Monday, January 31, 2011

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Could you survive on your own, in the wild, with everyone out to make sure you don't live to see the morning?

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
 
 
First Look: ****I picked this up at the library when it first came out, but I saw something shiny (probably Artemis Fowl) and set it down. Now that it's hugely popular, I had to check it out.
Setting: *****  Awesome! When the synopsis begins with "In the ruins of a place once known as North America..." you know it's going to be good.

Characters: ***** Katniss is almost the ideal protagonist. Super-likable, but also very relateable and flawed just enough to be believable. She's a killer archer (literally, actually, though that wasn't how I intended it to sound), and yet very vulnerable. And then there's Peeta, who's just impossible to hate.

Plot: ***** Wow. This book is a roller coaster! It's incredibly past-paced, but it works with the story. This is the kind of book that you do everything possible to avoid putting it down because you really want to know what'll happen next.
Cliché-ness: *****  Very unique. It seemed like a combination of The Giver and The Quillan Games, minus the bizarre creepiness of Veego and LaBerge and the literariness of The Giver.

Writing: ***** Suzanne Collins knows how to tell a story, and tell it well. Usually present tense bothers me, but not this book.

Likes:  It kept reminding me of The Quillan Games, but in a good way. And...well, I liked pretty much everything about this.

Not-so-great:  It didn't have the whoa, this could happen to us! feeling to it that I like from a dystopia. That's about it. And the fact that a movie is coming out.
Total Score: *****  Recommend it? Here's an appropriate use for the word duh! I now see why this is so popular! *goes to request sequel from the library*

Reviews of other Hunger Games novels:
Catching Fire (The Hunger Games #2)
Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3)

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Inkpocalypse

I was going to post my review of The Hunger Games today, but then the Inkpocalypse happened. 

What is the Inkpocalypse, you might ask?

Yesterday afternoon I tried to log on to Inkpop, but instead it logged me on as tennisketter somehow.  I tried again, and it logged me into a different account each time.  I went to the forums, and here's what I found: total chaos, like the world was going to end.  I discovered that everyone else was having the same problem.  To make it worse, people's projects were being deleted left and right (Secrets of the Legend Chaser still lives).

For anyone who isn't an Inkpop regular, you probably can't imagine an online community going into some kind of dramatic mass-panic.  It could only happen on Inkpop, really.  There were too many threads to count about how the site was going to die and all our projects would be lost and more.  It really didn't help that anything related to the glitch was being locked.

Except for my stay-calm thread, which somehow stayed unlocked.  Breathe in, breathe out.  Repeat.  Haha.  I knew the lightsaber would do the trick.  Either that or the random song lyrics. 

So, for any Inkies out here:  You'll survive.  They're working on fixing the issue right now.  It's better than it was yesterday.  On the plus side, this probably means that they're finally doing that revamp (when did they say it would come?  October?).

But remember, the rainbow always comes after the rain.  This morning I found out some exciting news: HarperCollins is actually publishing an Inkpop project!

Read the full article here!


Edit: THEY SOLVED IT.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

St. Vladimir's Academy isn't just any boarding school—it's a hidden place where vampires are educated in the ways of magic and half-human teens train to protect them. Rose Hathaway is a Dhampir, a bodyguard for her best friend Lissa, a Moroi Vampire Princess. They've been on the run, but now they're being dragged back to St. Vladimir's—the very place where they're most in danger...
Rose and Lissa become enmeshed in forbidden romance, the Academy's ruthless social scene, and unspeakable nighttime rituals. But they must be careful lest the Strigoi—the world's fiercest and most dangerous vampires—make Lissa one of them forever.

 First Look: ***** I wasn't sure what to think of this, since I've always steered clear of anything involving vampires.  But my friend recommended it to me, and it didn't look too romantic, so I picked it up.
Setting: ***** I could have used a little more detail here.  The Academy is almost Hogwarts-ish, but I never really got a feel for it.

Characters:
*****They were okay.  Not super great, but not bad.  I feel like there's so much that's probably going to be expanded in the later books.  Richelle Mead can't be accused of a lack of strong female characters!

Plot: *****There wasn't too much romance for me, which is good.  It was exciting, but I lost touch with what the actual central problem was more than once.  Again, this seemed to me like the vampire version of Harry Potter.  The social structure and teachers especially created that feeling.  
Cliché-ness: *****It's hard for me to say, since I haven't read any vampire books.  I don't know if it's possible for any YA vampire book to be original anymore. 

Writing: There were a few times when I got really confused about who's point of view it was from, and the flashbacks seemed sudden and made me more confused.

Likes: I liked the fact that the vampires weren't creepy (or at least, no more creepy than the humans).  

Not-so-great: There were a lot of important bits of info that the MC knew, but she never bothered to share that with us until a lot later, in an attempt to create suspense.  That always bothers me, because I think that the reader should always know what the MC knows.  No more, no less.  And Rose needs some help...she's my health teacher's nightmare in more ways than one (hint: not nutrition).

Total Score: *****
It was interesting.  Not something I'd reread, but I'd recommend it for paranormal fans.  Most series usually fit into one of three categories for me: Category 1 is made up of the sequels I request from the library and sit there in anticipation, checking daily to see whether they're in.  Category 2 are the sequels that I'll pick up, if I happen to see them at the library.  Category 3 are the sequels I never bother to read.  This would be a Category 2.  

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Joys of Finals Week

Finals week is here for pretty much everyone, and students are driving themselves crazy studying.  I'm not kidding; people seem either half-dead or hyper this week.

One word, guys: chocolate.

Surprisingly, this is actually an opportunity for writers.  You know that time after a test where you just sit there, staring at the clock and thinking that somebody really should fix it because it's going so slow?  Why not use it?  It's a good time to write or read.  The good thing about school (yes, there is one), is that it's full of paper.  And it's quiet, and some teachers will let you use your ipod.  Don't we all wish we had more time to write without distractions?  Well, here's a way to snag a few minutes here and there.

Good luck on your finals, if you have them.  And please, don't kill yourself studying.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

You're Beautiful

Sorry.  I didn't mean to put a song into your head there.  Haha.  Anyway, let's forget that song and click this link here.  There are so many girls (and guys too, I suppose) who really need to see this.


Wisdom From My Seventh Grade Science from Louisa's blog.  She did a great job of putting this into words.


On a completely different note, here are a few random things to share:
1. Don't go and make a rude comment about religion at school and then become a fan of the Bible on Facebook.  That's just...no.
2. Harry Potter 4 is a good movie, especially since I realized that it includes the quote "Kill the spare!".
3. You know you have an awesome friend when one of you says "Berk", and the other starts spouting off quotes from How to Train Your Dragon.  And you also know she's awesome when you can successfully get each other really creeped out about ghosts while playing Guess Who.
4. Brio magazine has been revived! Yay!
5. I have another really great book idea! Let's just say that this one involves steampunk and the son of Icarus. Yeah, that's right, Icarus!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Finding Book Ideas



Lately, on the author live chats on Inkpop (you should check those out sometime!  Who doesn’t want their questions answered by an actual published author?), I’ve seen one question come up more than usual:

Mr./Mrs./Ms. Awesome Author, I love your books!  How do you come up with such great ideas?

This isn’t an easy question to answer.  No two people have the same method for coming up with ideas.  If you’re like me, you probably have more ideas than you could write in a few lifetimes.  I’m the kind of person who sees something random and says, “Whoa!  Inspiration time!  Where’s my notebook?  I need to write this story!”  Seriously.  One of my stories was inspired when one of my friends dropped their iPod, and picked it back up again.  Another came from looking at a broken plastic mini-hourglass I used to have.  For me, the ideas just come.

“But, Annie, I’m not like that!  What do I do?”

Well, here are a few methods that might work for you.  Again, remember that every writer’s brain works differently. 

1. The Dream Method
Did you have a dream last night?  A confusing dream?  A nightmare?  Write it down!  Your brain comes up with bizarre things while you’re asleep, and there just might be something story-worthy hidden there.  The Twilight saga and Dragons in our Midst/Oracles of Fire were inspired this way.

2. The Nike Method
Just do it.  Set a timer for ten minutes and get some paper and your favorite writing utensil.  Sit down, start the timer, and just start writing.  Write a poem, describe the room you’re in, rant about something, or whatever.  It doesn’t have to make sense or be in any logical order.  All you have to do is write.  Whatever you do, don’t stop putting words down until the timer goes off.  Now sit back and read what you wrote.  Sometimes once you sift through this randomness, you’ll discover that you just came up with a brilliant idea without realizing it.

3. The Spinoff Method
When you’re reading a novel, do you ever think along the lines of, Wow, this would be so much cooler if the main character/villain/hometown had a sister/disability/violent tornado?  When I’m reading, I often think of cool possibilities like that.  For some reason, mine often involve giving the main character a twin sister.  Then they start to develop their own storylines, and before you know it, you’ve got a great story in your head that has nothing to do with the original book.  Just be careful with this, though; make sure that your storyline has completely taken its own path before you write it. 

4. The Values Method
What’s important to you?  Are you a vegetarian?  Are you pro-life?  Do you have a passion for skydiving?  Maybe you could write a story about it.  Why not make up an exciting story about why someone would become a (insert something here)?  How does your character come to get these values?  For example, if you are pro-life, you could start off your novel with your character being pro-choice.  Then you could follow their journey as they start to rethink their values and become pro-life.  What life-changing event happened to cause this change?

I hope that helped!  Remember: your story is a part of yourself, so nobody can tell it better than you can. 

Friday, January 14, 2011

Secrets of the Legend Chaser

This post is to tell you about the book I'm currently working on, tentatively titled Secrets of the Legend Chaser (formerly Emerald Spark).  There was a discussion on Inkpop awhile back where the challenge was to describe our book as a combination of other books and movies.  What I came up with was: Secrets of the Legend Chaser is a mix of Cornelia Funke's Dragon Rider and one of the best movies of all time, How to Train Your Dragon, with a touch of The Parent Trap.  And probably a bit of Christopher Paolini's Eragon.  At the core it's a story about forgiveness and truth.  And adventure, of course.  It's got lots of dragons, an ambitious brother-in-law, an old cave, a water system, a maze-like castle, emerald scales on a lakeshore, and a set of scheming twins.
Here's the summary:

Nothing is ever as it seems when you're chasing a legend.

Davi is a boy with a unique goal. Centuries ago, dragons nearly went extinct. Now he's taken it upon himself to bring them back. When he overhears talk of a secret hoard of eggs, a legend passed down from dragon to hatchling since their retreat, of course he's going to search for it. And he's taking the peasant girl Ayin, the street thief Char, and the young dragon Spark along with him.

Miles away, a lonely king has finally found his son, the prince who went missing five years ago. Or has he? The shy boy can't recall being a prince, and he's certainly not cut out for the job.

Davi soon finds out that chasing after a legend isn't as epic as it sounds. He isn't the only one who wants the eggs, and not all the remaining dragons are accepting of the three humans. A responsibility he's been avoiding for years is now coming back to haunt him. Everything seems to be falling apart, for both him and the king...

The last thing Davi wants is to go back to who he used to be. But as the tension mounts, he doesn't seem to have a choice.


Right now my word count is close to 30,000.  My goal is about 75,000, which is just a bit shorter than the first Harry Potter book.  If anybody's interested, the songs Prodigal by OneRepublic and Syndicate by The Fray almost seem like they were written for this story.

Besides, who doesn't want to read a book where a street thief fights a dragon with frozen biscuits?


Click here to read the first few chapters!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Paradise Red by K. M. Grant


Master storyteller K. M. Grant brings the dramatic saga of young love and religious conflict to a satisfying end in the final book of the Perfect Fire trilogy. As winter falls upon the Occitan, Raimon must find a way to recover the Blue Flame from the hands of the evil White Wolf. But his plan could lead him back to the pyre—and he might not be so lucky to escape from it again.

Meanwhile, Yolanda—unwillingly married to Sir Hugh des Arcis—is threatened by her husband's desire for a son. As Sir Hugh sets off on a mission to claim the Occitain for France, she makes her own journey through the blizzard to find Raimon, a journey that could end in disaster. As the flames rise one last time, Raimon and Yolanda's fates, like the fates of the Flame and the Occitan itself, hang by a smoky thread.
 
First Look: ***** I've been waiting for this for a few months now, and the cover is awesome like the first two, but I'm not really sure when Yolanda turned from Occitanian to Hispanic. I loved the title at first glance; and now that I know why it's called that, I love it even more.
Setting: *****  I love this setting. Of course, I almost automatically like medieval settings. But I loved how this is a real place. That somehow makes it so much cooler.
Characters: ***** Great, as in the last two books. Laila was the one who really surprised me here (Aimery! Laila, what's your problem?) They all had so much depth to them, and characters that you thought you knew showed new sides in this one, especially Hugh. And Arthur Parsifal, because I love the name.
Plot: ***** Again, this is no less awesome than the first two. It's a bit more intense, actually. If I was the kind of person who cried during books, I would've been freaking out near the end. This was actually real! Not the specific characters, but the general storyline. I love that aspect of it.
Writing: *****  Wait...I would have bet quite a bit that the first two were written in past tense. Maybe I'm wrong, but the present tense bothered me. On the other hand, this book is narrated by a country (actually, a small strip of fictional land in southwestern France called the Amorouix). How cool is that?

Likes: There was one thing about this book that almost had me cheering, but how can I say it without giving spoilers? I guess I'll just say that I hated that life-or-death decision she made. But then it failed, and I was really really happy with her. If that had worked, that would've most likely ruined the whole book for me. Yes, I feel that strongly about the subject. And I also agreed with the viewpoint it presented on religion, and how K. M. Grant was careful not to make one side better than the other.

Not-so-great: The only thing that comes to mind is Yolanda's choice.  But I've already gone over that, and it was resolved in the end.  Even so, I still can't believe she did that. 


Cliché-ness:***** Zero cliche. 100% on the uniqueness.

Total Score: ***** Amazing finish to the trilogy! It delivered a bittersweet and satisfying ending. This was so much more emotional than the first two! I would recommend this for people who like historical fiction, or just exciting stories. Read it, but make sure you read the first two first.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Top Ten Books of 2010

Since 2011 is still only just beginning, I thought it would be good to post my top ten list of books read in 2010.  It was a year of paranormal romance *shudders* and dystopias, but I managed to find some other awesome books (not that dystopias aren't awesome).  Does not include rereads.

10. Percy Jackson and the Olympians #4: The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan (fantasy)

This was by far my favorite of the series, although that probably has something to do with the mentions of the story of Icarus and that other guy who I can't spell his name.  For some reason that story intrigues me.







9. Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment by James Patterson (science fiction)

I started reading this series over the summer, and I practically inhaled this first book.  It was exciting, fresh, and funny.  Then, however, I read the next few, and it just went downhill from there.  I was rolling my eyes at all the global warming junk in the third one, and I didn't like the fourth at all.  The fifth...I won't even go there.  That being said, the first is amazing.

 8. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (dystopia)

I discovered Scott Westerfeld's books this year, and this one is the best so far.  I love it when dystopias give me an eerie "Whoa, this could happen to us" feeling, and this one was awesome.  It had great themes, too, about how looks mean nothing.  Yay for non-conformity books!





7. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling (fantasy)

Yes, this is the first year I've actually read this series.  The first one is actually my favorite, but I finished that before 2010 started.  I like this one because things have gotten more intense and Voldemort is gaining power, but Harry hasn't quite started to get all depressed and self-sacrificing yet.  





6. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tokein (fantasy)

It's the first LOTR book.  Do I need to say any more?  This is the definition of epic.







5. Lies by Michael Grant (science fiction)

Wow.  This is even better than the first two, and I love how Astrid looks really angry on the cover.  The characters are awesome, the plot is exciting...and who doesn't want a power like Dekka's?  My only complaint is that Plague isn't out yet.  That's annoying.



4. Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex by Eoin Colfer (science fiction/fantasy/I think this series should get its own genre)

It's Artemis Fowl, and he's back!  Yay!  Again, I don't even think anything needs to be said about this one.  I love how Eoin Colfer made all of Arty's sentences divisible by five.  That must've taken work.





3. The Maze Runner by James Dashner (dystopia)

Another dystopia!  This stood out above all the others for its creativeness and intensity.  What I really don't like is that a move for this is planned.  Don't ruin it for us!




2. Incarceron by Catherine Fisher (dystopia/steampunk)

With a cover like that, how can you dislike this book?  This was my first steampunk book, actually (if you don't know what that is...well, it's one of those things that you have to read it in order to know what it is.  I can't explain it.).  I love the blend of past and present.  But sadly, this book is also going to be a movie.  Taylor Lautner isn't a good choice to play Finn.




1. Thirteen Days to Midnight by Patrick Carman (paranormal/some might call this horror, but I disagree)

I've read a lot of book this past year, but this one is far above them all.  Awesome, awesome, and more awesome.  And slightly creepy, and really exciting.  I think part of why I really connected with this was because I loved how the author perfectly captured what it's like to have gone to the same tiny Catholic school with the same 15 students since kindergarten.  Plus the main characters were actually unique and likable, and the Houdini thing was a nice touch.  You are indestructible. 


That's it for 2010!  I wonder what will be on the list for 2011...

Monday, January 10, 2011

Wildwing by Emily Whitman

          When Addy is swept back in time, she couldn't be happier to leave her miser-able life behind. Now she's mistaken for Lady Matilda, the pampered ward of the king. If Addy can play her part, she'll have glorious gowns, jewels, and something she's always longed for—the respect and admiration of others. But then she meets Will, the falconer's son with sky blue eyes, who unsettles all her plans.

From shipwrecks to castle dungeons, from betrothals to hidden conspiracies, Addy finds herself in a world where she's not the only one with a dangerous secret. When she discovers the truth, Addy must take matters into her own hands. The stakes? Her chance at true love . . . and the life she's meant to live.

First Look: ****This was another free book won in an Inkpop writing challenge.  I like the cover, the pitch is good, but the overdone description in the excerpt on the back of the jacket made me roll my eyes.

Setting:
***** Awesome!  I love medieval settings, and even I could tell that the author did her homework here.  It helps that any story set in a castle automatically boosts up the ranking for me.  And I loved the fact that the book was a historical fiction within a historical fiction.  It started in the early 1900s, then went back in time.
Characters: **** Addy’s characterization seemed inconsistent at times.  The character who I really connected with was Will, but I felt like the author was a little too in love with him herself.
Plot: **** I love stories about time travel, otherwise this would’ve been closer to a 3.  The plot was well-paced and believable, but it got very predictable at times.  Then again, it was a time travel book, so I was able to overlook that.
Writing: **** It was nothing unique, but the voice was consistent and strong.

Likes: Yay for medieval castles and time travel!  Also another yay for books that would appeal to romance readers, yet don’t make non-romance people (like me) cringe.  And it had falconers in it, which is awesome, because, well…it’s just awesome.

Not-so-great: Why does it seem like there’s always a castle worker named Oswald?  Seriously!  What is it with naming people Oswald?  I don’t get it. 

Cliché-ness:
**** The story of a girl who’s pretending to be royalty has been done a few times, but it was good other than the predictability.

Total Score: **** Overall, this is a pretty good read.  I’d recommend it to anyone who likes time travel stories, or medieval stories, or is looking for some lighter science fiction/fantasy.

Intro to My Reviews

Since I’ll be posting a few book reviews soon, I thought I’d better explain how this works.  I separate each review into eight categories, explained below.  That way I try to touch on every aspect of the book.  First look, setting, characters, plot, writing, and cliche-ness all get a star rating from one to five, which calculates the final score.


First Look: Here’s where I’ll give my first impressions before I start reading.  Covers, jackets, titles, summaries, etc. are all options that you might see me praising and/or criticizing. 

Setting:
Fairly self-explanatory.  Time period is included in this, as well as the place the story happens. 

Characters:
How were the characters?  Were they dull or unrealistic?  Warning: I have a tendency to dislike main characters. *coughHarryPotterEragonPercyJacksoncough*  Or was I on the edge of my seat rooting for them because they were just plain awesome?

Plot: Did I like the actual problem of the story?  Was there one?  Was it boring and predictable, or awesome and epic?

Writing: How was the grammar (you’d think it would be perfect in published books, but sadly, it sometimes isn’t)?  Did the voice stand out?

Likes:
What did I like about this book?  Was there anything in particular that appealed to me?

Not-so-great: Opposite of likes.  What bothered me?  What didn’t work?

Cliché-ness:
How unique was it?  Did reading this give me déjà vu?

Total Score:
How did I like it, overall?  Would I recommend it to anyone, or will I be telling random people at the library to stay away from it?

First Post!

Hi! Welcome to my blog. My name is Annie. Some of you might know me from as Annie from Inkpop. Hint: I'm the random (my nickname is The Inkpop Muffin Dragon. I'm still not sure why.) fantasy enthusiast who likes debates, contests, and has Toothless in my profile picture. I'm also on Goodreads, so feel free to drop me a friend request!

What will I be blogging about? Well, let's see.
*I'll post updates about my writing (or see above tab)
*Book reviews
*Random rants as they come
*Useful writing tips I find
*And more!
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