Monday, February 29, 2016

The Art Of Being And Staying Organized



I am back to reviewing 2 books every month and for February, I reviewed books 1-7 of the Whatever After series by Sarah Mlynowski and I also reviewed the Spellcaster series by Claudia Gray. Click here if you missed my review of Whatever After and click here if you missed my Spellcaster review.

I am making progress on the Creative Freedom Course by Joanna Penn which I originally started last November 17, 2015 and I just finished Module 1 last February 18, 2016 (3 months & 1 day later!). If you have not heard about Joanna's Creative Freedom Course, click here to see what it's all about. 

Now that I'm at a better place (God, that sounds like I'm dead, right?) with regards to my day job situation and have started my regular remote schedule (Mondays & Fridays for now, woo hoo!) I now have more energy to bring back my writing life into focus and I'm starting small by making sure I reach my goals of 2 book reviews per month (which will be posted as soon as the draft have been finalized) and a monthly roundup (which will be posted on the last monday of the month). In order for me to achieve these writing goals and form a writing habit that will stick and reprogram my brain, I figured that I need to organize my writing life just as I organize my day job life. 

So, I've created an entirely new calendar on iCloud and I've scheduled in my writing times, my day jobs, dinners, commute times, etc. I know a lot of people still use day planners and as much as I'd love to use those, I don't think it will work very well for me as there's no way to set an alarm on paper planners and I'd be afraid to write on it, on top of the fact that I'll most likely forget to flip through it to see what's on the calendar. I originally didn't schedule writing times during the weekends because it's usually filled with errands and/or meeting up with family and friends. What I intend to do is to wake up at six every weekend and hopefully be dressed and ready for the day between 7 AM and 8 AM and be able to carve in some writing time before errands take over. But then while recreating my calendar and color-coding it on a spreadsheet (somehow, exporting my Writing Calendar to PDF came out in 1 color and uneven lines ― weird!), I decided to put in my possible writing times. 

Below is a screenshot of what my week looks like in a very color-coded OCD way that my brain loves to work in, which comes in handy when I'm working at my day job ― not so much when I need to switch gears and indulge my creative side.  




On the yarn related side, I've also posted a blog on tips for new crocheters on finding the best hooks to work with so you can avoid spending money on hooks that you end up hating and therefore not using, which you can read here.

How are you doing with your goals? What have you been struggling with in achieving your 2016 goals? Have you thought of ways to overcome those bits of road blocks? Share them in the comments below.

Books I've Read Since Last Blog Post

  • Beauty Queen (Whatever After,#7) by Sarah Mlynowski ― 2/6/2016
  • Shearwater - Part One (Ocean Depths, #1) by D.S. Murphy ― 2/11/2016
  • Witch & Wizard (Witch & Wizard, #1) by James Patterson - 2/23/2016
  • 1st To Die (Women's Murder Club, #1) by James Patterson - 2/24/2016
  • The Gift (Witch & Wizard, #2) by James Patterson - 2/25/2016

Currently Reading 

  • Stone of Fire (ARKANE, #1) by J.F. Penn
  • The Fire (Witch & Wizard, #3) by James Patterson

Currently Writing

  • JJ's Baby Photo Book ― I'm waiting on getting more photos of everyone from Sean's side of the family with JJ and hopefully it will be complete and ready for printing in April/May 2016.

Finished Objects

  • Aunt Marian's Shawl - I used 4 skeins of Red Heart Boutique Midnight in the Vista colorway; 65% Acrylic, 23% Wool, 6% Metallic Polyester, 6% Nylon; Aran weight; US Size G (4.0 mm) hook; Pattern is from Red Heart North America: On The Town Shawl by Julie Farmer



Currently Knitting/Crocheting

  • My sister was so much delighted by the baby blanket I made for her soon to be born baby boy (Marcus' Baby Blanket) that she placed an order for a crocheted Pikachu toy for her baby. Which reminds me, I need to search Revelry for a good pattern or design one myself.

Product Reviews






Announcements

Just in case, I would like to share the blogs and/or podcasts I'm really enjoying which are also listed on the side bar...and these are in the order I discovered them...hope you'll enjoy them too!




Monday, February 15, 2016

[Book Review] Whatever After series, books 1-7 by Sarah Mlynowski


My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
eBook Edition
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Fairy Tales

Part 1: From The Book Covers



A fresh, modern spin on a classic fairy tale--from bestselling author Sarah Mlynowski! 
Mirror, mirror, on the basement wall . . . 
Once upon a time my brother and I were normal kids. The next minute? The mirror in our basement slurped us up and magically transported us inside Snow White's fairy tale. 
I know it sounds crazy, but it's true. 
But hey -- we're heroes! We stopped Snow White from eating the poisoned apple. Hooray! Or not. If Snow White doesn't die, she won't get to meet her prince. And then she won't get her happy ending. Oops. 
Now it's up to us to: 
- Avoid getting poisoned
- Sneak into a castle
- Fix Snow White's story 
And then, fingers crossed, find our way home. 



Once upon a time my brother and I found a magic mirror...

Tonight the mirror swept us into Cinderella's fairy tale. Now, we are NOT messing this story up. No way. Cinderella is going to marry her prince just like she's supposed to.

Uh-oh.

Cinderella broke her foot, and there's massive swelling. The glass slipper won't fit, the prince won't know she's the one for him, and they won't live happily ever after. And it's all our fault!

To save the day we'll need to:
- Learn how to use a dustpan
- Stay out of jail
- Find Cinderella a job
- Make sure true love finds its way

We just have to get it all done before the clock strikes twelve and the chance for a happy ending is gone . . . forever!



Once again my brother and I are in hot water...

We weren't planning to mess up the fairy tales. The first two times, we did it by accident. 

But when our magic mirror pulls us into the story of the Little Mermaid, we have no choice but to try and rewrite it. Let's just say the original story does NOT end happily!

Now we need to:
- Convince our mermaid to keep her tail
- Plan a royal wedding
- Avoid getting eaten by sharks

We've got to find a happy ending for the Little Mermaid . . . before she's fish food, and we're lost at sea forever!



Good night, sleep tight, don't let the magic mirror bite....

It was supposed to be the best sleepover ever. Just me, my best friend, Robin, and an awesome night of s'mores, secrets, and staying up late. No pesky little brothers allowed. And DEFINITELY no magic mirrors.

Everything was perfect...until the mirror sucked Robin into Sleeping Beauty's story! My brother and I dove in after her, but we couldn't stop her from pricking her finger on the spindle. Now we're REALLY in trouble. Robin's fast asleep--and Sleeping Beauty is wide-awake! To save the day I've got to:

- Host a fake birthday party for Jonah
- Find a prince to wake up Robin
- Avoid getting cursed by scary fairies

We only have ten hours to make things right...or this day will become a nightmare!



After a tough day at school, I am NOT in a good mood. The perfect pick-me-up? A trip through our magic mirror! When my brother and I -- plus our new dog -- end up in the story of Rapunzel, we can't resist climbing her hair. Oh no! Her smooth locks suddenly look like they've been attacked by a cheese grater. Maybe a trim will help...Snip, snip. SNIP. Oops. Now Rapunzel's hair is too short and we're trapped!

So we have to:
-Find the tower's secret door
-Avoid getting swallowed by a giant spider
-Locate Pickles (aka the prince)
-Reunite Rapunzel with her parents

If we don't untangle this knotty tale soon, we could be stuck in this mess for good!



The magical sixth installment in this NEW YORK TIMES bestselling series!

Brrrrrrrr. This fairy tale is FREEZING!

Even though my brother and I had decided to stay away from the magic mirror, our puppy had other plans -- he bounded right in. What choice did we have but to go in after him? 

When we land in a winter wonderland, we realize we must be in the story of The Snow Queen. And this fairy tale is nothing like the movie. This Snow Queen is super-mean, and she turns our dog into an ice sculpture!

To get home we'll have to: 
- Defrost our furry friend
- Ride a very chatty reindeer
- Learn to ice-skate
- Escape from a band of robbers

And if we're not careful . . . we could end up frozen ourselves!



The magical seventh installment in this NEW YORK TIMES bestselling series!

This time, the magic mirror sucks Abby and Jonah into the story of Beauty and the Beast. When Jonah angers the Beast by picking flowers from his garden, he becomes the Beast's prisoner! Abby has to save her brother by finding Beauty, whom the Beast will surely fall in love with, right? NOPE. The Beast doesn't like Beauty, so it's up to Abby and her brother to match-make this reluctant pair and fix this fractured fairy tale before things get pretty ugly!


Part 2: Recommendation



As you all know, I love fairy tales and their various retellings. Even though this series is obviously for Middle Grade readers, I found it enjoyable to read and the fact that it imparts valuable lessons to the readers without being preachy. I think middle grade readers will find Abby relatable because not only does the stories revolve around the fairy tales but they also show Abby's real life in the human realm, like when she's at school, interacting with her friends and her not quite friend Penny, the emotions she goes through regarding her parents, her brother Jonah and her best friends. This series is also the first time I've been exposed to Sarah Mlynowski's work and it has been a fun, relaxing series to read. I can't wait for the next books in the series. Every middle grade girls should definitely read the series.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

[Book Review] Spellcaster series by Claudia Gray




My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Audiobook Edition (for Spellcaster, Steadfast & Sorceress)
eBook Edition (for The First Midnight Spell)
Genre: Young Adult, Urban Fantasy

    Part 1: From The Book Covers


The First Midnight Spell


In this suspenseful companion novella to New York Times bestselling author Claudia Gray's Spellcaster, learn the tragic origins of the dark witch Elizabeth.

It's 1695, and Elizabeth Cooper is a young witch in Fortune's Sound, Rhode Island. She spends her days perfecting spells with the local coven and dreaming about one day marrying Nat Porter. But Nat is the son of Widow Porter, another witch and the leader of their coven. According to the First Laws of the Craft, Elizabeth is strictly forbidden to marry him.
Elizabeth never imagined dabbling in the dark arts, bringing herself close to serving the One Beneath. But as she feels Nat slipping away from her, she will do anything to secure his love. How much harm could she do with one single spell, even if it is black magic?


When Nadia’s family moves to Captive’s Sound, she instantly realizes there’s more to it than meets the eye. Descended from witches, Nadia senses a dark and powerful magic at work in her new town. Mateo has lived in Captive’s Sound his entire life, trying to dodge the local legend that his family is cursed - and that curse will cause him to believe he’s seeing the future … until it drives him mad. When the strange dreams Mateo has been having of rescuing a beautiful girl—Nadia—from a car accident come true, he knows he’s doomed. 

Despite the forces pulling them apart, Nadia and Mateo must work together to break the chains of his family’s terrible curse, and to prevent a disaster that threatens the lives of everyone around them. 
Nadia, Mateo, and Verlaine have saved Captive's Sound from the dark Sorceress Elizabeth...or so they thought. Despite their best efforts, a crack opened and a new, greater evil seeped through. With Mateo as her Steadfast, Nadia's magic is magnified and she is more powerful than ever. But there is still so much she doesn't know about the craft, leaving her open and vulnerable to a darker magic...which has begun to call Nadia's name.


To save the lives of countless people in Captive’s Sound, Nadia has sworn herself to the One Beneath, to black magic. Her plan, and the town’s only hope, is for Nadia to learn enough sorcery to strike back against the forces of darkness. But now that she’s separated from her friends, her family, and her Steadfast, Mateo, Nadia is more vulnerable than ever to darkness. And as the sorceress Elizabeth summons torrential rains and brings the One Beneath closer to the mortal world, Nadia is running out of time to stop her. The final battle lines are drawn, surprising alliances are made, and true love is tested in the action-packed conclusion to the breathtaking Spellcaster series. 


    Part 2: Recommendation


I was browsing my local library's cybershelf and these books appeared on my recommendations list. The covers looked interesting as well as the description and with an audiobook version available, I thought it would be perfect to listen to during my 2 hour daily commute to and from work. This is the first time I've been exposed to Claudia Gray's work and I have to say that the series was well written. I think it is safe for 12 year olds to read as there's almost no sex scene, just a lot of kissing scenes going on and the one sex scene that did happen in the book was so carefully written that it mostly implies what happened next. Nothing explicit which I think even the most conservative of parents would be okay to hand the book to their daughters. Yes, I feel that this book is geared towards young adult females rather than males since both the protagonist and antagonist are female even though there's a scattering of male presence in the book as well. I read the series starting with Spellcaster, Steadfast, Sorceress and finally, The First Midnight Spell (TFMS). As far as I could tell, even though TFMS is labeled as #0.5 in the Spellcaster series on Goodreads, I feel that it would be best to read this novella for last. But if you decide you want to read it first, I'm thinking it would be okay just be warned that if you read it first, you might get the impression that the next books in the series would continue on with the storyline which it does not. In fact, the Spellcaster book started 400+ years after The First Midnight Spell ends and some of Elizabeth Pike's backstory gets woven into the entire plot line of the other 3 books in the series, which is great because after reading TFMS, I had a dozen questions about what happened next and I could only guess at what happened to Elizabeth in between. The only thing I feel that should be included in TFMS was how Elizabeth's life was after she married Mr. Pike as I would love to read about what drove her to make that bargain with the One Beneath. Even though it was mentioned in the 3 other books, I'm super curious to know more details surrounding that particular event.

Spellcaster, Steadfast, & Sorceress is a progressive/chronological storyline following the events around Captive's Sound 400+ years after TFMS and is written in the point of views of Nadia, Verlaine and Mateo and I will say, the narrator, Khristine Hvam did an amazing job of reading the book and it was not confusing at all to listen to it when the POV changed. What threw me off was Ms. Gray's take on spell casting as this is the first Witch book that I've read where witches are using memories to cast spells. I'm still not sure how that works as I'm more used to the tradition of witches casting their protective circle, chanting spells that rhyme and invoking the elements and/or deities. I have a lot of reference books on the subject of spell crafting as I too write in the urban fantasy genre but I've never come across this. I guess that would be Ms. Gray's version of her witches as to Twilight's sparkly vampires.  

Of all the characters in this series, Verlaine seems to be the most real to me for some reason. Elizabeth is definitely creepy and wicked, Mateo — I feel — is just there to throw complications and to defy the First Laws of the Craft and Nadia … I feel that the series should've shown Nadia's growth and progression towards becoming this brilliant and amazing witch/sorceress but somehow it fell short. The reason I feel this way is because throughout the series (books 1-3), Nadia has been complaining about her lack of magical training and despite gaining access to two witches' Book of Shadows, she stumbles around, performing spells that gets out of control, she clearly lacks strategy and planning skills and either someone steps in to do damage control or she gets really lucky that her spell or plan actually worked the way it should. I guess I was expecting more out of Nadia. TFMS actually showed more character development on Elizabeth in four chapters than the whole series did for Nadia. 

Overall, the Spellcaster series by Claudia Gray has been entertaining to read and listen to and is definitely a refreshing take on how witches cast spells.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Which Hook To Hook With?


Now that the holidays are over and you've had time to yourself, you have decided that you wanted to learn how to crochet (yay!). You watched a couple of YouTube videos (that's actually how I learned - click here to see my Crochet Basics Playlist for both right and left hand) and thought, "Okay, I just need at least one crochet hook to start with, a ball of yarn and a pair of small scissors." Then you happily step inside a craft store or your local yarn store and felt overwhelmed at the amount of crochet hooks to choose from, on top of the yarn varieties. And then there are starter kits as well as full sets of crochet hooks! You are leaning towards the cheapest and biggest ball of yarn as well as the cheapest set of crochet hooks. After all, you don't want to spend a lot of money in the early stages of learning how to crochet in the event you discover later on that you don't like the craft, right?

   
Via Fiber Flux 
Via Fiber Flux

   
The truth is in your hands. No matter how many video reviews you watch or blog posts you read (about the different types of crochet hooks), a lot of times, you just have to hold the hook in your hands and try it out. If you know someone who crochets, this is a golden opportunity for you to ask them to see if you can try out the different types of hooks they have. I myself have both the tapered hook type and the inline hook type in materials such as aluminum, plastic and bamboo in regular designs and comfort grip designs. This is the part where I wished I had someone to borrow crochet hooks from before I went out and bought my individual hooks. So, if you know someone, ask them to see their hooks. I'm sure they'll be more than happy to show you their hook collection. 



Don't be surprised if they show you a lot of hooks and you might notice duplicate hook sizes. But pay attention to the material of the hooks, the design of the hooks (tapered or inline) and how the yarn feels as you work the hook through the loops. Some crocheters prefer tapered hooks and some prefer inline hooks and some prefer plastic or wood over metal and vice versa. I myself prefer the tapered metal hooks and my favorite hooks are the Clover Soft Touch crochet hooks (click here to read my review) because of their comfort grip handle at a reasonable price especially for a full set.



To save you some money and save you from trial and error of the wrong hooks, I highly recommend that you get and try a comfort grip crochet hook — after you have figured out if you like the tapered or inline hook and what material the hook is made of that you like to work with — whether you have dexterity problems or not because the more comfortable your hands are, the more likely you will enjoy learning how to crochet. I myself have taught a couple of friends how to crochet and the first thing I did was bring my zippered pouch of crochet hooks to work and sat with them and asked them which hook (plastic, wood, aluminum and comfort grip aluminum) did they like best in terms of grip. 100% everybody said they prefer the comfort grip with aluminum hooks. 

And so when I meet with them at the craft/yarn store, they already know which hook to get and so the next question is, what type of project are you looking to make? I ask this question so that I can gauge which one hook size they should get since we all don't know yet if they will like and enjoy crochet. If they can't decide on what type of project, I will then ask them to handle and fondle the yarns and see which texture and color (preferably, bright and light colored yarns to better see your stitches) they prefer and from there, I will suggest they get the hook size that is recommended for that yarn. Because let's face it, if you're working with yarn that you don't like the texture or color, you will not be motivated to learn with that yarn or if the hook is too small to grab the yarn, you'll get frustrated and give up on it. 

If you stop by your local yarn store, chances are, they will allow you to try some of their hooks (if you don't personally know a crocheter) or if you enroll in one of their crochet basics classes, I'm sure they will allow you to try out the different hooks they have. At least, I would if I own a yarn store. I hope this helps you in buying your first crochet hook or first set of crochet hooks without breaking the bank. If you have questions or concerns, please feel free to post a comment on this blog post and I'll be more than happy to answer them. Also, please feel free to share this blog post if you found this information helpful.