ironing or putting away laundry, writing, eating a proper lunch, or going outside.

5 best YA novels with dragons (any excuse to talk about dragons)

5 best YA novels with dragons (any excuse to talk about dragons)

Tribal-Dragon-30-300px

 

This calls for a celebration. I finished my reading goal on goodreads! I somehow managed to sneak in one last book yesterday and that means . . . I have a total of 1000 books in my READ shelf!

Ta da!

1000read

I’m making a bit of fuss over nothing. There were no fireworks this morning. No CONGRATULATIONS. Nothing exciting happened when I input the latest book. I’ve certain read over 1000 books, but I didn’t always keep a record when I was younger.

Book number 1000 was A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn.

It surprised me by being quite ordinary. I kept expecting action and excitement and romance, but the book kept sliding down a different path. It was more about knowing yourself and your place in the world. For Marni, a princess who has a rather tragic background story – that world is one of magic. Of a forest that moves, that is full of strange laughter and tiny creatures, and, of course, there is a dragon.

This year I encountered five very different dragon worlds. Most of them did not come out this year, but this is when I discovered them.

I’m going to list them below and countdown to my favorite.


5 Best YA novels with dragons that I read in 2015

5. A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn

There is only one dragon is this book. He is something made of myth and story. “There is no familiarity here, no urge to reach out and stroke his razor scales. . . . Yes, there is his size, and his teeth, and his claws, but he is beautiful, pure, and I near wish he would eat me up . . .”

The language throughout Hahn’s book is stunning, and best enjoyed at a leisurely pace. Don’t look for action here, but heart. Mostly confusions of the heart. Whether Marni is among humans, or inside the magic, nothing is ever simple.

4. Dragon’s Keep by Janet Lee Carey

The dragons on Wilde Island are predators.

“The dragon’s tongue lashed out like a devil’s whip. He lowered his head, saying ‘Sweet morsel.’ Dragons know many human languages, being sharp-witted and slit-tongued so the words did not surprise me.”

They are deadly monsters who hunt humans. Although the humans have their dragonslayers, they also have a memorial dragonstone to list all the victims the dragon has taken. It’s a very medieval world, and Carey captures that with all its superstitions and dangers.

The princess Rosalind has a strange curse. She was born with a scaly blue-green dragon’s claw, instead of one finger. This “cursed” deformity brings her a surprising connection to the dragons.

This is a story of surviving.

3. The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin

A classic story of dragons that exist at the edge of the world.

The Farthest Shore is the third book in the Earthsea Cycle. It is a slow read too, but it builds as only Le Guin can do it. The Archmage Sparrowhawk and young Arren are on a quest, searching for answers. Why is magic fading from the world? This is not really a YA book, but it’s a coming of age story and masterful written.

The dragons are immortal and wild, both dangerous creatures and irresistibly fascinating.

2. Seraphina  and the companion tale: Shadow Scale by Rachael Hartman

I highly recommend Seraphina. It delighted me in so many ways. The dragons especially. It was the best book I read last year. The companion tale Shadow Scale came out this year. It wraps up some loose ends, and explores more of the world, but just wasn’t quite as good as the first. The ending felt a little too much like a deus ex machina.

The dragons in Seraphina are numerous, and they have a human form known as saarantari. Dragons and humans in this world have formed a tenuous peace between each other. No longer trying to kill and destroy, but to learn and communicate. Harder than it sounds. The dragons here are not emotional creatures, like humans are, but rather they are scientific, rational and logical. Mostly. When they take human form they can experience emotions, but they are still dragon.

“I was eleven years old. Orma had been teaching me meditations for months. . . He thrust a mug of water under my nose. I grasped it shakily and drank. I wasn’t thirsty, but any trace of kindness …. was a thing to encourage.

‘Report, Seraphina,’ he said, straightening himself and pushing up his spectacles. His voice held neither warmth nor impatience.

I shifted on the hard floor. Providing me with a cushion would have required more empathy than a dragon – even in human form – could muster.”

A more traditional fantasy, but so unexpected, from the philosophical discussions, the strange inner world Seraphina keeps in her mind and the humanness of dragons, the dragoness of humans.

last dragonslayer1. The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

Ah yes, if you haven’t discovered Jasper Fforde then you have to try him. I cannot repeat this enough. His newest series is YA, although I could argue about that, but at least it has all the classic wackiness of Jasper Fforde novel. Instead of classical literature, or nurse tales or aliens – this time the world is all magic. Dragons. Quarkbeasts. Big magic. Little magic. I don’t know how this book doesn’t explode from all the humor and zaniness inside it.

Jennifer Strange is an orphan. There are plenty of orphans around since the Troll wars. Jennifer manages Kazam Mystical Arts, even though she is only fifteen, and as she explains, “Working with those versed in Mystical Arts was sometimes like trying to knit with wet spaghetti; just when you thought you’d gotten somewhere, it all came to pieces in your hands.”

There is only one dragon in this book and one dragonslayer. One dragon left in all the world, and the dragonlands are a highly valued property. Until the dragon dies no one can get their hands on it. Also, magic is dying out in the world. Jennifer’s boss the great Zambini has disappeared and it’s up to Jennifer to sort things out. Don’t worry. Even if she can’t use magic, she has a quarkbeast and the magicians at Kazam may be unusual and mostly old retirees, and, even if things get crazy, it will always be entertaining.

 

Currently Reading: The gaslight effect: how to spot and survive the hidden manipulations other people use to control your life by Dr Robin Stern

Current distraction: Playing Xenoblade Chronicles X

2015 Reading Challenge

2015 Reading Challenge
Julia has
completed her goal of reading 77 books in 2015!
hide

 

 

 

a small rebellion

I’ve been taking my blog title too seriously lately. I’ve been too distracted. (Mostly books, books and anime.) I also traveled in June and July, I got a new job in September at a bakery, and I finished the revisions to my manuscript this morning. It’s almost November and than means . . . gasp – NANOWRIMO.

NANOWRIMOYes, I’ve signed up again for the novel writing, only this year I’m going to be a rebel. (That’s what we’re called, Nano rebels, because we’re not writing novels.)  I intend to write short stories, with enough words to hopefully equal the usual goal of 50,000, but as long as I get around 10-12 short stories, I’ll be satisfied. Hopefully. It’s going to be a real challenge for me, since I’ve never been good with writing shorts. Is there such a thing as selective writer’s block? Because I’m pretty sure I have that when it comes to short form writing. I panic. I stare at the blank page/blank screen and there is nothing. I have some ideas, but honestly I think I need to put more effort into them.

I’ve never prepared myself much for Nanowrimo, other than a short 1 page summary about the beginning of the story, mostly about the main character and the challenges they’re facing. I usually only write YA and middle grade fantasy or science fiction, but those don’t make for sellable shorts.

Also, I’ve recently noticed something about my writing. In the beginning my stories tend to be kind of dry and lifeless. Mostly when I compare them to later on. They really get exciting say around chapter 4 or 5, and then pick up speed as they race along toward the climax. In other words they build slowly.

I would really like to capture the later excitement in the very beginning of my stories! How though? It’s a puzzle. So, my goal for November is to practice. A short stories need immediate conflict, excitement, and drama and then, I have to wrap it all up within a couple of thousands words. Eeeee, I’m already getting nervous.

Currently reading (and loving it) : Monstrous by MarcyKate Connolly
On my Kindle: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

Next up: The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

2015 Reading Challenge

2015 Reading Challenge
Julia has
read 58 books toward her goal of 77 books.
hide

April Book-Marathon

April Book-Marathon

When April comes around I tend to read more books than usual. That’s because I’m usually traveling, or about to travel. I get so nervous about wherever I’m heading, so I read and read and read. This year it’s a writer’s conference in Seattle. It’s only a mini vacation, but I have a list of books to keep me distracted.

Definitely Need to Read

  • The Perilous Sea by Sherry Thomas
  • The Best of all possible Worlds by Karen Lord
  • Who fears Death by Nnedi Okrafor
  • Shadow Scales by Rachel Hartman

The maybe I should read list

  • Legend by Marie Lu (I own this book, so I can read it whenever.)
  • Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo (Maybe. I spent most of March trying to read it.)
  • The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks (Ha, its like 700 words. I doubt I’ll get to it.)

I already finished one book on the list, so here’s a Mini Review

The TwyningThe Twyning by Terence Blacker

I just finished reading this last night. It will definitely be one of my top ten books for the year. It is a gorgeous read. I’m so glad I picked it up. I was put off at first by the fact it’s about rats and one of the characters telling the story is a rat. But it’s half and half, partly told by a boy on the streets named Dogboy, and mostly the story of a rat named Efran. Both are trying to survive. Their stories weave together is a magical way. The worlds above and below are entwined. There is darkness and violence, betrayal and deception, hope and love, in both the humans and the rats. It’s absolutely worth it. The rat-language is dazzling. Rats don’t speak, they reveal their thoughts. They hear and smell and act so very much like rats, but they are made so human. I haven’t read such a romantic book in years. The rats in this book are very romantic.

Light Novels Coming Soon

I also have my eye on some light novels. There is a new publishing company called Yen On, who is putting a ton of new light novels out there. And Vertical is publishing some light novels I’m interested in too. I want all of them. At one point I thought maybe I’d learn to read Japanese just so I could read these books. They’re listed in order of excitement:

  • Durarara by Ryohgo Narita
  • Kizumonogatari by NisiOsin
  • No Game, No Life by Yuu Kamiya
  • Log Horizon by Mamare Touno
  • A Certain Magical Index by Kazuma Kamachi
  • Black Bullet by Shiden Kanzaki
  • Kagerou Daze by Jin
  • Sereph of the End by Kagami Takaya

By the time April is over do you think I’ll be sick of reading? Doubtful. I’m always looking for the next one to devour. When do you think Jasper Fforde‘s next book will come out?

How Novel

How Novel

Winner-2014-Web-Banner

I meant to post this on November 30th, to celebrate a successful Nanowrimo novel, but my apartment has been without heat for three days now. It still isn’t fixed. It’s been the perfect excuse to goof off, but tonight I decided “tough it out”. It’s only supposed to get down to 4 degrees. Not that I plan on getting cold. I have a space heater about two feet away, I’m wearing a sweater to bed, and have my sleeping bag as an extra blanket. I will not be getting cold tonight.

November is National Write a Novel Month, and this year at the very last minute (I think it was on October 30th) I signed up for another Nanowrimo. I’ve participated twice before, and have “won” both times. I always think to myself, especially when I’m stuck dealing with revisions, that a new story will be so much easier. Well, it’s not.

In order to “win” Nanowrimo, you need to complete a 50,000 word novel in one month, that means writing about 1,667 words per day. Well, that’s exactly what I did. I even saved my stats!

nano 2014 statsNot too bad, having an average of 1,668, and take a look at that lovely graph I made. I wrote every day for 30 days.

I’ve always felt that Nanowrimo moves a little too fast for me. I like to write a bit slower on a first draft, and not just pantser it. That reminds me, I did learn something important from one of the pep talks this year. I don’t know why, but I never realized where the word ‘pantser’ came from. I’ve heard the term for years now, to describe how people write without outlines, and instead just write, well, ‘by the seat of their pants’. For some reason, maybe because I’d only heard it spoken, and never written down, I always thought of it was like the word panther – not pant-sers – and I could never figure out what it had to do with large cats.

nano 2014 stats 2The novel this year was called Carousel Island. It’s a sci-fi children’s story set in 1927 on an island in the south pacific. It is a story about belonging.

I’ve been daydreaming about Carousel Island for years now, and finally I have a draft of the story.

A brief synopsis

The year is 1927.

Celia Voller arrives on Carousel Island carrying an extra hat box, (that’s where she keeps her camera) and a parakeet named June on her shoulder.

Celia’s mother died when she was born, and her father has died recently in an accident. Her Aunt is a scientist who lives on an island in the South Pacific. Its a strange little place, with robots chauffeurs, and some unusual fruit. Oranges can be eaten like apples, peel and all, the coconuts break open like eggs. But where does the submarine door on the bottom of the lagoon lead?

An Excerpt

“There was something strange about the sky in this world, Celia thought staring up at it. Why did it look so very gray? It wasn’t as if there were rain clouds up there. The grayness extended everywhere, from a hazy smudge on the horizon to high above her head, all gloom and threatening. No rain though. The air tasted horribly dry, and made her throat feel like she’d swallowed wool threads. When she squinted off in the distance and she could see tiny silver towers. They curved along the skyline, as if connecting something on the ground, far in the distance, to something way up in the sky.

When she pointed them out to Apollo, he grunted. “Elevators.”

“What?”

“They’re space elevators,” he told her.

Winner-2014-Twitter-ProfileNow that I have the first draft I’m going to let it sit for a month or two, then I’ll start looking at it again, and figure out what to do with it. I’m going to do something with it, but it’s going to take a bit of research.

Even though the story is sci-fi, its also historical fiction too, and I’m going to have to do more research to make sure everything makes sense. 1927 turns out to be pretty interesting year. Charles Linbergh flew solo across the Atlantic, from New York to Paris. The Jazz Singer was released that year, the first talking movie. I’ve always felt kind of like a time traveler when I read history books, well, when it’s a good history book.

Also, I don’t really know anything about islands in the South Pacific. I haven’t traveled there, yet. I might have to do some of that research in person. At least it will be warm there, right?

The Fastest Walking Tour of Paris

The Fastest Walking Tour of Paris

Louvre

 Monday, April 28th.
I’ve decided to call it the Fastest Walking Tour of Paris.

I spent the day in a weird state, sorta floating, feeling out-of-my-mind, from lack of sleep and food. After only two to three hours of not really sleeping on the plane I arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport. My next flight for Rome left in seven hours.

It took much longer to convince  my sleep deprived brain that I should leave the airport. Terminal 2 did not have anywhere remotely comfortable to sit and wait, or sleep. It’s primarily for domestic flights. There are warning signs when you’re about to leave a secure area. And the only way to get back is to go through security again. But the actually wording was on the doors was something like, once you walk through this door you can’t get back in! I took it way too literally. I kept thinking, ‘no I have to get back in. I have to catch a flight to Rome.’ Part of me was terrified, but eventually I did it. I walked through the doors and out of the airport.

Over an hour later, I’d gotten myself some euros, including a bunch of coins, and purchased a Day Pass for the RER into Paris.

You always know you’re in a big city when you take the metro or train and pass by wall after wall of colorful graffiti. For some reason it looked exotic to me, different from the graffiti back home, perhaps because it was in French?Louvre2

It only takes about 50 minutes on the RER and I arrived at the Notre Dame/ San Micheal station. The middle of Paris. I made it. From there I walked along the street San Germain up to Notre Dame. Rain tickled my face. Tourists lined up the length of the block, waiting to get inside the cathedral. Someday I will go inside Notre Dame, but not today.

Since the weather cleared up, with the sun coming out of the clouds, I was drawn across the Île de la Cité. I kept walking and walking. I went around the Louvre and through a gateway into the courtyard with the glass pyramids. It was crowded as ever. Snapping pictures left and right, I continued my walking tour to the gate on the other side and strolled along the Seine River. Strolled isn’t the right word. I was frantic at this point about getting back to the RER and paranoid about making my flight.

river seine2

On the RER there was a beautiful French woman. She wore a black and white checkered dress, black boots and heels, her thick black hair braided and draped over her shoulder.

At the Louvre I saw two worker on their lunch break. They wore bright blue coveralls and sat in a alcove in front of a line of streetlights.

What I remember most about the day: Frantic energy. Hunger that cuts. Sleep that hurts.