Uppercase vs. OwlCrate – A Review

Lately, I’ve been a little obsessed with subscription boxes. We’ve fallen in love with Blue Apron, our weekly meal subscription box that has pretty much eliminated the tedious trips to the grocery store for us, and that led me to look into what other kinds of subscriptions I could find. Loving YA Lit as much as I do, that was the first thing I searched for – and the list of available subscription boxes is pretty extensive. What I discovered though, was that there are two YA subscription services that tend to stand out among the rest. Those two are Uppercase and OwlCrate.

After spending several minutes researching, browsing pictures of the contents of past boxes, and reading a handful of reviews, I still couldn’t make up my mind which I would like better. So, I joined the waitlist for OwlCrate and signed up (no waitlist!) for my first Uppercase box. I didn’t last long on the OwlCrate waitlist though, three days later, a spot was open and I signed up – ready to test both November boxes.

Continue reading “Uppercase vs. OwlCrate – A Review”

Off the Shelf: A Review of Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

24807186

“Once upon a different time, there was a girl who lived in a kingdom of death. Wolves howled up her arm. A whole pack of them – made of tattoo ink and pain, memory and loss. It was the only thing about her that ever stayed the same.
Her story begins on a train.”

I’d always considered myself not such a fan of alternate history. Something always made my stomach a bit nervous when people toyed with real people in a book just like they would a fictional character straight from their mind. That being said, Wolf by Wolf actually made me a fan of an alternate history story. There was just enough fantasy slipped in to ease my mind out of established history and into Graudin’s new world.

I received Wolf by Wolf as part of my very first subscription box with Uppercase. (I also am receiving my first Owlcrate this month as well, so keep checking the blog for a side by side comparison.) I’m so thrilled that it was picked for this month’s book because, otherwise, the thought of reading an alternate history might have lessened my chances of picking it up on my own… Then, I really would have missed out. It also came at just the right time – day four of being stuck in bed, sick, with nothing to do. I devoured this book in under six hours.

This story is set in 1956, in a world where the Axis Powers actually won WWII. Each year, to celebrate their victory, Hitler and Emperor Hirohito host the Axis Tour – a treacherous motorcycle race from Berlin (now Germania) to Tokyo – with the victor receiving a ball in their honor attended by both Hirohito and Hitler.

Yael is a survivor of the death camps, one who hides the numbers on her wrist with a fresh tattoo of five wolves, four for the memories of people she has lost and one as a reminder. As a small child, she was the subject of an experiment that granted her the ability to skinshift, transform her appearance into that of any other female. It is with this skill that she becomes the resistance’s best hope. Yael uses her ability to skinshift into the Axis Tour’s only female victor, Adele Wolfe, in order to win the race, dance with Hitler, and be the one who murders him on live television.

The story switches between Yael’s present day fight to succeed and her struggle-filled past that tells the story of each wolf permanently etched on her arm. Keeping up appearances gets complicated for Yael as she races alongside Adele’s twin brother and her former fling, Luka. No amount of research has prepared her to slip into these relationships without arousing some suspicion. She has to balance her lies with certain degrees of truth if she hopes to make it to the finish line first.

Things I enjoyed:

Yael – She’s strong, resilient, and a true heroine. The stories from her past are what truly shape this character and how she thinks, feels, and acts. It was very easy to get lost in her mind and race right alongside her.

It’s not a love story – Too often good stories with strong female leads get side tracked by a love interest. This one does not. It reminds me more of the first Hunger Games book in the sense that “yes, male character, you’re charming and all, but there’s quite a bit of death and destruction happening right now, and a relationship doesn’t really take priority over my mission”.

Graudin’s writing style: Simply beautiful wording and imagery. It makes me want to scrap all of my current projects and start over, in hopes that one day I will be able to write with that level of showing-not-telling skill.

Things I didn’t enjoy:

There wasn’t anything I outright didn’t like about this book. It was well paced and interesting. I even enjoyed the alternate history, something I was originally wary of. I suppose if I have to pick something, it’s that I didn’t look at the back cover closely enough to realize this would be a series. At least it’s one that I will gladly wait for though.

Overall rating:

4.5/5

This story is compelling, and it’s rare in my busy schedule anymore that I get to make my way through a book entirely in one sitting. While my review of the Uppercase box is forthcoming, I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed the Uppercase bonus feature post its, as they really drove me forward to reach the next one as I read. The moment I finished, I started recommending it to friends. It’s definitely worth a read, and it has been one of the most thrilling adventures I’ve read recently.

Add Wolf by Wolf to your shelf on Goodreads

Buy Wolf by Wolf on Amazon

Buy Wolf by Wolf on Barnes & Noble

Check out Uppercase box subscriptions here!

Back in Action

love letter

Beginnings always seem to be the hardest, and here I am, ready to begin again. I’ve taken far too much time off from the things that I care about, including writing. Depression will do that to you. And it was refreshing to find out last week that my goddess, my spirit animal – Jenny Lawson, is devoting her new book to discussing her struggles with depression and anxiety. This woman can make even the most painful ordeals something hilarious. Quite often, I find myself binge-reading her blog just to cheer myself up, and I’m counting down the days until I can hold Furiously Happy: A Funny Book about Horrible Things in my hands and devour it joyously.

“I think everyone can relate to the fact that a ton of bullshit happens every single day and the only way we can battle that bullshit is choose to be furiously happy whenever we have the opportunity.”

So lately, I’ve been choosing to be furiously happy instead. I’m pushing myself back into art, writing, and time with the people that I care about, and I’ve discovered just how much I missed myself.

There are a couple of new writing projects on the horizon:

1) A new W3 anthology – Wicked Wordsmiths are all currently hard at work writing new short stories that are themed around libraries for this anthology. I’ve got one story down, heavily in need of some painful editing and at least one more brewing in my brain currently.

2) “Captive” – It’s a working title. I wrote a piece of flash fiction recently that really started to eat away at my thoughts. It begged for something more to be written. So, in my free time, I’ve been adding bits and pieces and watching a story develop. It will likely end up a much longer piece, ideally novel length. Without giving too much away, the story revolves around a kidnapping victim and the nightmares she encounters as her captor creates a sinister choice for her. The theme of captivity seems to be popping up a lot in the pieces I’ve been writing recently, so I’m just going to roll with it and see where this goes.

As the weather gets warmer, I become more active, and thankfully, that is making my brain be more active as well. Just have to keep the motivation and keep choosing to be furiously happy. I can do this, and so can you.

NaNoWriMo Fail… or is it?

Oh November, you cruel mistress. Teasing me with just how easy 50,000 words should flow from my fingertips, and then hitting me with one distraction after another. Needless to say, we are in the last week of National Novel Writing Month, and I am severely behind.

Just like everyone else, I had a good start to the month. Fresh idea, a decent outline, and plenty of write-ins planned for the month. Best of all? I took a vacation the first full week of November. Well, for me personally, that was the best part of the month. For my writing, ehhhhhh… Let’s just say I didn’t get as much done as I thought I would.

This. Was. Glorious.
This. Was. Glorious.

The beginning of the week was spent in Red River Gorge, KY, in a beautiful cabin in the woods. I woke up our first morning there, determined to write. There was rain echoing off the tin roof, I was still in my pajamas, and the recliner couldn’t have been comfier. Quickly, I knocked out a thousand words, jumping headfirst into the story. I was feeling pretty good about myself, and then, just as suddenly as it started, the rain stopped. The weather clearing, my wanderlust took over.

Natural Bridge
So really, could you blame me? Who wants to stay behind a computer screen when the view is this nice?

We spent the day hiking up to and around the Natural Bridge. It’s a gorgeous sight to see if you’re ever in the area. It’s even better if, once you’ve finished hiking for the day, you can return to your private cabin in the woods and soak in a fabulous hot tub surrounded by nature. Why yes, it was the dream vacation.

We spent the rest of the week seeing the Bengals play (horribly) in Cinci for Thursday Night Football, and then we were back to Lexington for a few days to spend time with a friend and check out some local breweries. Words weren’t made, but memories were, and that’s really what counts.

Once I was back in town, I was determined to get back down to the NaNo business. I’ve hosted write-ins on every Monday this month, as well as having our Kick Off on the 1st and our Halfway There on the 15th. Our Mad Dash End of the Month Sprint is just a few days away on the 29th. And where am I? Less than 15k. No, that’s not less than 15k from the finish line. That’s less than 15k total.

So what happened? I guess a lot of things factor in. I hit a depressive streak that I’ve struggled to pull myself out of. I’ve dealt with several stressful scenarios in my personal life this month. And generally, it was just hard to even get time in front of a computer, let alone put words on the mockingly empty screen. But the BIGGEST factor? I care about this novel. You might say, “So? You SHOULD care about what you’re writing!” Yes, very true. But I care to the point where I’m scared to rush it.

My first NaNoWriMo novel, as I’ve likely mentioned before, was a steaming pile of poop. Why? Because I didn’t really care about what I was writing. Sure, I thought the idea was pretty cool, and I had some fun characters to play around with, but I knew the whole time I was writing it that it wasn’t going to add up to anything even worth editing. So, I didn’t. It’s gone untouched for years, a hot pile of word vomit just tucked away in my hard drive. But this year? I love the idea for this story. I love how it originated, I identify with the characters on a personal level, and I’ve put a lot of myself into the words I’ve managed to wrestle out. And you know what? They aren’t all that bad! Sure, there are places where I really need to go back and fine tune the details, but overall – I’m happy with the direction it’s going.

So maybe this one isn’t meant to be finished in 30 days. Maybe I shouldn’t rush it. Finish it, for sure, but don’t rush it. Do it the justice that it deserves. I’ll continue to peck away at my word count, but without 50k being the goal point (Besides, this is honestly a story best told in about 100k). Don’t they have some saying about slow and steady winning the race? Yeah, that’s me. Let’s just not time this race.

In other news, I have entered the NYC Midnight Short Story Competition as a further motivator to actually finish something. How does the competition work?

“There are 3 rounds of competition.  In the 1st Round (January 16-24, 2015), writers are placed randomly in heats and are assigned a genre, subject, and character assignment.  Writers have 8 days to write an original story no longer than 2,500 words.  The judges choose a top 5 in each heat to advance to the 2nd Round (March 12-15, 2015) where writers receive new assignments, only this time they have just 3 days to write a 2,000 word (maximum) short story.  Judges choose finalists from the 2nd Round to advance to the 3rd and final round of the competition where writers are challenged to write a 1,500 word (maximum) story in just 24 hours (April 24-25, 2015).  A panel of judges review the final round stories and overall winners are selected.”

To me, it’s worthwhile even if I go out in the first round because I’ll still receive helpful criticism from the judges. From what I’ve read, a lot of people vouch for how constructive the judges have been with their comments. I’ll give it a shot, as I tend to be more comfortable with cranking out short stories rather than whole novels. Here’s hoping for the best, as I could certainly use a confidence booster with my writing right now.

If only I could count this thousand word blog post into my NaNo word count. *sigh*

A Wicked Signing

My First Signing

I’m a bit behind in making this post, but it has taken me quite awhile to put into words how I feel about the signing. In short, I am still in awe. On October 14th, the Wicked Wordsmiths had their first ever book signing for Wicked Words. A local bookstore hosted the event, and it was a success, to say the least.

I won’t lie, in the days leading up to the signing, I started having my doubts about how many people would show up. It was entirely possible that it could only be our mothers, fathers, and significant others. We’re just a small, local writing group… we shouldn’t expect a crowd, should we? As it turns out, the supporters showed up in droves. For an hour and a half, there was a constant line of readers making their way along the table to visit with each author. Of course, the mothers, fathers, and significant others were there. In fact, my father was the first person in line (adorable). But on top of that, there were people that showed up that didn’t have any prior connections to any of the W3 group, and THAT was what truly shocked us. It’s amazing to know that we managed to write this anthology, jumped headfirst into publishing it despite our nervousness, and that there are people out there that want to share in what we created. AMAZING. We can’t thank everyone enough for their support.

Wicked Wordsmiths of the West

I am beyond proud of this group. Wicked Words was definitely a learning experience for us all, and I think it has given us the drive to continue doing bigger and better things, including our own individual WIPs and more anthologies for the group. I know that personally, I now want to strive even harder to finish the book that’s been running wild in my mind and bring it to fruition by seeking publication. Publishing the anthology has done wonders for proving to me that I CAN do this, and I certainly won’t be losing that motivation any time soon. Especially not since we continue to receive promotion from the press. There have been several local news articles published regarding the anthology, and next week, a few of us will also be interviewed on a cable access show that reaches about 37,000 homes daily. Pretty sweet stuff, if you ask me.

Cabell Standard

We’ve also been invited back for another signing in participation with Small Business Saturday, which is extremely exciting, especially when you factor in that some big names like Craig Johnson and Marie Manilla are also in talks of attending. With November less than a week away, we Wicked Wordsmiths have had to shift our focus to our participation in NaNoWriMo, but we will continue to be grateful for all the opportunities and learning experiences that Wicked Words has given to us.  This also certainly won’t be our last anthology.

Oh, and for anyone wondering, why yes… I did end up signing my own book. Sometimes, you just need to give yourself a reminder.