Mid-Month Update September 2017

All week I've been trying to think of what I wanted to blog about. I miss the "old days" of blogging where it was all about tags, rambling about life, and sharing random pictures. I think some of the other bloggers I used to follow then feel the same way. Then, something changed. Everyone had to write posts that were "The Top Ten Ways..." or "Let Me Give You Advice About..." or "Listen To Me Talk About This Important Topic." All of those are great. But, I think I kind of got burnt out on it. 

Yet, when I brainstorm what blog posts I want to write, I can't get my mindset out of the "make your post on brand!" Which then leads me to "What is my brand?" and "What is a brand anyway?" I think about how no one wants to hear about my boring life.

But then, I look at my favorite bloggers. The people I've followed for years, the ones who maybe left for awhile then came back, or the ones I stopped reading and have come back to. You want to know what my favorite posts a lot of times are? When they're just about life! 

I saw one of these bloggers, Brittany from Palms and Palmettos, did a "Mid-Month Update" just about things in her life going on at the moment. So, I'm stealing that idea! I have to break this bloggers writers block somehow. 

  • My sister had her baby shower this past weekend! My family came in on Saturday and we all went to a White Sox game. (They actually won, which was a happy surprise!) Then on Sunday was the shower. We were running late the entire weekend, but it all turned out well. My sister got SO MUCH STUFF and all of it was adorable. Particularly all of the nerdy onesies I bought. But I might be partial. It's becoming more and more real that she's having a baby and we're all ridiculously excited. Only two more months!
And even more stuff piled up after I took this picture. It was awesome!

And even more stuff piled up after I took this picture. It was awesome!

 

  • I am beyond ready for fall. I'm not the biggest fan of summer. It's too hot and muggy to want to be outside, but the air conditioning inside is so cold I'm walking around with warm socks and a blanket. Granted, we had a decent summer this year. But when I saw that later this week we might be getting up to the 80s - I was not happy. I've been loving it being in the 50s-mid 70s the last couple of weeks and I want it to stay that way! I haven't even been able to bust out a scarf yet! But, I'm drinking my Pumpkin Spice Lattes like no one's business. At least there's that.

 

  • I've decided that I have far too many friends who live in hurricane areas. This past week has been stressful because NONE of them evacuated and I was freaking out. Which, I fully understand that my stress is NOTHING compared to what people who were living down there actually experienced. But, I vote that everyone I know who lives in hurricane areas come and move up here. Yes, Chicago has terrible winters and gangs galore. But we don't have hurricanes which cover our entire state. So... I say it's a win.

 

  • At the start of the month Sarah J Maas, one of my favorite authors, released the next book in the Throne of Glass series. I'm complete trash for SJM. She definitely has problematic elements in her books, but I love her stories and have connected with her characters and I can't stop reading. And I binge her books like crazy. They can be over 700 pages long and I'll still finish it in a day or two. I have a problem. But anyway, I LOVED her newest book and it dealt with a character who had become parlayed and I was so happy with how she handled it. I thought it showed how much SJM is trying to listen to people's criticisms and she wants to be respectful and thoughtful. AHHHH it makes me happy. I'm so stinking proud of her. So, I posted a full review about it on Goodreads, which is rare for me. The response I've gotten is crazy! It has far more likes than any of my other reviews and I've been getting multiple friend requests each day since I posted it. It's been exciting for me. You can read the review here (and yes, it does have spoilers. Sorry!): https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2114999039?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1
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  • I haven't had the chance to sit and write my novel for awhile. Well... that's not entirely true. I have time after work where I can sit and write. But, I'm so tired when I get home my brain can't function anymore. All I do is lay on my bed, watch Netflix, and read. Besides, my desk chair is covered with laundry at the moment and I don't feel like putting my clothes away. How do you all deal with fatigue? Cause it's really putting a cramp in my writing routine.

 

  • Have you noticed how all of these amazing female artists are coming out with new songs lately? Kesha, Taylor Swift, Kelly Clarkson, even Aly and AJ! I've been loving all of them. But do you know who I've been LOVING? Demi Lovato. I've never disliked her, but I've never been over enthusiastic about her music. I'll listen to a song, enjoy it, then move on. But OH GOODNESS her new ones I have on repeat and I can't get enough!

So, that's my life at the moment. Nothing outrageously exciting outside of my sister's baby shower. My mom's birthday is coming up though, so my sister and I have to make plans for her now! What's going on in your life? 

My Writing Process: Brainstorming

A few weeks ago, I had posted on my Facebook page asking what people would like to read about on my blog. One of my friends said she thought it'd be interesting to read about my writing process. 

I decided to do a writing series where once a month I share one element. I'll be breaking it up into seven categories. They are:

  • Brainstorming
  • Outlining vs. "Pantsing"
  • Characters
  • World Building and Setting
  • Drafting
  • Critique Partners and Beta Readers
  • Revising

On social media once, I remember in regards to writing process, one author (I can't remember who! I'm sorry!) said they know how to write THIS book. Then, when they start a new book, they learn how to write THAT book. Because each project has a life and process of it's own. 

I've found this to be true. While I do have certain tendencies with each project I'm working on, they are all vastly different from one another. One aspect of my writing process may have worked for one project, but it may not work for another.

That being said, I'll be sharing my process for the most current novel I'm working on simply because it's the freshest in my mind. I'll refer to previous projects as well, but my focus will be on this one. 

If you follow me on Twitter/Instagram, you may have noticed I've been chatting about this new idea for the last several weeks and referring to it as "Vampire Snow White." Mainly because I don't have a title for it. I'll refer to it the same way here and sometimes shorten it to VSW. However, beyond my basics of the process, I won't be revealing anything else about this book such as plot points, character names, etc. Because you know...

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WHEW. Talk about a long intro. But, from here on out with the remainder of the series I should be able to get to the point quicker.

Here we go! My brainstorming process.

Image originally found on my Instagram @eehornburg

Image originally found on my Instagram @eehornburg

Getting Ideas

Interestingly enough, the way I got my idea for VSW was from a writing friend of mine. Someone had shared something with her about "What if Snow White was a vampire?" and she shared it with me saying "This sounds like something totally up your alley." Well... she was right. The character, the setting, how I could tie in vampire lore with the classic fairy tale - for some reason it all "clicked" in my head.

This is not how I usually get ideas. Here are a few suggestions to help you get your brain going:

  • Keep asking "what if...?" A lot of my stories even before VSW have been inspired by fairy tales. I just expand on them. "Yeah, but what if this character was...?" Or even asking "why?" Something like "But why would mere jealousy cause the evil queen to want to go as far as murdering her step-daughter?"
  • Searching around on the Internet. You'd be amazed that just from casually browsing the Internet. the story ideas I find. Whether it's an interesting article, a picture I thought was different, a quote I find, etc.
  • Pick a theme you are passionate about or would like a book to be about. For the most recent novel I've completed, the initial idea came from elements in my life which I was experiencing. Which, made me think of it being a contemporary/modern day/literary novel. But, I've learned that while I like reading those sorts of books, I'm awful at writing them. I thought "okay... how do I make that fun and in a genre I do like?" BOOM. My story was created.
  • Write what you enjoy. I once tried writing a straight contemporary novel without any magic, sci-fi, fairy tale elements. IT WAS TERRIBLE. There are books of that genre I genuinely love - but for the most part what I enjoy reading and writing are Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Once I realized I should stick with that, finding ideas and brainstorming came much easier. Some people can jump around genres and each one turns out awesome. Which is fantastic! But it's not me. 

Research

I love this part. It gives me an excuse to watch TV, movies, documentaries, and take too many trips to the library. 

  • For VSW I started with researching the original Snow White tale itself. It is my favorite, so I'm familiar with all of the different versions. But, I hadn't read much about what inspired these folk tales in the first place. Let me tell you - it was the best thing I've done VSW. I found different elements which will for sure be appearing in my plot and character development.
  • Learn about other cultures. Considering Snow White is a German tale, my next step was to find out more about German folklore and vampire mythology. Sure enough - Germans have their own version of the vampire. This will help make my vampires in this book more unique compared to the saturation of vampires we see in other literature. 
  • Netflix (or your streaming provider of choice) is amazing! I added to my list different movies, TV shows, and documentaries which I thought would be helpful. Some of them have been paranormal types, others have been more historical for my backstory, some have been simply something I think would fit the tone and mood. 
  • Seek out people in your circles who can help. I know other people who have studied German culture, have read a lot more paranormal stories than I have, and know more history than I do. I go to them to help bounce around ideas and they direct me to other resources.
  • Use your library! Mine is pretty small, so they don't always have enough books to go in as much depth as I'd like. But, they are connected to several other libraries in the area and the librarians help me find other titles which I may find useful and have them delivered to our library for me to pick up. 

Tools I Use

  • Old school pen and paper. My brainstorming can be messy, confusing, and all over the place. Being able to have a notebook and a pen or pencil where I can erase, cross things out, draw lines and arrows, help me to sort everything out. Typing something out on a computer or tablet doesn't give me the freedom to do this as much. 
  • Pinterest. When I have a new project in my head, I create a secret board and it becomes my virtual dumping ground for all of my ideas. Websites I've found in my research, photos and drawings I find interesting, maps, etc. 
  • Visions boards. This could be in place of Pinterest. Only, it's a physical board instead of a virtual one. Writers have it displayed near their work area so they can reference it as they write. I can definitely see why people would find this useful and also fun to create. But, for me, Pinterest is the version which works best. 

Reading Books in Your Genre

This is one of the big things I've learned the last few years when it comes to writing.

  • You need to read what other people have done in the genre you're writing. Some authors don't read books in their genre as they're writing because they don't want to steal ideas. Which is completely legitimate! But - they are still very familiar with that genre. They've read it in the past, they'll read it in the future, they know of other authors to whom their work is comparable to, etc. You need to the styles, pacing, tropes, etc. Learn who "the greats" are in your genre and learn from them. 
  • You should absolutely read a variety of genres, and I think we can take elements of other books into our own.  I think that's awesome, useful, and helps to make your writing more well-rounded. But, you need to know your own genre as well. 

 

So, there you have it! Those are some of my thoughts on brainstorming and how I start to get ideas for my novels. This post is long enough - I think I covered everything! How do you brainstorm for your creative projects? Is there anything you'd like to know more about?

August Reading Round-Up

This is just a quick post of the books I read in August, starting with my least favorite and ending with my favorite and what I'm currently reading. Let me know what you read recently and if you've read or are interested in any of these!

I rate books on a 5 star scale. One being the lowest, five the highest. Most of the books you see me review will get at least a 3 star rating because I enjoyed it. Usually, if I'm not enjoying a book, I don't finish it, and therefore won't have much of a review. Then, I also have included trigger warnings for those who find those helpful. If there are any I have missed, please let me know. 

These are all of my personal opinions on each book. If you would like plot summaries, click on the title of the book and it will lead you to it's Goodreads page. 

Also, when you see my use of the word "trope," do not take it as a negative comment, particularly with romance books. It is simply a term to express different standards in the genre. (Ex. friends to lovers trope is a standard category)

City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare

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  • Genre: Young Adult Urban Fantasy
  • Rating: 3 Stars
  • Format I Read: ebook

The last few months, I had an itch for Shadowhunter books by Cassandra Clare, and decided to give them all a re-read in publication order. I don't keep it a secret that I enjoy The Infernal Devices trilogy more than the original The Mortal Instruments series. City of Lost Souls is the fifth book of the series and... it's okay. My biggest issue is that I just don't enjoy Clary and Jace, who are the main couple we follow in the series. The other side characters such as Magnus, Simon, Alec, and Isabelle? I'm all about them! If I could skip all of the Clary/Jace sections, that would be awesome!

  • You'll like this book/series if you also enjoy:  Lots of romance story lines to follow, angels/demons/magic, the Shadowhunters TV show, M/M relationships (Magnus and Alec FOREVER), adventure, multiple points of view

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N Holmberg

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  • Genre: Fantasy (could be young adult, but don't quote me on that)
  • Rating: 3 Stars
  • The Format I Read: ebook

I'll be honest, I've been slightly disappointed with Holmberg's stand alone books. I read her Paper Magician trilogy and FELL IN LOVE. (And it's going to be a quartet in 2018!) Naturally, I picked up her other books. Of the two I've read, both have fallen flat for me. I really liked the concept of this book with how she can put magic into her baked goods, the mysterious romance, etc. But, most of the book I was confused and couldn't understand what was going on, and it seemed like the characters felt the same way. The ending left me scratching my head going "huh?"

  • You'll like this book if you also enjoy:  books about food, magic, clean romance, new mytholgies

Just One Day, Just One Year, and Just One Night by Gayle Foreman

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  • Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
  • Rating: 3.5 Stars
  • The Format I Read: ebook

I binge read this trilogy in two days, and they all kind of run together in my mind as one big story - thus my lumping them all into one. I'd had Just One Day sitting on my iPad for literally years and decided I needed to just get it done. Most of the book was enjoyable, but not remarkable. Then, the ending came and I just HAD TO KNOW what happened next! Then, I quickly learned that the second book is basically the same thing as the first, only from the point of view of the guy and ends in the same place as the first. It was interesting, but not great, and I skimmed most of that book so I could get to the third novella, which gives us what happens next. I'd say, if you can read all three right after one another, it's a fun read. If you have to wait a long period of time between books though, I'd say it's not quite worth the wait. 

  • You'll like this book/trilogy if you also enjoy: The If I Stay book (by the same author) and movie, books about traveling, coming of age, insta-love romance, "bad boys" turned good

The Dream Keepers Daughter by Emily Colin

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  • Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy/Time Travel
  • Rating: 3.5 Stars
  • The Format I Read: Paperback

I have mixed feelings about this one. I love the writing style, the characters, and the concept. It's time travel without getting too "wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey" so it's easy to follow, and I really loved the dual perspective. Particularly the sections which took place in the past! However, I wasn't a huge fan of the ending. I understood why she went the direction she did, and it made sense. But I was also like "Really? That's the direction you're going with this? Okay..." It wasn't bad, but I think she could have done more to make it more satisfying. I also felt it had a bit of a "white man savior" vibe to it on occasion. 

  • You'll like this book if you also enjoy:  time travel, American Civil War history, social justice, love triangles, romance, stories about family, magical realism 
  • Trigger Warnings: Depictions of violence against slaves

Plus One by Brighton Walsh

Does the guy on the cover look like Ted Mosby to anyone else? But don't let that stop you - the description of him in the book is nothing like this. 

Does the guy on the cover look like Ted Mosby to anyone else? But don't let that stop you - the description of him in the book is nothing like this. 

  • Genre: Contemporary Romance
  • Rating: 4 Stars
  • The Format I Read: ebook

This novella was really fun! My biggest complaint is that it wasn't a full novel. I would have loved to see these characters and their story-line fleshed out a bit more, and not crammed into a novella. 

  • You'll like this book if you also enjoy:  rom-com movies, sexy times, the "friends to lovers" trope

Caged in Winter by Brighton Walsh

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  • Genre: New Adult Contemporary Romance
  • Rating: 4 Stars
  • The Format I Read:  ebook

I also had a lot of fun with this book! I thought the characters were great and I loved their love story. The hero was a little too "I need to protect my woman" for my taste, but it didn't ruin my enjoyment of the book. 

  • You'll like this book if you also enjoy: sexy times, independent woman trope, guy with tattoos trope, 

Queen of Shadows by Sarah J Maas

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  • Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
  • Rating: 4.5 Stars
  • The Format I Read: Hardcover

I am a very open Sarah J Maas trash fan. I can't get enough of her books! This is a re-read of the fourth book in her Throne of Glass series in preparation for the release of book six, Tower of Dawn which takes place immediately after book four, and during book five. The first time I read Queen of Shadows I was disappointed. Now, this being my third time around with it, I appreciate everything so much more and see the story-line more clearly. 

  • You'll like this book/series if you also enjoy: Epic fantasy, fae lore, girl power, assassins, romance, multiple points of view
  • Trigger Warnings: Violence, and there is a character who is a courtesan. No sexual/physical/emotional abuse is "on screen" but is implied or referred to. 

The Savage Dawn by Melissa Grey

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  • Genre: Young Adult Urban Fantasy
  • Rating: 5 Stars
  • The Format I Read:  Hardcover

This is the final book in the Girl At Midnight trilogy and I am so sad it is over! I truly loved these characters, the story, the world, the magic, EVERYTHING. The final book definitely gave room for more, so I'm hoping Grey writes a spin-off series or at least a novella as an epilogue. There is so much more to be said!

  • You'll like this book/trilogy if you also enjoy:   the Shadowhunter books and TV show, fantasy, dragons, multiple romance story lines, girl power, own voices

Currently Reading:

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

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  • Genre: Historical Fantasy
  •  The Format I'm Reading:  Audiobook

This is one of my favorite books of all time! I re-read it at least once a year, and each time it's just as wonderful as the last. I've been listening to the audio book narrated by Jim Dayle (he also narrates the Harry Potter books) and he's one of my favorite narrators! If you haven't read this book yet, what are you waiting for?

  • You'll like this book if you also enjoy:  Movies such as The Illusionist or The Prestige, historical fantasy, romance, fairy tales, the circus, a "dreamlike" writing style
  • Trigger Warnings: Child abuse in the early chapters

The Castle of Kings by Oliver Potzsch

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  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • The Format I'm Reading: Hardcover

I just started this book earlier this week for some personal research. I'm not very far, but it's good! From the description on the inside cover, this book could also have a hint of fantasy. But I'm not quite sure yet. I'm enjoying the glimpse into Germany in the 1500s, and his writing style is very readable and not as dense as I had imagined it would be, in spite of the book's length. 

  • You'll like this book if you also enjoy:  Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet, Elizabeth Chadwick books, history, forbidden romance, animal sidekicks
  • Trigger Warning: there is an attempted rape pretty early on, and an execution scene in the first chapter

Arena by Holly Jennings

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  • Genre: Futuristic Sci-Fi
  • The Format I'm Reading: ebook

I saw this book while browsing Barnes and Noble the other day, and when I needed something quick to read in an e-book format, it was available from my library to download so I did right away! It's a very interesting concept where we have The Hunger Games meets video games meets the world of professional sports with a Chinese American young woman as our lead. Then... it took a problematic turn early on, which I wasn't comfortable with and I almost wanted to put it down. Then, it took another turn which made me more intrigued, and as the book has gone on, I've learned this is actually a book focusing on addiction and recovery. Yes, it's a sci-fi adventure where video games and virtual reality are now as big as the Superbowl. There's action and adventure and romance as promised in the description. But, the real heart of the story (so far) is the addiction and recovery plot line.

  • You'll like this book if you also enjoy: The Hunger GamesReady Player One, video games, futuristic settings, hate to love trope, issue books, a diverse cast, Taoist philosophy 
  • Trigger Warnings: In the first few chapters there is a scene where two characters sleep together after being intoxicated, depictions of drug use, violent virtual reality scenes

Books I Read to Educate Myself

Lately, I've been saving my book discussions, recommendations, and reviews, for YouTube. However, in light of which has been happening in the world, I keep on wanting to shove books into people's faces. I want to say "You don't get why people feel this way? READ THIS." From what I can tell, for the most part the people who read my blog aren't necessarily the ones who watch my YouTube channel and may not have heard me talk about these books yet. 

I know, I have a lot to learn. I'm a privileged white, straight, cis, Christian, woman. While I've had my own trials and struggles, I know there are groups of people who I know nothing about and will never know what it is like to walk in their shoes. Which is why reading books and seeking out stories about people who aren't like me, is important. I want to educate myself, because I have a long way to go.

These are some of my favorites which I've read. Please note, this is not a complete/definitive/perfect list. These are simply ones I have learned from, but also genuinely enjoyed. (Don't think that just because you're learning, it's not a fun/entertaining book!) I know there are other people who probably have better lists, and I highly encourage you to seek them out!

Also, yes, a lot of these book are Young Adult. Maybe it's because I do tend to be in touch with the YA more than other genres, but I truly have found that YA has stepped up their game in releasing books dealing with tough issues and diversity more than adult books have. PLEASE do not count out a book, just because it is young adult. We grown ups can learn a lot from them too!

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

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  • Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
  • Themes: Black Lives Matter, Family, First Love, Identity, Friendship

If you only read one book on this list - READ THIS ONE. It is Thomas' debut novel, it already has a movie deal, and has been on the NYT Bestseller list basically since it was released earlier this year. 

It follows Star who lives in the "ghetto" but goes to school in a wealthier neighborhood and is one of the few black students there. One day, she is at a party with her friends and on her way home, one of them is shot by a police officer. (Not a spoiler, it's on the book description and it happens in the first couple of chapters.) It is essentially racism and Black Lives Matter 101. Beyond that, it also has all of the dynamics you would love if you enjoy other contemporary novels. I'm in love with Star's family, the dynamics with her friends, and her sweet love story. 

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

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  • Genre: Adult Historical/Literary Fiction
  • Themes: Family, Slavery, History, Racism

This is another debut, and it was released last year. It was wonderful! I'm not usually one for literary fiction, but I truly enjoyed this book. It starts with two half sisters from 18th century Ghana and follows their family lines through 300 years. One sister is sold into slavery, the other marries an Englishman. What truly stood out to me was seeing how much the past influences the future. There are so many time we say "But that was back then, things are different now." Which... yes, some things may be different now. But that doesn't mean what happened several centuries ago doesn't stiff effect up today. 

 

The Diary of Anne Frank

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  • Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Diary
  • Themes: WWII, Haulocaust

You know... I never would have thought I'd have to say this, but people need an education on "NAZIS ARE BAD." Let's give this book a refresher, shall we?

All We Have Left by Wendy Mills

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  • Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
  • Themes: 9-11, Acceptance, Hate, Dealing with Anger, Grief, Islam

This book too me by surprise last year. It follows the timelines of two sixteen year old girls. One, being a white girl in the present day whose brother died during the 9-11 attacks. The second going back to 2001 and following a Muslim girl who was in the towers on 9-11. This book brought out feelings about 9-11 I didn't even know I had! 

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If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

  • Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
  • Themes: LTGBQ+, School, Friendship, First Love, Family, Identity

If The Hate U Give is racism/Black Lives Matter 101, If I Was Your Girl is transgender 101. It follows the story of a girl entering her senior year of high school who has transitioned from male to female. Due to experiences with bullying, she decides to move in with her dad and transfer to a new high school. Yes, a big part of the book is about being transgender. But, a majority of it is also dealing with everyday high school issues. Making friends, going to the school dance, first love, and navigating family relationships.

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Lock In by John Scalzi

  • Genre: Adult Sci-Fi/Action/Thriller/Near-Future
  • Themes: Disability, Illness, Gender, Race

To be perfectly honest, I can't remember a single thing about the actual plot of this book other than it's a crime/mystery book. What stood out to me though, is the commentary and thoughts on disability. The premise is that it is the "near future" and a strange illness has swept the world leaving people "locked-in" their own brain. They are fully conscious and have brain activity, but cannot use their bodies. Medical technology has created a type of robot or avatar where people who have been effected by the illness can use to upload their consciousness into. I found the way he was able to build the world and address views on the illness was fascinating. I also mention gender and race into the themes because the main character, Chris, we are not told if they are a male/female or their race until late into the book. (I know for sure we learn their race later on, I can't recall about gender.) If I remember correctly, it is meant as a way to reflect on how people automatically assume certain things about characters unless we are told otherwise. 

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Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

  • Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
  • Themes: LGTBQ+, Family, Friends, First Love, Bullying, Identity

It's no secret this was one of my favorite books of last year. I might have read it four times, and I've met the author. Simon is not openly gay yet, but has made a friend online from his school who is also gay ("Blue"). Neither of them knows who the other is. One day, a classmate reads Simon's emails him and blackmails him about keeping the secret. Chaos and romance ensue. It sounds like this would be an intense book, but it's not. It's wonderful, happy, and delightful. Yes, there are moments you get the "feels," but this is an overall happy book. I love how relateable it is, no matter your age, or sexuality. And it's going to be a movie!

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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sanenz

  • Genre: Young Adult Historical
  • Themes: LGTBQ+, Identity, Second Generation Immigrants, Friendship, Family, First Love, Communication

First, I want to say, if you are a Hamilton fan, you might want to pick up the audio book for this one because Lin-Manuel Miranda narrates it. You're welcome.

I feel odd saying this book is historical, but it does take place in the 1980s so... technically it is history. It's about two teenage Mexican-American boys, Aristotle and Dante, growing up in Texas. I love these two characters an obscene amount. It's beautiful, and heartbreaking while also being heartwarming. Please go read it! It deserves all of the awards you see on the cover!

Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown

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  • Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
  • Themes: LGTBQ+, Christianity, Family, First Love, Identity

I'll be perfectly honest, but I haven't read many books focusing on F/F romances, but I wanted to be sure I got one in here! What really stands out about this book, is how it discusses Christianity and LGTBQ+ issues without demonizing Christians. It's about a girl who's dad is a preacher, but she's a lesbian. It's completely wonderful and the love story is super cute. 

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

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  • Genre: Adult Graphic Novel/Memoir/Non-Fiction
  • Themes: Extreme Islam, Middle-East, Family, Identity

Usually, graphic novels aren't my thing, and as far as personal enjoyment goes, this book is a little further down on my list. But, I can definitely say I'm glad I read it and learned A LOT from Marjane's story. 

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Kindred by Octavia E Butler

  • Genre: Adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy
  • Themes: Slavery, Interracial Relationships, Time Travel

This is one of my favorite books I've read this year. It was published in 1979, Butler is the first black woman to publish a sci-fi/fantasy, and it is still relevant today. It is about an interracial couple in the 1970s who are thrown back in time to her ancestors in Maryland. They go back periodically without prior knowledge and never know if they'll be there for a couple of hours, or several months. I loved the dynamics with the married couple, the struggle they have with slavery and life on the plantation, and their life in "present" time. 

Again, this is not a complete or definitive list. I know there are A LOT more books out there, and some which are probably even better! However, these are the ones I personally have enjoyed and learned the most from!

What I Wish I Knew Going to College

I have an incredible, and probably unhealthy, fondness for my college years. Even now, part of me misses the dorm rooms and the close sense of community. Although, not so much the cafeteria food. It was four years of making friends, jumping from social events to extra activities, and getting far too little sleep. 

It's the time of year where college students are getting ready to move into their dorms, are planning out their schedules, and making those last minute plans for the semester. I have to admit,  when I see college students running around Target looking for those last minute items they need, I have many flashbacks to my days on the Welcome Team.

Yes, I was on the welcome team. Stop judging me, we were awesome.

Yet, as I look at my life now and my life then, so much has changed, and I can't tell you how many conversations my old roommate and I have of "if me back then knew what I was doing now..."

There are so many things I wish I could go back and tell my former self about college and the years after. (Like how to be sure I don't look like a total slob at all times. I swear, I didn't figure out how to dress myself until I was 25. It's a shame really. So many years of potential hotness wasted!) So, here's the next best thing. A few words of wisdom for those of you either starting off college or getting back into the swing of things for the start of a new semester.

Organization and Time Management

College is one of the first times where how you spend your time is COMPLETELY up to you. Yes, you have classes, but you can choose whether you go or not. It's a lot of freedom to get used to and can be overwhelming.

  • Use a planner and keep it with you. I don't know about you, but I remember things better when I write them down and have them in a calendar I wrote out myself. I still use a planner and I love it. They even have super cute ones with a ton of stickers now! But, they can be hard to keep up with. Which is why I say keep it with you in your bag. If it's always on you (especially as you're going to classes), there isn't much of an excuse to not use them.
  • One thing you all have that I didn't when I was in college (cause I'm SO OLD), is this handy thing called a smart phone. There are a ton of apps out there for calendars, reminders, tasks, etc. and you can set alarms for yourself. My schedule was always all over the place in college, and it would have been so handy to have my phone with me so I could jot down assignments, meetings, etc. right away. 
  • Post-It Notes. I used to swear by these, especially when it came to midterm/finals week. I was that over-achiever who constantly had a million classes, projects, jobs, extra activities, and social events I was paranoid I was going to forget something. In order to not forget, I'd write each task I needed to accomplish for that week on a post-it, then stick it up on my desk. It was in my direct line of vision every single day. And let me tell you - pulling that post-it note off and throwing it away always felt so good. 
  • Plan ahead. I know, I know. You're in college and you want to be spontaneous. I get it. But, it's good to have a game plan going in. At the start of each semester, I'd map out my weekly schedule and color code it. (As I said, I was an overachiever.) It gave me a good idea of when I'd have free time so I knew when I could study and see friends. 
  • Eat. This one seems so obvious, but it has to be said. Especially by the last year or two, I can't tell you how many days would go by and it'd be 2 pm and I'd realize that literally the only thing I'd consumed that day was coffee. DON'T FORGET TO EAT. 

The Dorm

  • Plan out when you're going to clean. I was, and still am, the worst at cleaning. I'm amazed that my roommates didn't yell at me more for not helping to clean the bathroom as often as I should have. It was bad. So, when you're mapping out your schedule, find places where you can clean the dorm. Whether it's one big chunk of time during the week, or one tiny thing per day. Trust me when I say, when your space is clean and clutter free - you'll feel much better and less stressed.
  • Learn when to close your door. I don't know about other schools, but a big part of the culture of the one I went to was having your dorm room door open and/or unlocked. In fact, I had a couple of friends who kept duct tape over the lock of their door so we could come in and out as we pleased. I love the open community concept. But, sometimes, you need your space. Whether it's to study, sleep, or just get some alone time. 

Planning for Your Next Steps and Your Time Now

  • Enjoy the time you have right now. For a lot of my friends and I, we wasted so much time just anticipating our next phase of life. Of not having to take classes anymore and to just get going on what we REALLY wanted to do. Now, I look back and wish I had taken more advantage of what I had back in those days.
  • Take advantage of opportunities. And I don't just mean the ones for your potential future career. I was so focused on my major, I never even entertained the idea of studying abroad or doing a Disney internship or anything like that. Or even just going somewhere new and different with my friends on spring break or over the summer. Now, I wish I had because who knows when I'll be able to do those things. Contrary to popular belief, college doesn't have to be JUST about getting a good job at the end. (But don't ignore that aspect either, obviously.) It's education in general. In class, yes. But in life too. Most of what I learned in college took place OUTSIDE of the classroom.
  • Remember that things change, and you might not know exactly what you want next. Some people know their chosen career and are driven and have a one track mind. I was one of those. But guess what? Awhile down the road, I realized I didn't actually want it. (Cue existential crisis.) What your passion is now, might not be your passion in a few years. If you don't have a passion now, it doesn't mean you won't find one. 

A Couple Things NOT To Do

  • If you skip class - be smart about it. I won't judge if you do because Lord knows there were some classes (especially in my final semester) my profs were lucky to see my face. But, also know when you CAN skip, and when you CAN'T. A bad time? When your World Religions class is teaching on Islam but the guy you like wants to hang out. You might not want to miss class that week.
  • Not sleep. I barely slept at all when I was in college, and it probably wasn't a good choice. Yes, I was 20 years old and had a ton of energy. But I probably would have done better in everything if I made sure I had enough sleep.
  • Say yes to everything. I was the crazy overachiever who would take 21 credits in a semester, volunteer for ALL OF THE THINGS, and then go out and eat with my friends at 1 am before hitting up the 24-hour computer lab to finish a paper. I loved all of the things I was doing, but eventually, I burned out and had to say no to things later than I should have. Prevent burn out before it happens.

There you go college students. A few things I learned and I hope you don't make the mistakes I did. And have fun!

What would you tell your former college self?