Sunday, December 31, 2017

Thoughts on 2017...

Usually, I have a little more to say for this post, but I feel like I would be repeating a lot of the same things I said at the end of 2016. Instead, I decided to focus on one topic, and it’s a lesson I learned this year.

At the end of last year, I stated that I was happy with the overall look of the blog and comfortable with my posting schedule. However, as 2017 wore on comfortable became a synonym for static. Static ultimately translated into lack of motivation to continue blogging and reading. I was limiting myself based off of the original idea my co-blogger, Andrea, and I had when we first started the blog back in 2013. I had to stop and think about why that was. It’s been four—almost five years since we—Andrea and I—started blogging here. Adri has joined us. My reading taste has changed and so have the subjects I want to talk about. But, the blog hadn’t changed along with those things, and that’s where the trouble ultimately came from.

Fear of change is real. I’m not trying to be dramatic. It’s there, and I acknowledge the fact that I sometimes find myself stuck in that mindset. However, I also didn’t want to abandon the blog because I’ve spent a lot of time on it. And that’s ultimately what encouraged me to keep going.

The changes seem so simple now that I’m looking back at them a couple of months later. I could have done them a lot sooner. What I’m trying to say is this: don’t abandon something you’ve worked on, change it into something that better suites your vision, current hobby, reading preference—anything. Because if something isn’t making you happy, maybe stop long enough to evaluate why that is. Make the changes you think you need.

I learned that lesson in 2017.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Best of 2017: Books

Continuing with the “best of 2017” theme, Adri and I are back and ready to list our picks for the best books we read in 2017. 

Before we get to the list, I have a couple of technical things to mention. To keep this organized, I’ve broken the post down into two sections: Fiction and nonfiction. Also, these are just the books we read this year and are a combination of 2017 releases and backlist titles. Because Adri is joining me, I'm not setting a limit on the amount of books we can pick for our respective lists. And, these aren't all the books we read and loved. This is only a very small percentage of them...

Adri's picks...
  • Raven (TPB) By Marv Wolf man, Alison Borges, and Diogenes Neves
  • Mirror's Edge: Exordium (TPB) by Christofer Emgard and Mattias Haggstrom
  • The Gauntlet by  Karuna Riazi
  • The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis
Comments: Okay, this is a sad, sad list. After I wrote it, I ran to Breana and demanded to know what fiction I read (jokingly of course)! Well this is it... sadly. I actually wanted to read more comics this year, but I'll do that next year.

Breana’s picks…
  • The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
  • The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
  • The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco 
  • The Windfall by Diksha Basu
  • Starflight by Melissa Landers
  • City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett
  • A Crown of Wishes by Rochani Chokshi
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova
  • Rivals in the City by Y.S. Lee
Comments: Overall, I had a relatively good reading year. Most of the fiction I read ended up being highly enjoyable reads with unique settings, stories, and characters. There were very few exceptions to that, mainly because I was pickier this year and only read books I thought I would enjoy.

Breana’s Picks…

  • Gone by Min Kym
  • Colored Pencil Portrait Painting by Alyona Nickelsen
  • Undeniable by Douglas Axe
  • The Cosmic Web by J. Richard Gott
  • Wondrous Beauty by Carol Berkin
  • Don't Live for Your Obituary by John Scalzi
  • Discover Magazine
Comments: I didn’t end up reading as much nonfiction as I originally thought I would. Part of the problem was finding ones I was actually interested in. That being said, the books I did read were surprising in all the best ways possible.

Adri's Picks...
  • Leading Lady by Stephen Galloway
  • Color Index by Jim Krause
  • Rarely Seen by Susan Tylet Hitchcock with a foward by Stephan Alvarez
  • Dressed: A Century of Hollywood Costume Design By Deborah Nadoolman Landis with a foward by Anjelica Huston
  • The art of Fashion Draping Second Edition by Connecticut Amaden-Crawford
  • The Fabulous Fibonacci Numbers by Alfred S. Posamentier and Ingmar Lehmann
  • Manga Art by Mark Crilley
Comments: In contrast to Breana, I read so much nonfiction, this list only scratches what I read. This year, I mainly stuck to fashion, designer's biography, art, and other biographies. I beleive I'll continue to read books like these into 2018, because I have a long list (that I manage to lose) of books I want to read from the library.
 What are some of the best books you read this year?

Best of 2017: Music

I typically associate December with Christmas-y stuff, but it’s also that time of year where I get to talk about some of the best books I’ve read. The only difference is that this year I’ve decided to dedicate an entire post to the music I've been listening to in 2017. This list includes albums that came out in previous years as well as 2017 releases. Adri is also joining me today with her own additions to the list....
Breana's picks...
  • Lady Wood by Tove Lo
  • Blue Lips (Lady Wood Phase ll) by Tove Lo 
  • Hopeless Fountain Kingdom by Halsey
  • The Dreaming Room by Laura Mvula
  • The Altar by Banks
  • Sweet Sexy Savage by Kehlani
  • The Fate of the Furious The Album by Various Artists
  • Another Eternity by Purity Ring
  • For All We Know by Nao
Comments: In 2017, Music Monday encouraged me to keep up with new music by my favorite artists while also seeking out bands/singers/etc who were entirely new to me...

Adri's picks...
  • The Chief by Jidenna
  • Art Angels by Grimes
  • Dark Matter by Les Friction
  • Warmer in the Winter by Lindsey Sterling
  • Gemini by Macklemore
  • Awake Alert Alive Almost by Spiritual Machines
  • Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi! and The Fall of A Rebel Angel by Enigma
  • Carcal by Disclosure
  • Break From This World by Globus
Comments: Although I havn't got the chance to buy every album on this list, starting with Awake Alive Almost, I feel like I've listened to more new music this year than the last. I can only hope that next year will bring more.
So, what music have you been listening to in 2017?

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

ARC Review: Don't Live For Your Obituary by John Scalzi

36471758Title: Don't Live For Your Obituary: Advice, Commentary and Personal Observations on Writing, 2008-2017
Author: John Scalzi
Series: n/a
Source/Format: Subterranean Press via Netgalley; eARC
More Details: Nonfiction; Writing
Publisher/Publication Date: Subterranean Press; December 31, 2017

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Synopsis from Goodreads...

Between 2008 and 2017, author John Scalzi wrote fifteen books, became a New York Times bestselling author, and won numerous awards, including the Hugo, the Locus and the Governor’s Award for the Arts in Ohio. He also had book deals crater, lost more awards than he won, worried about his mortgage and health insurance, flubbed a few deadlines, tried to be a decent parent and husband, and got into some arguments on the Internet, because, after all, that’s what the Internet is for. Scalzi wrote about it all—the highs and lows in the life of a working writer—and gave his readers, and other writers, a glimpse of the day-to-day business of navigating a writing life in today’s world. Sometimes these essays offered advice. Sometimes they commented on the practical business of publishing and selling books. Sometimes they focused on the writing issues, arguments and personalities of the day. And sometimes, Scalzi reflected on his own writing life and career, and what both meant in the larger scheme of things. Don’t Live for Your Obituary is a curated selection of that decade of advice, commentary and observations on the writing life, from one of the best-known science fiction authors working today. But more than that, it’s a portrait of an era—ten years of drama, controversy and change in writing, speculative fiction and the world in general—from someone who was there when it happened… and who had opinions about it all...
Considering that this book was written by John Scalzi, I’m honestly not surprised that I liked it. I’ve been following Scalzi since I read his book, Old Man’s War, in 2015. I was late to the series, but nevertheless, I enjoyed it. So, I was excited when I first learned that he would be releasing a book on writing, mostly comprised of posts that have appeared on his blog between 2008 and 2017.

I liked Don’t Live For Your Obituary partly because I don’t have to go back through all of Scalzi’s blog posts to find the ones included in the book, and he has a lot of insightful commentary on his experience as a published author and on publishing in general. This book covered a myriad of topics. There was one topic I particularly liked and that was the focus on the business side of publishing—including taxes, money, and day jobs—which is something I often look for in writing books but never usually get.

Don’t Live For Your Obituary is a good book to read if you’re thinking about getting involved in anything publishing related, or are just looking for something interesting to read. It doesn’t sugarcoat or feed into lofty expectations, and often focuses on the reality of publishing. So, if you’re a fan of Scalzi then I recommend this book. And, if you’ve read the vast majority of the blog posts on his blog, Whatever, then, I still recommend Don’t Live For Your Obituary.

Disclaimer: This copy of the book was provided  Subterranean Press via Netgalley for this review.

Monday, December 25, 2017

WIP December #6: Merry Christmas! & Something Festive?

WIP: Snowy scenery at sunrise, a.k.a. I’m still painting.

Comments: First things first: Merry Christmas!

Today is also the last post for WIP December. I’m a little sad that I’ve reached the end of this but also relieved, because now I can move on to another project for the blog. Plus, there’s a chance I will do this again next year. So, it’s all good.

Anyway, today’s WIP was inspired by sunsets and snow. It doesn’t snow in the part of California where I live—except on very rare, unusual occasions—which is the complete opposite from where I used to live in Virginia where winter felt like winter. Admittedly, the rest of WIP December wasn’t very Christmas-y, and I couldn’t end this without something appropriate for the time of year. So, here’s my something-festive.

Here's a better explanation for this painting: I’ve always loved the colors of a sunsets and sunrises and how the light can affect the landscape. In my opinion, one of the coolest effects is when the trees are turned all dark and shadowy, and the snow has a bluish quality to it. It puts an emphasis on the color of the sunset. I love it! And, I also wanted to paint it. So, I did. Enjoy!

What's the best gift you gave or received? Or, what are you working on today?

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Friday 56 (120) & Book Beginnings: The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette De Bodard

The Friday 56 is a weekly meme hosted by Freda's Voice where every Friday you pick a book and turn to page 56 or 56%, and select a sentence or a few, as long as it's not a spoiler. For the full rules, visit the the page HERE

Book Beginnings is a weekly meme hosted by Rose City Reader that asks you to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you're reading.

24581979Synopsis from Goodreads...

Multi-award winning author Aliette de Bodard, brings her story of the War in Heaven to Paris, igniting the City of Light in a fantasy of divine power and deep conspiracy…

In the late Twentieth Century, the streets of Paris are lined with haunted ruins. The Great Magicians’ War left a trail of devastation in its wake. The Grand Magasins have been reduced to piles of debris, Notre-Dame is a burnt-out shell, and the Seine has turned black with ashes and rubble and the remnants of the spells that tore the city apart. But those that survived still retain their irrepressible appetite for novelty and distraction, and The Great Houses still vie for dominion over France’s once grand capital. Once the most powerful and formidable, House Silverspires now lies in disarray. Its magic is ailing; its founder, Morningstar, has been missing for decades; and now something from the shadows stalks its people inside their very own walls. Within the House, three very different people must come together: a naive but powerful Fallen angel; an alchemist with a self-destructive addiction; and a resentful young man wielding spells of unknown origin. They may be Silverspires’ salvation—or the architects of its last, irreversible fall. And if Silverspires falls, so may the city itself...

Beginnings: "It is almost pleasant, at first, to be Falling."

56: "There were no dragon kingdoms here--no spirits of the rain and rivers, not under the polluted clouds that rained acid; not in the blackened waters of the Seine; not in the wells that had long since run dry."

Comments: I don't believe I've ever talked about this book on Our Thoughts Precisely before, and since I still haven't read much in the month of December, I decided to mention it for The Friday 56 and Book Beginnings. The House of Shattered Wings is one of my favorite books and has one of the most unique uses of fallen angels. 

What are you reading this week?

Thursday, December 21, 2017

WIP December #5: Still Painting

WIP: Painting; original character without a name.

Comments: This painting is the product of two factors: I wanted to work on another face and continue painting. Both things happened to work in conjunction with each other. So, I pulled a sketch from my sketchbook.  This is the result. I had so much fun with this painting. Faces/people are one of the things I’ve struggled to paint using traditional mediums. Through trial and lots of errors, I’ve realized that it was time to upgrade my supplies with ones that were better suited for my needs. Changing the type of watercolor paint and colored pencils I was using made a noticeable difference in my process. Reeves works for what it’s worth—landscapes in particular—but going forward, I much prefer Sakura Koi because of the way the paint works when layered. It still took some time to achieve the look I wanted; however, it was much easier. Also, practicing faces helped a lot. I found it easier to get the contours and shadowing the way I wanted.

There are a number of old paintings that I want to redo, and there's one in particular that's already at the top of my list: the Padme Amidala painting from the Halloween Post .

Are you working on anything interesting?

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Holiday Treats: Chocolate Chip Cookies

The December festivities finally crept its way to the food corner of the blog. No, I'm just kidding. Holiday Treats was a minor part of the plans I made in November—I even had the post graphic ready—but once December started, I originally I thought I would skip it altogether because WIP December was taking longer to finish than I originally thought. Then I did some baking and everything changed.

Making something sweet and festive is simple even if you onky have the basic ingredients. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. It can have classic flavors with fun shapes or simply a variation in color. And sometimes, it’s as simple as making a few alterations to a basic chocolate chip cookie recipe.

I chose cookies because they’re easy to make and it’s kind of simple to mix and match flavors and add extra ingredients like sprinkles, dried cranberries, etc.. Time is always a factor, and simply put, cookies aren't as time consuming as my favorite rough-puff-pastry recipe, which requires chill time and a few tedious little steps—but the end result is worth the effort.

I used Hershey’s Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe and dressed it up to make them more festive. I replaced vanilla extract with almond extract, and added around a ¼ cup of Christmas tree sprinkles for the whole batch. That’s it. The almond extract alters the taste, and the sprinkles give the cookies little pockets of texture—a light crunch that’s similar to the edges.

Of course, almond extract isn’t the only option. There are other choices like mint—which always pairs well with chocolate—strawberry, lemon, hazelnut, and even cinnamon. Yes, cinnamon extract. And sprinkles are always an option. In my opinion, cookies are better with sprinkles.


What are you cooking this holiday season?

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

WIP December #4: New Paint + Another House

WIP: I've returned to drawing houses.

Comments: The simplest explanation behind this painting is that I got some new art supplies that I needed to get comfortable with. I haven’t done a proper review for them and figured that I might as well go ahead and talk about them, since I will be using them regularly. The first item is a new set of colored pencils: Prismacolor Premier. Second, Michaels had a 60% off coupon on the Saturday after Black Friday, and I got new watercolor paint: Sakura Koi Pocket Field Sketch Box. I have used products by Sakura before—including the white gel pens and the fine liners—and have wanted to try this set of watercolors for a long time.

Sakura Koi is very different from Reeves Watercolor. The colors are vibrant, and I disn't feel like I had to try as hard to achieve the shades I wanted. The finish is smooth. It’s not chalky once it’s dry, which is what I was expecting since this paint is a little more expensive than Reeves. I also love the colors, and I'm especially a fan of the olive green. I’ve tried to mix paint to get that shade before, and it’s never been exactly what I’ve wanted. So, having the shade already there—no mixing required—makes me absurdly happy because I know that I’m going to get a lot of use out of it.

This painting was more of an experiment than some of the other pieces of art I’ve talked about on the blog. So, I also wanted to see how white gel pen and my new set of Prismacolor Premier colored pencils would look on top of the paint. Due to the colors I was using, you can’t really see the colored pencils. That being said, the white does standout.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Music Monday (35): Holiday Music Part 3

  • Music Monday is a weekly meme hosted by Lauren Stoolfire at Always Me that asks you to share one or two songs that you've recently enjoyed. For the rules, visit the page HERE 
Breana: I can’t end the year without mentioning Merry Christmas by Mariah Carey. It’s my all-time favorite holiday album. My picks this week are O Holy Night and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing/Gloria.


What are you listening to this week?

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Friday 56 (119) & Book Beginnings: Cold Magic by Kate Elliott

The Friday 56 is a weekly meme hosted by Freda's Voice where every Friday you pick a book and turn to page 56 or 56%, and select a sentence or a few, as long as it's not a spoiler. For the full rules, visit the the page HERE

Book Beginnings is a weekly meme hosted by Rose City Reader that asks you to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you're reading.

7114825Synopsis from Goodreads...

As they approach adulthood, Cat Barahal and her cousin Bee think they understand the society they live in and their place within it. At a select academy they study new airship technologies and the dawning Industrial Revolution, but magical forces still rule. And the cousins are about to discover the full ruthlessness of this rule...

Beginnings: "The history of the world begins in ice, and it will end in ice."

56: "The stream of words made her frown, but my statement was so unexceptional she could not protest."

Comments: Honestly, I haven't read any books that I can quote from for The Friday 56 and Book Beginnings. Instead, I decided to share a few quotes from one of my favorite books: Cold Magic by Kate Elliott. Cold Magic is the book that introduced me to Elliott's writing, and since then it has remained one of my favorite fantasy novels. Period. End of discussion. The opening sentence is also quite memorable. 

What are you reading this week?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

WIP December #3: Faces

WIP: Faces.

Comments: I’m halfway through this series of posts and have decided to temporarily switch gears and work on some faces, because facial features are one of the things I need to work on. So, here are two pages from my sketchbook.

I’m trying to challenge myself so I don’t fall into the habit of being too comfortable with a limited set of features, because I don’t want all the characters I draw to look the same. It’s something I tend to keep in mind, particularly when I’m going the digital route. With traditional mediums, I'm more conscious of this.

As I finished the first page, I realized I just wasn't done with this yet.  What should have been a quick drawing exercise ended up creeping onto the next page. Once I fell down that rabbit hole, I ended up finding  too many unique faces that I wanted to sketch. I just kept going when I knew I should have moved on to something else, but I was on a roll. And then there's that one lone doodle. It looks so out of place next to the other faces on the page, and more than once, I wanted to add more and more detail to it. It also didn’t help that I was working on the same two pages across multiple days and had to remind myself that it was just doodle.

Are you working on anything interesting?

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Review: The Unnatural World by David Biello

The Unnatural World: The Race to Remake Civilization in Earth's Newest AgeTitle: The Unnatural World: The Race to Remake Civilization in Earth's Newest Age
Author: David Biello
Source/Format: Borrowed from the library; Hardcover
More Details: Nonfiction; Science
Publisher/Publication Date: Scribner; November 15, 2016
Goodreads     Amazon     Barnes & Noble     Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads...

With the historical perspective of The Song of the Dodo and the urgency of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, a brilliant young environmental journalist argues that we must innovate and adapt to save planet Earth...

Civilization is in crisis, facing disasters of our own making on the only planet known to bear life in the vast void of the universe. We have become unwitting gardeners of the Earth, not in control, but setting the conditions under which all of life flourishes—or not. Truly, it’s survival of the innovators. The Unnatural World chronicles a disparate band of unlikely heroes: an effervescent mad scientist who would fertilize the seas; a pigeon obsessive bent on bringing back the extinct; a low-level government functionary in China doing his best to clean up his city, and more. These scientists, billionaires, and ordinary people are all working toward saving the best home humanity is ever likely to have. What is the threat? It is us. In a time when a species dies out every ten minutes, when summers are getting hotter, winters colder, and oceans higher, some people still deny mankind’s effect on the Earth. But all of our impacts on the planet have ushered in what qualifies as a new geologic epoch, thanks to global warming, mass extinction, and such technologies as nuclear weapons or plastics. The Unnatural World examines the world we have created and analyzes the glimmers of hope emerging from the efforts of incredible individuals seeking to change our future. Instead of a world without us, this history of the future shows how to become good gardeners, helping people thrive along with an abundance of plants, animals, all the exuberant profusion of life on Earth—a better world with us. The current era of humans need not be the end of the world—it’s just the end of the world as we know it...
I’m pretty much on a nonfiction binge at this point, and I dove into my second nonfiction read, The Unnatural World, right after the Cosmic Web. This book focuses on the environment of the past, present, and hypothetical future. Often times asking the hard “what if” questions about what’s going on with the environment. The Unnatural World was a pretty good book. It presented a multitude of interesting arguments about what people unintentionally but inevitably do to the planet. It also exemplified how carelessness and ignorance about the environment causes damage, some of which cannot be undone (like the extinction of certain types of plant life and species of animals). I did like this book, but, at times, the writing seemed a little unfocused and that made some chapters a little slower than others. However, overall, The Unnatural World was still an interesting read that gave me a lot to think about.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

WIP December #2: Houses

WIP: Houses.


Comments: At this point, I have committed to drawing a few buildings before moving on to something else. Around the time I started working on this post, I watched Minnie Small’s video on how she draws buildings—she has a lot of good advice, and I highly recommend checking out her channel if you have the time. You can check out the video HERE. I was inspired by it, and decided to just take the plunge and draw buildings without overthinking the process. I had a lot of fun just playing around with pencil. I originally thought that I might try to also work on my lines with Fine Liners—or even colored pencil—but it didn’t work out that way. As I moved from one sketch to the next, I quickly discovered that I liked the look of it as is, which prompted me to leave them in pencil. Also, apparently I'm a fan of houses with panel exteriors. It was something I notice when I was looking for references. I was drawn to houses with interesting architectural details and exteriors—particularly wood and vinyl sidings.

Story time: I used to live in a house that had a combination of red brick and vinyl on the exterior. I remember a couple of occasions when the wind actually damaged and tore down the vinyl. I can't remember how many times that happened, but I'm sure that it was more than twice.
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