This Could Get Ugly – Unpopular Book Opinions Tag

As with most book-related things I do, I’m doing this because I saw it first on YouTube/BookTube. I read books, too, so I thought I’d play along. Of course, these are all my personal opinions and you’re free to disagree. Preamble aside, let’s get started!

1. A popular book or series you didn’t like

Starting out strong, here… I’m going to say Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao.

I wanted to like this book. I really, truly did. And there are parts that I did like. Unhinged main character? Yes. General concept? Yes. The actual execution? Well…

I was really looking forward to the polyam romance and it was… incredibly disappointing. The two men in the relationship have their romance developed largely offscreen, so when they’re romantic on-page it really feels like it comes out of nowhere. A lot of the action scenes were hard to follow. Wu Zetian had a whole murder mission from the getgo and almost let the man who murdered her sister off the hook just because he’s hot. It’s not until she could access his memories that she’s back to her original plan. And the book is full of plenty of other aggravating choices like this. Maybe I’ll make a whole dedicated review for it. For now? Iron Widow was more like a Tin Clown.

2. A popular book or series that everyone else seems to hate but you love

The last book I can think of that would fit this would be The Lovely Bones by Alice Seabold, I think. Most of the time when that book is mentioned, it’s mentioned with disdain. Obviously, book tastes are subjective, but when I was a young teen I read this book several, several times and loved it each time I did. Maybe if I read it now, my mind would be changed? But I’m quite attached to it still. I think I just read it at the exact time that I needed to.

3. A love triangle where the main character ended up with the person you did NOT want them to end up with // an OTP you didn’t like

I’m diving into the dredges of my memory for this one. Anyone ever read Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead? It never got as popular, but I loved that series to bits and still do. And like, I get why this pairing never lasted but… I really liked Rose and Adrian together, tbh. So it’s not so much I didn’t want her to end up with Dimitri, persay? I just didn’t like them together as much as I liked Rose and Adrian. And then Adrian ended up being paired with… Sydney? In the spin-off series, I think. Which was certainly a choice that was made.

4. A popular book genre you hardly reach for.

I don’t know how “popular” it is, but I don’t grab for historical fiction all that often. I am also, despite what my answer to #3 would suggest, not the biggest fan of vampire books, or paranormal books in general. And this last one I firmly maintain is an age category, not a genre, but I don’t really go for YA books anymore. Mostly because it feels like I’ve outgrown them, you know? The writing style and content in most YA books are not something that interests me anymore. But, that said, there have been some stellar reads.

5. A popular or beloved character you did not like.

Is it time to upset the stans?… it’s time to upset the stans. I couldn’t stand Rhysand from A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. Really, there wasn’t a lot from that book/series I was willing to tolerate, but Rhysand is the biggest example and reason why. Maas decided to completely assassinate Tamlin’s character by book two just because she thought Rhysand was hotter. Sorry, but that’s what happened. Rhysand is absolutely fucking creepy. Thinking about him makes my skin crawl. Plus he low key assaults Feyre in the first book and it’s all just? Hand waved? No thank you. Fuck Rhysand.

6. A popular author you can’t seem to get in to.

Would it be cheating to say Sarah J Maas again?

Actually I have a better one. J. K. Rowling.

Folks, it’s time to find a new fandom. I never understood why Harry Potter got as big as it did. I read them as a kid and… I mean, I liked them, but they weren’t the massive world-shaping phenomena everyone else made them out to be. I never obsessed over which Hogwarts house I was or big on the scene in general. And especially now? It doesn’t hold up. J. K. Rowling absolutely shaped a generation, and I get how she appealed to people back then, but it’s time to find other books. The author is a violent bigot whose rhetoric is being sited in this new wave of transphobic legislation and you really… can see her biases in her work. Just saying.

7. A popular book trope you’re tired of seeing

I am absolutely bored of “not like other girls”. I’ve had it. Every example I’ve seen of a character who fits this archetype is just misogynistic and edgy. It’s not cool, it’s not cute, it’s not funny. You’re not any better just because you pretend to be different.

8. A popular series you have no interest in reading

I will never touch another book by Sarah J. Maas for as long as I live, or Harry Potter or anything related. I also was never interested in reading the Shadow and Bone series by Leigh Bardugo. Finally, and especially after the Goodreads Choice Awards controversy last year, I have absolutely 0 interest in reading the Empire of the Vampire series, let alone any other Jay Kristoff book.

9. What movie or TV show adaptation do you prefer more than the book

This is purely because it was a kid’s book, but Spiderwick Chronicles. The movie was alright, from what I can remember, but I had outgrown the books by the time I’d read them, so…

Annnnnnd… that’s it! Did you have any reading hot takes to share?

Professional Updates!

I just wanted to make a couple of exciting announcements and updates for things I mentioned in my January recap!

*Drumroll*

First off, I have been accepted once again by Worldsmyths! I am now in the midst of editing my short story, Within These Twisted Vines, for publication this summer. It’s a short about Dionysus, the Maenads, and one woman’s desperate search for her best friend. Yay!

In other writing news, I have decided to join the writing website Royal Road. This decision may change depending on my experiences in the next couple of months, but I’m quite optimistic about it. This also begs the question of what I’m going to post, which leads me to…

I’ve been working for the last two months on a project! In the middle-ish of January, I got a new story idea, and spent the rest of January and all of February brainstorming, developing, and outlining it. The project is now called A Sharper, More Lasting Pain and I have dubbed it “Sapphic Fantasy Dark Academia”. For people who may not know what those terms mean, the logline is: “Two casters in love, the magic that corrupts them, and the school that covered it all up.” If that’s something that interests you, I aim to start posting it this summer! I am DracoNako on Royal Road, as is my username most online places. I’m currently waiting on a cover commission before I start posting.

Or, if that’s too long to wait, I have decided to launch a Patreon! For $5 a month, you have early access to chapters of this project, plus any others I decide to write and publish. The prologue is already up and ready for viewing. Additionally, that tier allows you to request topics on this very blog, gives discounts on book releases, and your name in the acknowledgments of said published books.

Or, if $5 is a bit too much for you, there’s the $3 tier, where you can vote on topics for this blog, get early access to excerpts before I post them anywhere else, and you get acknowledgments on the end of any future blog posts (think at the end of YouTube videos when they list their patrons). Or you can pledge $1 a month, where you’ll get shout-outs on the next available newsletter and my eternal gratitude.

Wait, newsletter? Yep! For my final announcement, if you want to stay up to date with future goings on, you can subscribe to my newsletter! I decided on Revue after some consideration, and I really like using it. Subscribing costs nothing and I’ll only bug you once a month (unless something major happens that NEEDS announcing sooner than that).

I think, for right now, that’s everything. I’m taking my writing and how I present myself more seriously starting this year, and I hope you’ll support me in that.

Next up, I think, will be a post on why I probably won’t ever pursue traditional publishing. Stay tuned for that. Until next time!

Why I Did NaNoWriMo – A Discussion on Personal Projects

Not everything I write needs to be for the consumption of others.

You might remember this post I did back in 2019 called “Why I’m Not Doing NaNoWriMo“. In it, I discussed the sort of… fetishization a lot of creators develop over their own destruction. I still stand by that post, if I’m being honest. I agree with everything younger!Alex said. Still, with all of this in mind, I decided in 2021 that I was going to do NaNoWriMo.

Why did I decide to do it? I’ve undoubtedly mentioned a few times now that I was published as of October. Honestly, I fully credit any activity I’ve had since then to said publication. While I believe we should learn to not rely on external motivators, this achievement was just the boost my confidence needed — and the perfect kickstart to get me back into motion. Still riding this high, I endeavored to carry it forward and rewrite fantasy novel and dear darling of mine To Our Own Devices.

I didn’t win, in case you were wondering. It was a struggle to get halfway. But it wasn’t the winning that mattered to me. I set out aiming to rewrite at least 50k of that novel, because I originally wanted to revise this book and maybe self-publish it. However, I quickly realized this wouldn’t be the case.

I wrote TOOD back in 2017, mostly. The novel started with a couple of scenes I wrote for a final for a class I absolutely loathed. If anything, I wrote them out of spite. Around this time, I was working on worldbuilding and decided to combine the two things I was creating together. What followed was a fantasy novel of epic proportions. I threw everything into this novel. Everything I loved. Everything I wanted.

In looking back on this novel for NaNo, though, I realized something. I don’t think this is a novel I want other people to read.

It’s such a weird notion, isn’t it? It’s expected for writers to want others to read the things we make. We work on our projects for months, maybe even years, fantasizing about future readers reading and adoring the books we produce. It’s the ultimate dream, for many of us, to be published. But, for me, this dream has slowly shifted and tarnished over the years. That’s a subject for another time, though. The important element here is the realization I had:

Not everything I write needs to be for the consumption of others.

I think this realization is a vital one for all writers to have. Not every book you write will be loved. Hell, not every book you write even needs to leave the junk drawer. We’re constantly pushed to produce content, to make ourselves marketable and palatable to our worldwide audience. Sometimes, though, it’s enough to write something that you yourself loved – the book you’ve always wanted to read.

To Our Own Devices, my darling novel born of love and spite, will never be published. I understand that now. I don’t state this with any sort of sadness, though. It was the kind of book I needed to write when I wrote it, and I’ll always be proud of that.

Have you ever decided to keep a project just to yourself? Why? How did you come to this realization?

The Cat Reviews: Secrets My Mother Kept

This book is also a fine example of the “secretly adopted” trope without it being… weird.

As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m part of an Indie book club over on twitter – run by Jodie Renee – and have been since November of 2020. This is one of the books the group read.

Title: Secrets My Mother Kept
Author: Rebecca Tucker
Genre: Contemporary
Quick Summary: An identity crisis of a different sort…
Thoughts:

A lot of times, the secret adoption plotlines I’ve read are too far-fetched for me to buy and enjoy. This is not one of those times.

Secrets My Mother Kept is the tale of a Jewish woman who discovers she was secretly adopted after she gets sent the wrong copy of her birth certificate. What comes from this is a heartfelt unspooling of emotions regarding one’s heritage, sexuality, and faith. This is a journey many of us go through in our own lives, and that makes this book deeply relatable. Sure, not all of us are adoptees, or come from Jewish backgrounds, but there’s enough elements that something will be relatable to everyone who reads it.

This book is also a fine example of the “secretly adopted” trope without it being… weird. Sometimes, this trope is used to pair up characters in… interesting ways (see: The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, all the “we’re dating, oh no we’re siblings, oh no we’re really not” stuff). Here, the trope is just used for good ole fashion family drama, and it’s done so well. Well enough, in fact, I whipped through this book quite quickly. It’s short, sweet, and quite relevant to the times we find ourselves in. And most importantly, it leaves you with a sort of cozy feeling by the end.

If you would like to read it for yourself, Secrets My Mother Kept can be purchased here.

The Beauty of Bullet Journals

Can I call what I’ve produced a bullet journal? Not in the strictest of senses, but the general thought is there.

Invented by Ryder Carrol in 2013, bullet journals aimed to help journalers better reflect and declutter their minds using a simplified system of symbols. Since conception, they’ve exploded both in popularity and creativity, evolving in a myriad of ways. I kept hearing the term “bullet journal” or “bujo” get thrown around in various circles, but I didn’t dive into what it is and means until late 2020.

I’ve had a wide variety of notebooks through the years, each creatively dubbed “A Book of Observations, Version x”. These journals started in high school when I realized trying to make a notebook for each project was… put simply, ill-advised. Still, these notebooks were… a disaster. I had no real organizational prowess – I hopped from topic to topic as my mind unraveled. If I wanted to find notes I’d made from an old notebook, I’d often have to spend a lot of time flipping through and hoping I had the right journal.

However, with the pandemic looming overhead and my own mental health crumbling around me, I was dying for a change. I took this term I kept hearing all around me and decided to do some research.

Obviously, something I wanted to prioritize with this new system was making it easier on myself to find specific notes – but that wasn’t all. I’d taken inspiration from the “bujo” community at large and their creative use of spreads. So, after hours scrolling Pinterest and YouTube and Instagram, I started making lists of the things I wanted my newest journal to include.

My first attempt, as most first attempts are wont to be, was messy. It was an easier-to-contain mess than previous journals, sure. However, I’d found myself struck with Shiny Object Syndrome and wanted to include everything I’d seen. This just wasn’t feasible. I needed a happy medium between the way my old journals were and bullet journaling.

With the second journal, I scrapped things that don’t suit me. Spreads I kept were designed in ways that made sense to me and are fun to maintain. The largest sore point in this second journal was the paper – black pages look cool as fuck, but they’re a pain in many ways to write on.

So came version three. I further refined the things I wanted to include and gave myself stricter guidelines. I considered what spreads could be redundant (why have a Year at a Glance page when I never use it and default to my phone calendar more?) and scrapped accordingly. With this notebook, I think I’m starting to get somewhere.

Instead of having a log of everything happening this year, I have a spread of me reflecting on events from last year. I have a kanban/project board I’ll periodically update as projects get finished or published or put into metaphorical drawers. And, most importantly, I start over each month. Hard stop, make a title page for the month, set up my goals and what I want to read, and move on. Coupled with a cohesive table of contents I’m diligent about updating, this notebook makes my brain feel unstoppable.

Can I call what I’ve produced a bullet journal? Not in the strictest of senses, but the general thought is there. I’ve become a massive fan of dotted paper – it has the structure of lines while still granting me freedom. Plus, this adapted method has been a great help when it comes to keeping track of writing achievements or the things I’ve gotten completed.

Each notebook setup has been meditative, in a way, as has my monthly setup. And, most importantly, it’s been fun! That’s the most vital part, I think, in keeping my writing journals.

I’ll end this with a picture of my latest notebook (see below). How do you keep track of what you’re writing? What do you use to keep track of it? How did you find a system that worked for you?

Image description: the opening pages of a notebook against a Grey brick background. The left side is the company mission statement of the notebook brand, Peter Pauper Press. On the right side, “A Book of Observations, Version 12” is wrote in different fonts. End ID.