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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Book One of the Travelers (Pendragon: Before the War) by D.J. MacHale and Carla Jobinski

The Travelers: Book One (Pendragon: Before the War)Before Bobby Pendragon. Before Saint Dane. Before the war...

 Every territory of Halla has a Traveler. They lived for years -- some even for decades -- before learning of their true destiny. What was life like for Bobby Pendragon's fellow Travelers before they joined him in the fight to save every time and place that has ever existed? What led up to their becoming the guardians of Halla? The answers are here! 

In this first of three thrilling Pendragon prequels, read about Vo Spader's death-defying adventures in the underwater world of Cloral, Gunny Van Dyke's race to find a murderer in 1930's Manhattan on First Earth, and the tough challenges Kasha faced on Eelong well before Bobby Pendragon arrived...

Note: I can't review this like I normally do, because this book is actually three shorter stories.  They revolve around the Travelers Kasha, Gunny, and Spader, from D.J. MacHale's Pendragon series.  The stories are about what happened before the war began and Bobby dropped in.  They aren't written by D.J. MacHale.

I picked this up at the library because I'm such a huge fan of the Pendragon Series.  I loved every page of those books.  So, naturally, I figured it would be awesome to get some insight into the lives of the Travelers.

I was disappointed.

First, I wasn't happy to find out that D.J. MacHale didn't actually write this.  The writing in this book just didn't work for me.  Words were repeated over and over, sometimes in the same sentence.  Dialogue was a bit sloshy in places.  There was a lot of 'telling'.

I was hoping for some pretty intense foreshadowing here.  Like, for example, Gunny could make some reference to how he could never live without his hand.  But the only real foreshadowing was that we got to see the beginning of Spader's anger problems. 

I had a hard time getting into Kasha's story.  Gunny's was alright, but I found a plot hole that is...currently escaping my mind, but it's there.  I did like the insight as to where his name came from.  I liked Spader's story best.  Then again, how can you not love Spader?  I could actually get into his story and was anxious to find out what happened next, but the whole I-hate-you-but-if-we-want-to-survive-we'll-have-to-work-together was really cliché.

I understand know why the stories were in the order that they are.  First Kasha, then Gunny, and finally Spader.  A lot of people will go into this just for Spader's story, so why not make them read all the others first to get there?  If Spader was first, so many people would just put the book down.

Overall, this disappointed me.  The characters were so much less in-depth than the actual series, especially since I was pretty much expecting 243 pages of character development.  I didn't like the writing, and the plots just weren't that gripping.  If you've read Pendragon, you can try this if you want to, but they don't add much to the series.  Three stars. *****

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Touching Darkness (Midnighters #2) by Scott Westerfeld

The Midnighters of Bixby, Oklahoma, know that their town is full of secrets. These five teenagers are the only ones who know about the mysterious hour at midnight when the world freezes, except for them and the creatures that inhabit the darkness.

But they do not know why earlier generations of Midnighters all disappeared, or why they are now the only Midnighters in town. As they learn more about the secret hour's twists and turns, they uncover terrifying mysteries woven into the very fabric of Bixby's history, and a conspiracy that touches both the midnight hour and the world of daylight.

At the same time, the Midnighters' own secrets start to emerge, including some that were never meant to come to light, changing the fragile dynamics among the five.
This time Jessica Day is not the only Midnighter in mortal danger, and if the group can't find a way to come together, they could lose one of their own -- forever.

A tale of betrayal, horrifying revelations, and powerful alliances, touching darkness is the second volume of the riveting Midnighters trilogy by acclaimed author Scott Westerfeld.
First Look: ****I wasn't sure what I'd think of this book. The first one was pretty good, but not great, and the second book in a trilogy is usually my least favorite.

Setting: ****
It's an average little town that...isn't quite so average. Somehow I like it better during the midnight hour.

Characters: *****  
I liked all of the midnighters, except for Jessica. She's such a Mary Sue, and doesn't really have much personality.  I liked the others, though, especially Dess.  Her mind works in such weird, unique ways.  Rex is also a favorite, just because his personality stands out.  And at the end...*dies*

Plot: ***** 
Much better than the first book.  Now that Jessica's got everything figured out, the real action can begin!  It moved along much quicker, so I was able to get into it easier.  It wasn't too fast, though.  And besides, the ending is nicely intense.

Uniqueness: *****  
This idea is genius.  Time stops for everyone at midnight, except for these five.  How cool is that?

Writing: ****
It was okay. Nothing stood out to bother me, but it wasn't amazing. The extra star is for finding all those thirteen letter words.

I love the whole concept of midnight. 

I feel like this is a really short review, but I really don't have much to say.

Total Score: *****
Recommended for fans of the series, or for fans of paranormal (actual paranormal) or science fiction in general. Just make sure you read the first one first.  I might have even enjoyed this one more than The Secret Hour.  It was exciting and thoroughly unique.  It kept me guessing!  Probably more in the 4.5 range.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Shadow Project (The Shadow Project #1) by Herbie Brennan

The Shadow ProjectDanny Lipman is a thief . . . until one night he robs the wrong house. He inadvertently breaks into the headquarters of the Shadow Project, a secret government organization where teenage spies are trained to leave their bodies, using astral projection to travel around the world on deadly missions.
Danny is captured, but the Project leaders quickly realize he has a special gift. And when a key operative—the director's daughter, Opal—goes missing, he is offered a choice: join the Shadow Project or go to jail.

Danny joins and is quickly sent to investigate the Project's current target: a worldwide terrorist organization known as the Sword of Wrath. But as he gets deeper in, he discovers both the Project and the Sword of Wrath are far more than they seem. Danny and his fellow operatives are caught up in an ancient supernatural conflict and will have to learn how to survive in a world without boundaries of space or time, where the wrong choice could be their last.
First Look: *****  I won this in one of those Inkpop Weekly Challenges. The cover is so cool, and the premise is awesome and unique.

Setting: ***** 
I could have gone either way, here. It was set mostly in England, which is a place I'd like to go, but I never really got a feel for it.

Characters: *****  
I liked Danny. He had a definite personality, and he was well fleshed-out. Michael and Opal had a bit of depth, but not as much. Everyone else was very, very flat. Except Dorothy. She was hilarious. I nearly laughed out loud when she said "There's no place like home." I still can't figure out if that was intentional.

Plot: ****
I loved it. I really did. The action started on page one, and did not stop until the end. I did feel, though, like the whole thing was really rushed. There was no time to take anything in. It all happened too fast. Don't get me wrong; I loved the amount of action, but there was nothing to balance it out. The climax felt rushed in particular, and the ending didn't have a sense of finality to it.

Uniqueness: ***** 
I wasn't sure what to expect with the whole out-of-body-experience thing. I was pleasantly surprised. I mean, how often do you get to read a YA spy thriller...with a paranormal twist?

Writing: *****
It wasn't really anything special, but it flowed smoothly. There was never anything to distract me from the story.

I loved the paranormal twist.  Teenage spies trained to leave their bodies and use astral projection to go on missions?  Let's see Spy Kids top that one.  And besides, how can you not love the old grandma?

Danny was a little too quick to trust the Shadow Project.  And vice versa, the Shadow Project was a little too quick to take him on.  It didn't feel realistic.

Total Score: ****
This was exciting. I practically inhaled it. It will appeal to paranormal* fans, as well as people who like thrillers of the Alex Rider variety (but this is better!). It was a bit rushed, but I still very much enjoyed it; in fact, I'll probably hand this one down to my brother**. A solid four stars.

*Paranormal in the traditional ghosts and spirits sense. Not the Edward-I-love-your-vampireness-you-smell-good-I'm-obsessed-with-you-and-your-glitter sense.

*Who is reading Artemis Fowl right now. I take my recommending very seriously, of course. :)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Pegasus by Robin Mckinley

PegasusA gorgeously written fantasy about the friendship between a princess and her Pegasus.

Because of a thousand-year-old alliance between humans and pagasi, Princess Sylviianel is ceremonially bound to Ebon, her own Pegasus, on her twelfth birthday. The two species coexist peacefully, despite the language barriers separating them. Humans and pegasi both rely on specially-trained Speaker magicians as the only means of real communication.

But it's different for Sylvi and Ebon. They can understand each other. They quickly grow close-so close that their bond becomes a threat to the status quo-and possibly to the future safety of their two nations.

New York Times bestselling Robin McKinley weaves an unforgettable tale of unbreakable friendship, mythical creatures and courtly drama destined to become a classic.

First Look: *****  This cover is so pretty!  I love it.  But I guess you can't judge a book by its cover...

Setting: *****  
It was alright. I didn't really care one way or another for it.

Characters: *****  
I didn't care about Sylvi at all. The only thing that made her likable was that she was short (something I can relate to). Other than that, the characters were all bland and flat. There was nothing to make me care about them.  The only one that had a personality was Ebon.  My problem with him was that he acted too much like a human, when he's a pegasus.  And I'm sorry, but I can't take an evil magician seriously with a name like Fthoom (What was he up to anyway?  Everyone was scared of him, but he never did anything).

Plot: *****  
Um...what plot?  Nothing really happened in this book.  I could never figure out if there was an actual conflict.  There was absolutely no action whatsoever, and it was unbelievably slow.  So big scary mythological monsters were sighted near the borders?  Whoa!  Wait...nobody cares.  Seriously, instead they're too focused on the princess' visit to pegasus lands.  And Sylvi couldn't talk to the pegasi...then she could...then she couldn't?  I could never figure it out.  It seemed to switch. 

Uniqueness: *****
The idea of nobles being "bound" to pegasi was interesting. Too bad the rest of the book was disappointing. 

Writing: ***** 
The first seventy pages or so was one big infodump. My brain couldn't keep up with it, and it just wasn't interesting.  Many sentences were phrased weirdly, and I could've done with half the description.  It bogged me down.  Words were repeated in the same sentence, making it flow awkwardly.  Once and awhile I'd find a creative description, but the rest just got dull for me.

The cover.  That's about it.

More than I'll mention here. I couldn't pronounce many of the names.  A minor character would be introduced, and then they wouldn't be seen for another two hundred pages.  When they reappeared, the author just assumed I remembered them.  Also, there were a few characters and some pegasi things that were never introduced at all.  And the pegasi had weak, frail hands...but they made paper, and they sculpted things?  What?  And what does a pegasus use paper for anyway?  It can't be possible for an equine creature to kneel.  And the big thing was that there was no conflict.  The bad guy wasn't evil.  The MC was scared of everything.  And more. 

Total Score: ***** 
I'm glad I'm done with this book.  Then again, I might be more harsh on this than usual, just because I just recently read another book I didn't like, and I'm getting tired of them. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone. I was constantly checking the page count as I read this. There was no conflict at all. Parts of it didn't add up. The characters were either flat or just plain confusing. Think beyond the cool cover before you pick this up.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Secrets of the Legend Chaser: The Soundtrack

Most of us have a playlist our soundtrack for our book.  It's what we listen to in order to get us in the writing mood.  Your friends ask you what you're listening to, and you reply "My book's soundtrack.  Duh."  There are just certain songs that could have been written for our stories.
Here's my playlist (no particular order):

1. The entire How to Train Your Dragon soundtrack.
It's epic writing music.  That's all I can say.

2. Prodigal by OneRepublic
This song is actually about the prodigal son, from the Bible story.  I discovered while writing that SotLC has some parallels to that story.

"Run away, run away like a prodigal/don't you wait for me, don't you wait for me/so ashamed, so ashamed/but I need you so/and you'll wait for me, and you'll wait for me...."

3. Never Say Never by The Fray
For starters, this is such an amazing song.  The Fray is awesome.  And besides, my book uses the phrase "...younger now than we were before..."

"Never say never, while we don't know yet/time and time again/younger now than we were before/don't let me go..."

4. Secrets by OneRepublic
There's one particular chapter that fits nicely with this.  At one point, my character feels sick of all his secrets, and he pretty much yells them all out.

"So tell me what you want to hear/something to delight those ears/I'm sick of all the insincere/so I'm giving all my secrets away/this time, don't need another perfect line/don't care if critics never jump in line/I'm giving all my secrets away..."

5. Runaway by The Afters
Because my MC is a runaway.  And the line "it's not too late to look back..." could have been written for it.  Except for the part about the phone.  There are no phones in my book.  Unless Revan invented one; I'm sure he could do that.

"I know you're out there tonight/looking for somewhere to hide/hey, hey, hey/you don't have to run away/you're hanging over the edge/it's not too late to look back/hey, hey, hey/you don't have  to run away..."

6. Syndicate by The Fray
This is the kind of song that makes me wonder if Isaac Slade has read my book.  It's perfect.

"Baby, close your eyes/don't open till the morning light/don't ever forget we haven't lost it all yet/all we know for sure is all that we're fighting for/baby, don't forget we haven't lost it all yet..."

7. Come Home by OneRepublic
This almost made me cry when I was writing my prologue.  I'm not even kidding.

"So I say to you/come home, come home/I've been waiting for you/for so long, so long/right now there's a war between the vanities/but all I see is you and me/the fight for you is all I've ever known/come home..."

8. I'm You by Leona Lewis
Because Davi is someone.  And someone is Davi.  It'd be a spoiler if I explained that to you.

"So you think I'm strong, but you're feeling that you're week/maybe I'm you/but we're one and the same, so you're just as strong as me/maybe I'm you/and we deserve better, it's time for us to leave/'cause I'm not a fool, so neither are you/maybe I'm you..."

9. Tyrant by OneRepublic
Well, the bad guy has to have a song, right?

"And it feels so real/from the outside looking in/and it feels so real from the outside..."

There are more, but I won't post them all.  Yes, I do like OneRepublic.  Just a little.

Over to you, Oh Faithful Blog Followers of Awesomeness!  What's on your book's playlist?

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Villainous Post

We all know that you've got to have a well-developed protagonist in order to have a good book.  Katniss Everdeen, Harry Potter, yeah, yeah, yeah.  But let's be much time did you spend developing your antagonist?

A well-thought-out villain is almost as important as the main character.  After all, he/she is the reason for all your character's troubles!  (Note: This post applies more to writers who have a clear "bad guy" in their story.)  I cannot tell you how much it bugs me to have a flat villain without logic behind them.

But, Annie!  They're evil!  They're mean and they do bad things are they're out to destroy the world!  That's all there is to it!

No.  Sorry.  You're going to have to do some deeper thinking here.  *watches half of audience walk away*  I mean, think about it.  Nobody is evil just for the sake of being evil.  Nobody wakes up in the morning and simply says, "Today I think I'll be evil.  Maybe I'll attack some innocent people.  Maybe I'll try to destroy Halla or Middle Earth or Harry Potter or my sister's muffin.  That sounds fun."  Villains all have one thing in common: they have a reason for being evil.
Here is the little boy that turned into the ruthless, noseless villain known as Voldemort. 

Think of Tom Riddle.  He started out as an innocent little boy.  Throughout the series, JK Rowling shows us bits and pieces of his life, and when we put the pieces together, we see his journey from small child to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.  It's actually kind of scary to read all that, if you think about it.  But in doing this, we see that Voldemort didn't just become evil one day.  His whole life led into it.  And besides, he just happens to have a name that can be rearranged in a cool way.

Let's switch series for a minute and think about our old friend Galbatorix*.  He makes for a super-evil, scary villain.  He's a tyrant who cares nothing for his people.  But he's like that for a reason!  I mean, his dragon died.  And that started a chain reaction that led into what we now know as Galby.  (Yes, I just called him Galby.  Yes, spellcheck is still mad at me.) 

This applies to Saint Dane.  Opal Koboi.  Tigerstar.  Manfred Bloor. (Okay, maybe not.  He just amuses me so much with his patheticness.)  The White Witch.  Basta and Capricorn.  *Insert your villain here*

So, before your big bad guy goes and pillages some random peasant village, think of their motivations.  Think of how their minds work and what led them to become evil.  And don't just say that they had a rough childhood, their father beat them, they were bullied, bla bla bla.  That's cliche.  Be a little more creative.  My psychic mind powers tell me that you can do it.

What do you like in a villain?  Which is your favorite?  Which one do you love to hate the most?

*Just for you information, the guy who plays Galbatorix in the Eragon movie plays Lennie in Of Mice and Men.  You have no idea how funny I find this.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Demon King (Seven Realms #1) by Cinda Williams Chima

The Demon King (Seven Realms, #1)
Times are hard in the mountain city of Fellsmarch. Reformed thief Han Alister will do almost anything to eke out a living for himself, his mother, and his sister Mari.  Ironically, the only thing of value he has is something he can’t sell.  For as long as Han can remember, he’s worn thick silver cuffs engraved with runes.  They’re clearly magicked—as he grows, they grow, and he’s never been able to get them off.

While out hunting one day, Han and his Clan friend, Dancer catch three young wizards setting fire to the sacred mountain of Hanalea.   After a confrontation, Han takes an amulet from Micah Bayar, son of the High Wizard, to ensure the boy won't use it against them.  Han soon learns that the amulet has an evil history—it once belonged to the Demon King, the wizard who nearly destroyed the world a millennium ago.  With a magical piece that powerful at stake, Han knows that the Bayars will stop at nothing to get it back.

Meanwhile, Raisa ana’Marianna, Princess Heir of the Fells, has her own battles to fight.  She’s just returned to court after three years of relative freedom with her father’s family at Demonai camp – riding, hunting, and working the famous Clan markets.  Although Raisa will become eligible for marriage after her sixteenth name-day, she isn't looking forward to trading in her common sense and new skills for etiquette tutors and stuffy parties.

Raisa wants to be more than an ornament in a glittering cage. She aspires to be like Hanalea—the legendary warrior queen who killed the Demon King and saved the world. But it seems like her mother has other plans for her--plans that include a suitor who goes against everything the Queendom stands for.

The Seven Realms will tremble when the lives of Han and Raisa collide in this stunning new page-turner from bestselling author Cinda Williams Chima.

 First Look: ***** First of all, you should probably know by now how much I like epic fantasy.  So how could I not pick this up?  And, that is a rather cool-looking amulet on the cover.  My only problem right away is that the cover is almost identical to those from the Heir series.  The two series aren't connected, so why make them look the same?  This is also a rather hefty book, and I love big books.  So of course I picked this up.

Setting: ***** 
For me, the sign of an awesome fantasy setting is when I want to live in that world.  Okay, maybe not if it's an awesomely messed-up world, but still.  I was almost to that point with this book, but it lacked a little bit of uniqueness to make it stand out from other fantasy worlds.  And this has nothing to do with the book itself, but it bothered me that I couldn't see the full map.  The library jacket got in the way.

Characters: ***** Han Alister makes for an interesting protagonist.  A reformed street thief?  Awesome!  Street thieves almost always make great characters.  *hugs Char*  My problem was that he seemed to be doing well on the streets, but then he suddenly reformed, and his reasons didn't seem quite clear to me.  Also, Raisa lacked some uniqueness.  She was just your typical tomboyish princess.  For me, it was the secondary characters that really made this book.  Dancer and Micah, especially.  And let's not forget Amon, who was probably the best character in the book.

Plot: *****
Well, high fantasy plots are almost always have high star ratings from me.  I mean, what's not to love about this book?  Street thieves (and feuding ones, at that), court intrigue (gasp!), magic and wizards and magical wizardish objects, and more.  I loved the conflict between the Raggers and the Southies.  Actually, if I had written this book, I would have spent much more time with that conflict.  It was crammed with action and magic.  Yay.  Also, the ending shocked me.  In a good way.

Uniqueness: ***** 
Tomboyish princess?  Been done before.  I'm convinced that there was somebody called "the Demon King" in another book, but I can't remember which one.  And towards the end I could almost hear Dumbledore saying "It is our choices that make us who we are, far more than our abilities."

Writing: *****
I found a typo.  A pretty bad one, too.  One sentence was missing a period, and I thought at first it was supposed to be like that.  But then I couldn't figure out why the next word was capitalized, and I got really confused, and spent a good three minutes trying to figure it out.  Not good.  There was also some inconsistency with the way characters talked.  Sometimes they'd be all old-fashioned with "what is" instead of "what's" and so on, but then they'd suddenly switch.

I liked how the plot was intertwined with the legend of Hanalea and the Demon King.  I always like when books do that kind of thing.  And *sniffs*...are those biblical references that I'm detecting?*

I'm not going to lie.  I saw the forced marriage thing coming a mile away.  And Han kept carrying that amulet around like it weighed nothing...but for some reason, the cover makes it seem like it's actually rather large.  Like how Indiana Jones kept tossing around that gold statue that should theoretically have weighed three hundred pounds.  But it really doesn't matter.  I'm just pointing it out.

Total Score: *****
Fantasy fans will definitely enjoy this.  It's got action, intrigue, romance, and more.  Add in a good dose of magic and street thieving, and you're good to go.  There's plenty of action for the impatient readers, despite the large page count. A country is falling apart, a princess wants to escape, and a young man is trying to deal with a legacy that he'd rather not carry. Don't let a few writing inconsistencies keep you away from this book.

*Cue Goyle: "Is that crosshatching I detect?"  Haha. 

Reviews of other Seven Realms novels:
The Exiled Queen (Seven Realms #2)
The Gray Wolf Throne (Seven Realms #3)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Trilogy Trap

Are you writing a trilogy?  Yes?  Great!  No?  Well, you might as well listen up anyway.  I mean, you're here, right?

Don't let this happen to you.  It's a little something I like to call the Trilogy Trap.  It goes a little like this:

Book one: Exposition.  More exposition.  Show your reader this wonderful world you've created.  After all, you spend hours on it, so why waste all that work?  Explain things in lots of detail.  Not much happens, but then again, you've got two more books for that, right?

Book two: Character development.  Show fifteen sides to every person in your book, whether they matter or not.  Lots of conversations between characters to show off these magnificent personalities that you've worked so hard on.  There's a little more action here, but not much.  I mean, there's still one more book to fill!

Book three: Showdown.  Finally, now that you've explained everything in depth and your readers know their characters better than they know themselves, it's time for the story to really begin.  There's plenty of action here, and an awesome plot that will make readers turn pages furiously into the night.  It's the final book, so you've got to pour everything into it!

Yeah.  I hope you see the problem here.  Do you really want to read two books where nothing much happens, in order to get to the good stuff?  No!  Or at least, I don't.  Maybe you do.  But my psychic powers tell me that you don't.

So, here's the deal.  If you're writing a trilogy, good for you.  I like trilogies.  But please, please don't fall into this trap.  It's a nasty one, just waiting there to snap up unsuspecting authors.  How can you combat it?

It's simple, really.  Make sure something happens in every book.  Make sure each book has a plot.  It should have a climax and some sort of conclusion.  The conclusion part is tricky, as you want it to have some sense of I'm-ending-this-book-now, but you want to leave your readers wanting more.

Here are some trilogies that don't fall into the trap (aka read them because they're awesome):

In the Hall of the Dragon King (The Dragon King Trilogy, Book 1)
The Dragon King Trilogy by Stephen R. Lawhead  (Fantasy)


The Circle of Stone: The Darkest Age III (The Darkest Age) 
The Darkest Age Trilogy by A. J. Lake (fantasy)

The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings, #2) 

The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkein (Well, duh!)

Blue Flame (Perfect Fire Trilogy, #1) 

 The Perfect Fire Trilogy by K. M. Grant (historical fiction)

Inkheart (Inkheart, #1) 

 The Inkheart Trilogy by Cornelia Funke (fantasy...but this is a must-read for ALL authors and/or book lovers!)

The Inheritance... Never mind. *gives meaningful glance to Paolini*

So, over to you, blog followers.  What do you think about trilogies?  What are your favorites? How do you show your frustration when you read one that goes like this?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Prophecy of the Sisters (Prophecy of the Sisters #1) by Michelle Zink

Prophecy of the Sisters (Prophecy of the Sisters, #1)An ancient prophecy divides two sisters-

One good...

One evil...

Who will prevail?

Twin sisters Lia and Alice Milthorpe have just become orphans. They have also become enemies. As they discover their roles in a prophecy that has turned generations of sisters against each other, the girls find themselves entangled in a mystery that involves a tattoo-like mark, their parents' deaths, a boy, a book, and a lifetime of secrets.

Lia and Alice don't know whom they can trust.

They just know they can't trust each other.

First Look: ***** I expected this book to be awesome. Somehow, I liked the cover better before I read the book.  And I'm really not sure what to think about Tamora Pierce's use of the word un-put-down-able on the bottom quote there.  I might have to use that word in the future.

Setting: ****
I like historical settings. This one was kind of cool, but not one of my favorites. Just a few more details and I would have been on the verge of loving it.

Characters: ***** 
Eh. I couldn't figure them out. The back cover claims that "they can't trust each other..." Well, okay, I got that, but then suddenly the twins would just become friends for no apparent reason, then it would be gone again in a flash. People just don't work that way. And Lia never seemed to be afraid of the prophecy, or anything she had to do. What? I'd be terrified! She just accepted it way too calmly. It wasn't real to me. The other characters were just...okay. I didn't really care either way about them. I honestly would have liked this better from the viewpoint of Alice. She was the only slightly interesting one.

Plot: ***** 
Here was the big disappointment, right here. I love prophecies in books. They're usually so cool, and I love the characters' struggles to figure out their place. But I just wasn't feeling the urgency with this one.  And I'm not going to come right out and say that nothing happened in this book, but, definitely falls into what I like to call The Trilogy Trap. I shall have to post about that later. There was zero action, and the parts that could have been awesomely scary or creepy weren't.  The author could have gone a long way with some of the concepts with the spirits and such, but none of it seemed believable to me.  So Lia had never 'traveled' like that before in her life, but she can do it without any trouble the first time? And how did Alice figure this stuff out so easily when Lia could barely grasp the concepts? At the beginning, Lia was utterly alone, but then suddenly all these random people are popping up to help her? And at some points, I was just flat-out confused.

Uniqueness: *****
I guess I'll have to give it that much. To be honest, I've never read anything very similar to this before now.

Writing: *****
For starters, present tense just flat out bugs me most times. If my thoughts had been broadcast while I read the beginning, you would have heard screams of "Show, don't tell!" Do you remember the post from the other day, about the mirror cliche? Well, guess where I found it. Yep, this book.  Anyways, I caught a few typos.

I did like the way the people talked.  It was old-fashioned, and cool for some reason.  I'm not sure why.

There was no action.  The characters constantly changed what they wanted.  It got confusing at some points, and there is no doubt that this is the first in a trilogy because of all the exposition.  My other problem with this is the Otherworld.  I get it that her parents love her enough to stay there long enough to help her, but other than that...everybody there was too content.  I mean, they could cross into Heaven at any time they wanted, but...they didn't?  What?  How could they resist?  I don't know, call me weird, but the whole spirits/witchcraft thing seemed to give off atheist vibes (I'm a Catholic).  Or at least, that's how I felt it. 

Total Score: *****
I was debating whether to give this one or two stars, so I just took the average of the five ratings above (not including First Look because it has nothing at all to do with the actual content). I ended up with two stars. I wouldn't recommend it, unless you're really, really into the whole spirits thing. Otherwise, it was a dull book that had so much potential it didn't live up to. There was no action, no urgency, no fear. I felt like not much happened. I didn't care about the characters, and it had plotholes. And sometimes I was just plain confused. The whole prophecy thing was hard to understand. I wanted this book to be so good, but it just didn't do it for me.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Don't Ever Do This #1: Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall

Today I'm going to share a cliché with you. Hopefully you're already aware of this, but you never know.

Character description is a weakness for a lot of writers. But they can't escape it, so instead they turn to the old mirror trick. It usually goes something like this:

Bobina Billifred peered at her reflection in the mirror as she brushed her hair, smoothing out her silky black locks. She frowned at her too-small lips and her annoyingly large chin. Her eyes were a sparkling blue, though--her best feature. She thought herself averagely pretty, nothing more. Sighing, she started to put on her makeup....

So, for starters, I made that a bad piece of description on purpose.  But, do you see how cliche that is?  It's just a block description (that's another post for another time) that's in disguise.  Don't do it, okay?  There are so many more creative ways to describe your character.  The best way is just to slip in an adjective here and there during a dialogue sequence or something.  Mirrors are for amateurs.

Pools of water are the same thing, by the way.  Don't try to be clever and use other sorts of reflective objects.  It's still a sign of weak writing.

I saw this in a published book yesterday.  You can imagine how it made me cringe.

So, blog followers.  Do you get it?  Have you ever seen this in a published book and rolled your eyes?  Do share! 

Don't use the mirror trick!  And yes, that is what you think it is: The Mirror of Erised.  No, Rowling didn't use the cheap mirror trick... I just felt like using that picture.  Harry is so little and it's so sad. 

PS: Sorry, iPod users.  I know my blog is messed up when you view it from your browser.  I'm trying to set up a mobile site, but I'm not sure how.  If anyone knows how to do that, please share!

Friday, April 8, 2011

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

I Am the Messenger Meet Ed Kennedy—underage cabdriver, pathetic card player, and useless at romance. He lives in a shack with his coffee-addicted dog, the Doorman, and he’s hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence, until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery. That’s when the first Ace arrives. That’s when Ed becomes the messenger. . . .

Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary), until only one question remains: Who’s behind Ed’s mission?

Winner of the 2003 Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Award in Australia, I Am the Messenger is a cryptic journey filled with laughter, fists, and love.

 First Look: ***** I really don't like the cover. The only reason I picked this up is because Markus Zusak wrote it, and I adored The Book Thief like you wouldn't believe.

Setting: *****
It was an average town. There wasn't anything special about it. At first I thought it took place in Britain because of the fact that nineteen-year-olds were drinking legally. But then a character mentioned that the weather was cold for this time of year, and they were surprised when they had to put on a sweatshirt. It was December.  Just to give you some perspective: where I live, twenty degrees below zero isn't out of the ordinay. Also, someone said something was the most whatever "in the Southern Hemisphere". So now I think it's Australia, but then again, it would've been nice if I didn't have to figure that out myself.

Characters: ***** 
At first, I hated the characters. All of them, in fact, except for Audrey and the Doorman (because he's a dog). All Ed did was complain about how pathetic he was, and none of the other characters were any less pathetic themselves. But after awhile I got to know them more, they got better. Ed grows on you throughout the book, especially after he starts delivering the messages.  They were so complex!

Plot: ***** 
Beautiful.  That's really all I can say.  It was perfectly paced and all that.  Some parts make you want to cry, while others make you wince, or clench your fists.  And then there's the ones that give you a nice, warm feeling.  I was eagerly awaiting, yet fearing the arrival of the next card.  Oh, and speaking of endings...I never would have seen that coming.  Wow.  It was stunning, people, yet it fit so perfectly.

Uniqueness: *****
Perfectly, awesomely unique.  Especially considering the ending.

Writing: *****  
Well, it's Markus Zusak, people.  The writing was incredible.  I love his use of one-line fragments.  I'm not sure what to just have to read it to believe it.  It's awesome.

The writing.  The incredible plot.  I also love the themes of how the little things in life are just as important as the big things.  There's such an incredible variety of emotions in this book.

The swearing.  It was so annoying.  You'd think an awesome writer like Zusak would be able to think of something more creative than the s-word over and over and over.  Yes, I know a lot of people talk like that, but it still annoys me to no end.

Total Score: *****
Okay, I love this. There's just so many aspects to this book: the mystery, the romance, the action, and more. It was a truly beautiful book with fabulous writing and a brilliant plot. There's no way to compare it to anything else because it's just so unique in its own way. If I were a teacher, this would be required reading.  If you liked The Book Thief, you should know that this is almost as good.  And I can nearly guarantee the ending will leave you speechless.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Plague is Coming

Plague (Gone, #4)That's right, Oh Faithful Blog Followers of Awesomeness!  Plague, the fourth book in the Gone series, comes out today!  Who else is excited?  I sure am!  The library had better hurry up and get a copy!
<-- There's the cover.  I'm really not a big fan of it.  I loved the one for Lies, but this one isn't as awesome.  I can't even tell who the guy is supposed to be.  But, on the other hand, Astrid's lost some weight, and the cover shows that.  So high-five to the artist for that.  But otherwise, I hope the one for Fear will be more awesome.

While I'm at it, I might as well share a couple more books coming soon that I'm excited for. 

Divergent (Divergent, #1)Okay, they say not to judge a book by its cover.  But with this kind of cover, I'm hoping it reflects on the book.  And besides, it's a dystopian, with a premise that sounds original.  (Read the synopsis/pitch/thingy here!)  Coming May 3rd!

Through Her EyesThis also comes out today.  The cover isn't that exciting, and it's actually slightly creepy.  But, with a premise like this, what's not to be excited for?  *crosses fingers for good luck in the Inkpop challenge so maybe I can get a copy*

And of course, there's always the far-out list, including:
Artemis Fowl 8 (2012)
Fear (Gone #5) (2012)
The Carrier of the Mark (September 2011...because, let's face it, what Inkie isn't excited for our comrade?)
Inheritance (November 2011....*dies of anticipation*)

So, what about you?  What's coming out that you're excited for?

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Ring of Solomon (A Bartimaeus Novel) by Jonathan Stroud

The Ring of Solomon (Bartimaeus #4)Bartimaeus, everyone's favorite (wise-cracking) djinni, is back in book four of this best-selling series. As alluded to in the footnotes throughout the series, Bartimaeus has served hundreds of magicians during his 5,010 year career. Now, for the first time, fans will go back in time with the djinni, to Jerusalem and the court of King Solomon in 950s BC. Only in this adventure, it seems the great Bartimaeus has finally met his match. He'll have to contend with an unpleasant master and his sinister servant, and runs into just a "spot" of trouble with King Solomon's magic ring...

First Look: ***** First, let me explain something.  This is actually the fourth book in the Bartimaeus series, but it takes place before the trilogy, and you don't have to have read the trilogy to understand enjoy it.  The only leg-up you get from having read the trilogy is that you know what happens at the end of Ptolemy's Gate.  That is one of the most fantastic endings ever.  Okay, enough with that...The cover is really, really awesome.  And in real life, it's shiny!  Very shiny!

Setting: *****  
I have this thing for ancient civilizations. Don't ask why; I have no idea. And I love how the spirits were incorporated into that ancient world.

Characters: *****  
I love Bartimaeus.  I really do.  How can you not love a centuries-old, seen-it-all, wise-cracking djinni?  He's so incredibly self-centered, but yet in a strange way he's selfless.  I loved how Asmira made him doubt his self-centered-ness and hatred of humans.  Have you ever read a book where the main character hates everything about humankind?  It's an interesting read, just for that reason.  Asmira also had a lot of depth, especially at the end.  The other characters were hilariously one-sided, but that was how they were supposed to be, and hey, it worked!

Plot: ***** 
I was liking it up to the end.  Then it started to fall flat and lost quite a bit of its believability.  If the ring was hurting him so much, why did Solomon hang on to it?  And then why was he so eager to give it away as soon as Asmira showed up?  What?  And then he wanted it back, or did he?  I'm not sure.  And why didn't he even care when they burned the palace?  Nobody seemed to care about that except the walls themselves.  And how could he not have noticed that false taxes his magicians were putting on other countries?  I saw that coming twelve miles away!  And then at the end, the characters all just seemed to get off too easy, and they could start rebuilding their happy little lives.

Uniqueness: ****
I've never read a book with djinnis before this series.  Especially not like these.  But let's see...a magic ring, the Ring of Power, so to speak.  It has almost infinite power.  It hurts the wearer and destroys them inside.  Hmm, that does sound a bit familiar, now that you mention it.  (Hint: not Slytherin's Locket, though that thing does get people down and make them angry.  Think about a book series that's even more epic...)

Writing: *****  
Footnotes!  That's one of the best reasons to read this book.  It's got footnotes!  They are hilarious.  And they really don't take away from the story, or distract you from it like I initially thought they would.  The author does a really good job with Bartimaeus' voice, too.

The footnotes, as mentioned above.  And the wittiness.  

Nothing that hasn't been mentioned up there.  Although, I must say I missed Kitty.  And maybe Nathaniel.  But probably not Nathaniel.

Total Score: *****
Fans of the Bartimaeus trilogy will really enjoy this, as well as new fans.  Again, you'll still enjoy this book if you haven't read the trilogy (but if you haven't, you should!).  It was funny and clever, with a supernatural creature you don't see too often in YA books these days.  Also, there's the excitement, and the footnotes, and the utterly lovable main character, Bartimaeus.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Normal is Just a Cycle on the Washing Machine!

Have you ever read a book that started out something like this?  I nearly scream every time I see it.

I was an average teenager.  So average, in fact, that when you look up average in the dictionary there's a picture of me.  I lived in a normal house with a normal family and a normal dog.  I wasn't ugly, but I wasn't pretty.  I was okay at everything but not super-awesome at anything.  I was just...normal.  Nothing special about me.

You especially see this in paranormal/supernatural romance books.  *shudders*  This is an exaggeration, but you get my point.  The problem with all that is this: nobody is normal.  Nobody is that average.  We've all got something, whether it's big or small, to set us apart.  Everybody is unique.  Maybe you've got a secret passion for water ballet, or you're a master rubber-band shooter, or you've watched Harry Potter thousands of times *waves to BBF*, or you're desperately wishing for a time machine so you can live in medieval times.

Are you with me?  Here's the point: If nobody is really like that in real life, then why would our characters be like that?  And anyway, who wants to read about that?  There's no reason for readers to like that kind of character.

Think of it this way.  Who doesn't love Ron Weasley?  He may seem normal at first glance.  But then you look deeper, and you can see that he's fiercely loyal, has a zillion brothers, loves Hermione Granger, and is afraid of spiders.  Those are all things that make him unique, and it's for those reasons that he's such a likable character.

So next time you're developing a character, don't go for the supreme-averageness cliche, because it's simply not real. Not to mention overused.  Call me up if you can actually find a human being like that.  It just doesn't happen.  Instead, find some way to make your character special and unique.  Your readers will thank you for it.

PS What's the kitten for?  Well, it's peeking out of the washing machine mentioned in the post title.  Why a kitten?  Because it's cute.  Why not?

PPS Oh, yeah, the tag?  Yep, that's a Despicable Me reference.  Glad you caught that.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Poll Results-March 2011

Here are the poll results for March 2011.  The question was What is your favorite genre to read? 
Fantasy                               8     
Romance                            3     
Paranormal/Supernatural   3
Realistic Fiction                  2      
Science Fiction                   1   
Historical Fiction                1
Steampunk                         1

The results really aren't surprising, especially since some of these genres overlap others.  Personally, I would have voted for fantasy, sci-fi-, and steampunk.  And anyway...who doesn't like fantasy?  It's the best!

The poll for April 2011 is....
What is your preferred writing medium?
Computer keyboard
Pen and notebook
Pencil and notebook
Depends on my mood

If you say other, tell us what it is!  Also, here's the bonus poll: If you write in a notebook, do you use cursive or not?
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