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Thursday, December 27, 2012

20 Questions: My Year in Books: 2012

Since the end of the year is coming up, it's time to do all the end-of-year top tens and stats and questions.  Since I like the yearly book questionnaires, here's one I made myself.  You can also participate in this one, if you want.  Click here to find out how. we go!

  1. Best book of 2012?  This has not yet been determined.  There is a complex mathematical formula that I use to figure this out.  Okay, not really, but I want to save this one for the Top Ten post.  I know for sure, though, that it'll be one of these booksIt's been determined.  It's in this post.
  2. Least favorite? The Cup of the WorldIt's actually the only book that got a one star rating out of me in 2012.  Probably because I disliked the main character so much that I actually wanted the bad guys to win.  I want my four hours back.
  3. Favorite cover?                                                                I love both of these covers.  The one for The Ask and the Answer is quite mysterious.  The one for Witchlanders is prettier in real life than it is on a screen--trust me.
  4. Most eagerly awaited book?  This one is a three-way tie.  I waited over a year for both The Crimson Crown and Fear, but I waited for The Last Guardian since 2010.  I awaited The Last Guardian especially eagerly because it was the finale to a series I've loved since elementary school.
  5. Favorite new series you discovered in 2012?  Another tie.  This time it's between A Song of Ice and Fire and the Matt Cruse series, both of which I can't believe I waited until 2012 to read.  aSoIaF is wonderfully massive and complex, and the Matt Cruse series is just so much fun to read.
  6. Most disappointing book?  I have pretty much the same feelings for both Throne of Glass and Defiance.  Both promised to be exciting, thrilling high fantasy novels, but neither lived up to the hype.  I was bored while reading both of them, and neither really did anything for me.  I didn't hate either of them, but I had wanted them to be so much better.
  7. The book you expected not to like but were pleasantly surprised?  I was wary of Voices of DragonsI had read another book by the same author last year, and was not impressed at all.  Voices of Dragons, then, surprised me.  I really enjoyed it!  Also, it had dragons, which wins points with me.  Another positive point is the deliberate lack of insta-love.  The heroine, Kay, is in a relationship, but she says multiple times that she does not want instant love.  That is a true rarity in YA books and I was very happy with it.
  8. Book you recommended most often?  Eon: Dragoneye RebornRunners-up were The Book Thief, The Maze Runner, and The Merchant of Death.
  9. Freebie! (Favorite quote, favorite scene, etc.)  Favorite book-related amusing picture?                                   
  10. Best review you wrote in 2012?  The Crimson CrownI used a few GIFs to get my point across.  I'm rather fond of it.
  11. Book that had the most impact on you? Every Day.  It's such a beautiful exploration of love and identity.  It's simple and complex at the same time, and makes a pretty powerful statement.
  12. Most emotional book (for you, or the characters, or both)?  The Last Guardian.  The ending is quite emotional, of course.  Perfectly wonderful, but there's still an "EOIN COLFER, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" moment, right before the giant "Awww, that's so cute!" moment.  It's also a bit emotional for me because I've been reading this series since I was in fifth grade.  This series has been with me more than half my school years, and it's so sad to see it end!    
  13. Best of genres:
    1. Fantasy? Witchlanders or The Crimson Crown (with A Game of Thrones a close runner-up)
    2. Sci-fi?  Starclimber
    3. Dystopian? The Ask and the Answer, Fear, or The Drowned CitiesIt's hard to pick just one for each category.  It's not going to happen.
    4. Realistic/Contemporary? I'm not sure Every Day counts as "realistic", but it's close enough, and it's a tough book to classify.
    5. Historical?  Icefall.
    6. Paranormal? The Blood.
    7. Other?  I haven't mentioned Passenger yet, so I'll name it here.
  14. Book that didn't quite live up to the hype?  Grave Mercy and Under the Never SkyNeither really did anything for me, but they've gotten high praise this year.  Especially Grave Mercy, which everyone but me seems to love.
  15. Most gorgeously written book?  Every Day was beautiful of course, and Icefall also had a gorgeous simplicity in the narration.  The Night Circus also deserves mention, as well as the Chaos Walking series.
  16. Most shocking scene? (Mark all spoilers!)  Spoilers abound in this paragraph, for Starclimber and Monsters of Men.  First, in Starclimber, there's that scene where first Matt isn't picked to go to space, and I was freaking out.  How could there be so much buildup about him going to space and then he doesn't get to go.  What?  And then Kate is engaged to some guy that isn't Matt?  Why?  Of course, both these things are not what they seem, as we find out later in the book.  There's also that part at the end of Monsters of Men where you think everything's all wrapped up until Todd gets shot and you think he's going to die and you're freaking out because how could Todd die at the end?
  17. Best character?  Again, I can't pick just one, so I'll name a few.  Arya StarkMatt Cruse.  Cole St. ClairMarshall SeaverSage.
  18. Book you can't believe you didn't read until 2012?  A Game of Thrones.
  19. Book you never got around to reading in 2012 but will definitely read it in 2013?  Code Name Verity, The Poison Throne, Monument 14, Falling Kingdoms, and more.
  20. Book you are most excited for in 2013?  Light!  Gone series finale, here we come!
Stay tuned for the Top Ten post!
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Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Battle for Skandia (Ranger's Apprentice #4) by John Flanagan

Still far from their homeland after escaping slavery in the icebound land of Skandia, Will and Evanlyn's plans to return to Araluen are spoiled when Evanlyn is taken captive by a Temujai warrior. Though still weakened by the warmweed's toxic effects, Will employs his Ranger training to locate his friend, but an enemy scouting party has him fatally outnumbered. Will is certain death is close at hand, until Halt and Horace make a daring, last-minute rescue. The reunion is cut short, however, when Halt makes a horrifying discovery: Skandia's borders have been breached by the entire Temujai army. And Araluen is next in their sights. If two kingdoms are to be saved, an unlikely union must be made. Will it hold long enough to vanquish a ruthless new enemy? Or will past tensions spell doom for all? The battles and drama are nonstop in Book Four of this hugely popular epic.
Released: March 18th 2008          Pages: 272
Publisher: Philomel                     Source: Library

For starters: the American cover.  Bleh.  I don't like it.  I get it that Erak is a big part of this book, but let's face it...he's not very attractive.  Plus, there's something weird about the picture that just seems off.  I can't put my finger on what, but it just looks wrong.  The UK cover (to the right) is much more pleasant to look at.  And it has a cooler title.

Now to the actual content of the book.  So far, there's nothing about this series that I love, nothing that jumps out at me as super awesome or fantastic.  That being said, I did enjoy reading this, as with the other books in the series. 

Will is likable, but he's also an idiot sometimes.  Exhibit A: Evanlyn is having Eowyn-esque angst over the fact that she can't fight because she's a girl.  She asks Will to give her some archery lessons.  Will says no.  Um...what?  Will, do you not know a golden opportunity when it's staring you in the face?  Think about it.  If a pretty girl--a princess, no less--asks you for archery lessons, you say yes.  Especially if you have a crush on her (oh, don't deny it, he totally does).  Especially if you're worried Horace might also be interested in her.  Archery lessons would have given Will plenty of excuses to spend lots of time with her, and if he wanted to, he could pull some sort of sneaky, cheesy trick of putting his arms around her "to show her how to hold the bow".  And anyway, girls can fight, too!

Speaking of Horace...I wish he had more depth.  He's always so content to let will do the thinking.  I wish he could be less of a mindless fighter and have more personality.  However, I do like the aspect of his moral code, and the kind of person that makes him.

And then, Halt.  I love Halt.  Probably because he reminds me of Brom.  I think I've already said that in my other reviews, but it's true.  My mental picture of Halt is just a picture of Brom, but shorter.

You know who never made an appearance in this book? Gilan. This disappointed me a little--I hope he comes back into the story soon!

Overall, I like how this series is progressing.  I hope that pattern will continue throughout the series.  I'll be reading the sequels, for sure.  This would be a great book for someone who is into high fantasy but not ready for something like Game of Thrones, or even Eragon.  Recommended!

Similar Books: It's for an older audience than Rowan of Rin, but a younger audience than Eragon or A Game of Thrones, though they all share many common elements.  It's much less complex and intense than the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  It also reminds me a little of the Darkest Age trilogy.
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Thursday, December 20, 2012

20 Questions: Your Year in Books

Around this time of year, some people like to recap what they read throughout the past 12 months.  I'm also a fan of this, and quite enjoy doing it.  But sometimes, a Top Ten favorites (though I do like those, too) isn't enough.  What about the books you didn't like, or that amazing scene that you're dying to tell people about?

I've written a list of 20 questions to (hopefully) cover your reading year.  I'll be answering the questions myself in a few days, but for now, here's the list of questions.  Feel free to copy and paste and use them yourself!  (I'd appreciate if you use the button if possible.  There's some code at the bottom of this post that you can copy.)

If you're doing this, let me know in the comments!  Post a link to your post, and I can link back to it from here.  Happy answering!  (We'll see how if anyone uses this...)

  1. Best book of 2012?
  2. Least favorite?
  3. Favorite cover?
  4. Most eagerly awaited book?
  5. Favorite new series you discovered in 2012?
  6. Most disappointing book?
  7. The book you expected not to like but were pleasantly surprised?
  8. Book you recommended most often?
  9. Freebie!  (Favorite quote, favorite scene, best romance, etc.)
  10. Best review you wrote in 2012?
  11. Book that had the most impact on you?
  12. Most emotional book (for you, or the characters, or both)?
  13. Best of genres:
    1. Fantasy?
    2. Sci-fi?
    3. Dystopian?
    4. Realistic/Contemporary?
    5. Historical?
    6. Paranormal?
    7. Other?
  14. Book that didn't quite live up to the hype?
  15. Most gorgeously written book?
  16. Most shocking scene? (Mark all spoilers!)
  17. Best character?
  18. Book you can't believe you didn't read until 2012?
  19. Book you never got around to reading in 2012 but will definitely read it in 2013?
  20. Book you are most excited for in 2013?

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Passive Vs. Active Voice (With Zombies, Of Course!)

No matter what type of writing style you have, passive voice is never a good idea.  It's an enemy that must be vanquished.  You probably have heard it all before--don't use passive voice! 

This begs two obvious questions.  What is passive voice, and why would I want to avoid it?  (Actually, there's also a third question here.  Zombies?  What?  That will come later.)

Passive voice almost always comes with a form of the word "was".  It looks like this:
The ring was destroyed.
Who destroyed the ring?  We don't know.  All we know is that there was a ring, and someone or something destroyed it.

Here's the same sentence, in the active voice (opposite of passive):
Frodo destroyed the ring.
In this sentence, we know who destroyed the precious ring.

Passive voice can also happen with a subject, though, usually indicated with a "by ___" at the end.
Passive: The hobbits were taken to Isengard by orcs.
Active: Orcs took the hobbits to Isengard.
In this case, we know who took the hobbits to Isengard.  These sentences both say the same thing, but using the active voice makes for stronger and more engaging writing.

Here are some more examples of active vs. passive, so you can see the difference:
Passive: The Witch King was killed by Eowyn.
Active: Eowyn killed the Witch King.
Passive: The potatoes were eaten by Sam.
Active: Sam ate the potatoes.

To do a test for passive voice, take any sentence and add "by zombies" to the end of it.  If the sentence makes sense, it's probably passive.  Besides, this can get entertaining, depending on sentence.
Aragorn was attacked.
Aragorn was attacked by zombies

But why would you want to avoid passive voice?  After all, it makes sense, doesn't it? 

It makes sense, but it also makes for weak writing.  Look at the above examples.  The active voice sentences are more focused, less wordy, and more, well, active.  They are more lively and just sound better overall. 

Always use the active voice whenever possible.  Well, okay, there are some occasions where you should probably use the passive voice, but since I just spent this whole post talking about why you shouldn't, we'll save it for later. 

Here is another great article on passive vs. active, if you want to know more.

PS: Yes, all my examples are Lord of the Rings-related.  No, I don't care if you judge me for that. :)
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Friday, December 14, 2012

Under the Never Sky (Under the Never Sky #1) by Veronica Rossi

Exiled from her home, the enclosed city of Reverie, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland - known as The Death Shop - are slim. If the cannibals don't get her, the violent, electrified energy storms will. She's been taught that the very air she breathes can kill her. Then Aria meets an Outsider named Perry. He's wild - a savage - and her only hope of staying alive.

A hunter for his tribe in a merciless landscape, Perry views Aria as sheltered and fragile - everything he would expect from a Dweller. But he needs Aria's help too; she alone holds the key to his redemption. Opposites in nearly every way, Aria and Perry must accept each other to survive. Their unlikely alliance forges a bond that will determine the fate of all who live under the never sky.

Released: January 3rd 2012         Pages:374
Publisher: HarperTeen                Source: Library
First Look: ***** I first heard about this a few months before it came out.  It looked good, then.  The more I let it sit on my to-read shelf, the more my instincts started warning me "You know, you'll probably be disappointed by that".  And the will-I-like-this-book-or-not instinct is almost never wrong.  Especially since I haven't done well with HarperTeen books lately.  But once again, I ignored the instinct. 

Setting: ***** Why?  Why do dystopians do this to me?  Why do authors think they can write about all the dystopian settings they want without explaining why it's a dystopia in the first place?  Ugh.  Some backstory on this setting would've been nice.

There's not much here, in terms of setting, that can't be found in any other YA dystopian.  Tightly controlled totalitarian society?  Earth is now a barren wasteland because of some war/natural disaster much too important to mention in this book?  Check.  Can we have something new, please?

Characters: ***** I couldn't bring myself to like Aria--she came off as pathetic, to me.  She was absolutely helpless outside her city.  She breaks into pieces when she has her first period.  Honestly, I handled that experience better when I was ten.  Get a grip, Aria.  She didn't do anything, either.  She was just along for the ride.  All she did, it felt like, was follow Perry around.

Let's talk about Perry...he felt more like a plot device than anything else.  He was the stock hot guy, the love interest, Aria's mode of transportation.  I liked what I was seeing with his love for Talon, but other than that I wasn't too fond of him.  He had some semi-interesting backstory, which is a start.  We'll see if this gets expanded on or not in the sequel, if I ever end up reading it.

Plot: ***** The plot interested me at first.  Then it just turned into traveling, traveling, and more traveling.  Do we need five chapters about Perry and Aria's exploits in the wilderness?  In this case, no.  I wanted to see if they could rescue Talon, or Aria's mother, and I wanted to know if or how Perry would become Blood Lord.  Those things could have been interesting, had I gotten the impression that they were more important to the characters than their insta-love.

But once again, public service announcement: We interrupt this plot to bring you a massive, sappy lovefest.  That's what it was.  The plot came to a screeching halt and suddenly Aria's main focus was on kissing Perry without him seeing it coming.  She suddenly turned into a philosopher, contemplating how wonderful love is and marveling at the beauty of everything.  Like Perry.  Have I mentioned that Perry is handsome yet?  Because I was only reminded eight million times while reading this book. 

Uniqueness: *****
This has everything you could ever want from an unoriginal dystopian book.  Including the insta-love (even...*gasp*...the beginnings of a love triangle).

Writing: *****
For the most part, the writing was fine with me.  There weren't any typos that I can remember, and it did a decent job telling the story.  I didn't get tripped up with awkward phrasing, except...

In a few cases, this book was unintentionally hilarious.  At one point, a guy punches another guy "in the kidney".  Um...the punch was so strong that it bypassed the skin, ribs, and large intestine in order to hit its mark?  I laughed for way too long about this.  I then proceeded to share this with my younger brother, who informed me that while he understood my point, the kidney area is a rather good place to hit someone.  I have no idea where he learned this, but...okay.

The other major funny one was right after Aria got her period.  As she's having cramps and complaining, Perry is all "she smells like violets!"  So now a period smells like violets?  I'm dying of laughter over here.  There were some smaller things that also made me laugh, but these were the two main ones.

Likes: Talon was rather adorable.

Not-so-great: Aria's disgust at being *spoiler--highlight to read* half Outsider *end spoiler* annoyed me a little.  What's so wrong with that?

Overall: This book could have been awesome, but it didn't live up to the hype.  I never cared for the main character, Aria.  I felt like Perry was more a plot device than a person.  The plot was mostly traveling and a major overdose of insta-love.  It's more of a 2.5 star book, but I round up, so three stars it is.
Similar Books: Divergent, Shatter Me, Inside Out
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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby

Trapped in a hidden fortress tucked between towering mountains and a frozen sea, Solveig, along with her brother the crown prince, their older sister, and an army of restless warriors, anxiously awaits news of her father's victory at battle. But as winter stretches on, and the unending ice refuses to break, terrible acts of treachery soon make it clear that a traitor lurks in their midst. A malevolent air begins to seep through the fortress walls, and a smothering claustrophobia slowly turns these prisoners of winter against one another.

Those charged with protecting the king's children are all suspect, and the siblings must choose their allies wisely. But who can be trusted so far from their father's watchful eye? Can Solveig and her siblings survive the long winter months and expose the traitor before he succeeds in destroying a kingdom?

Released: October 1st 2011         Pages:324
Publisher: Scholastic Press         Source: Library

First Look: ***** I liked the look of this right from the start.  It has a cool premise, and it also has that people-in-enclosed-space aspect.  For some reason, that fascinates me.  Especially kids in an enclosed space, Lord of the Flies style.  I have no idea why.  Anyway, Icefall had basically nothing in common with LotF, which is fine with me.

Setting: *****
I like snowy, icy settings.  This is not just a book thing--I'm this way in real life.  We just got a few inches of snow last weekend (my yard looks like this and this), and I love it.  The author did a nice job describing the setting, and finding that happy medium between too few details and too many details.

Except...I would've liked more details as to where and when the setting was.  This is one of two things that tripped me up while reading this book (the second regards characters).  The setting was very Nordic, and obviously set in a medieval sort of time period, but that's all we knew.  Was it a fantasy setting with Scandanavian influence, or was it an actual place at an actual time in the past?  I would've liked a little more info on that.

Characters: *****
So...much...depth!  The characterization in this book is lovely.  We've got Solveig, who had a Hiccup-esque air to her.  She's a spunky, determined character, yet she also has some great quieter moments where her true personality shines through.  I loved her growth throughout the story.  We also have Aldric, the skald (bard/storyteller), who was quite mysterious.  We also have Asa and Per, an interesting pair that are likable and yet highly suspicious.  I felt for the characters, even the goat.  I loved the "good guys" and even liked some of the "bad guys" (though for the longest time, it's tough to tell where the line between the two is). 

The only thing that bothered me was the ages of the characters.  How old is Solveig?  I have no idea.  The book never said, not once.  I'm guessing she's around twelve or thirteen, but it still would be nice to know.  And then there's Per.  At first I got the impression that he was sixteen or so, but Solveig kept calling him a "man", so I'm not sure.

Plot: *****
Icefall is part adventure, part coming-of-age novel, and part whodunit.  It's a slower read to begin with, but it never once lost my attention.  I thought I had figured out who the traitor was.  Then I changed my mind, then changed it back again.  (I was actually right the second time.)  It kept me guessing!

There's also some surprising intensity at the end.  And a plot twist that made me do one of those little quick inhales that you do when something shocking/sad happens but you're reading in public but can't help having a reaction to the book.  Mentally, I was screaming "Not _______, not them, please not them!" 

I loved Solveig's journey to discover her calling as a skald.  Any writer can relate to this.  One of Icefall's themes is the immense power of stories, which is wonderful because Icefall in itself is a powerful story.  A powerful story about the power of powerful stories.  It's powerfulstoryception. (I'm going to have to use that word in future reviews.)

Uniqueness: *****
It was a unique and fresh read.

Writing: *****
The writing, too, was lovely.  It wasn't lovely because it was fancy.  It wasn't overdone in the least.  Instead, it was raw and honest.  It felt so, so much like something that would come from Solveig.  The author did an amazing job capturing her voice and putting it down on paper.  There are some really beautiful quotes, like:

 "A story is not a thing. A story is an act. It only exists in the brief moment of its telling. The question you must ask is what a story has the power to do. The truth of something you do is very different from the truth of something you know."

And also, this:
"Until now, I thought only of what stories could do in their moment. I was the ploughman, turning the hearts of my audience like soil, thinking I could bend the earth to my will. But stories have a quieter and more subtle power than that. Now I see that I am also the ploughman’s wife walking behind him, dropping seeds into the earth, leaving them to grow in meaning. I realize that every story I have ever heard is a part of me, deeply rooted, whispering behind my thoughts."

Excuse me while I go weep out of sheer joy at the beauty and truth of these quotes.

Likes:  I found, on the author's website, some pictures that inspired the settings for this book.  I want to go to those places!

The only things I didn't like were the ages, and the setting confusion.

This is a lovely, lovely book.  On the surface, it's an exciting story that keeps you guessing.  Underneath, there are many layers.  It has a wonderful message about the power of stories and of self-discovery.  It has characters that I liked and grew attached to.  The author has a great talent for capturing Solveig's voice in words.  Five stars to this beautiful, awesome little book.  Middle grade has certainly treated me well this year.  Now there will actually be a fight for spots in my yearly Top Ten.  Before, it was looking like all my 5-star books would get in because I only had 10 this year, but Icefall has turned it into a competition!  I wouldn't be surprised to see it rather high on my list this year.
Similar Books: This book has prominent Norse mythology aspects like in The Coming of Dragons (Can I just take a minute here and proclaim my love for the Darkest Age series?  It seems that I'm the only one who has ever heard of it, but it's FABULOUS.  Ahem.) and Runemarks.  It has a spunky, determined, royal protagonist like in The False Prince, and an icy, wintery setting like Witchlanders.
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Saturday, December 8, 2012

On Fight/Action Sequences

Fight scenes are hard to write, and even harder to master.  Some people have an easier time of it than others, but they can still be quite tricky.  I'm still working on it myself.  In fact, I just recently revised the first fight scene of my novel.  It was an utter mess.  I've learned since then.  Here are some tips I've either come across other places, or have learned through trial and error:

  • Beware of the action/reaction/action or the back-and-forth patternWhen writing fight scenes, it's so easy to fall into a back-and-forth pattern.  Hero makes a move.  Villain counters.  Hero makes another move.  Villain counters again.  This is repetitive, and boring to read.  If you watch the below videos (especially the second one), you'll see that fights like this are not so much back-and-forth, and there's more flow to it.  Vary the pattern.
  • Keep a narrow focus with your narration.  Keep in mind the things your character will be thinking about, will be seeing.  If Hero is in the middle of a duel, he's not going to be looking up and noticing the landscape on the horizon or some birds flying overhead. His focus will be much closer: the sweat on his forehead, the breathing of his opponent, the feel of the gravel beneath his feet.
  • Consider all senses.  Sight is the most heavily used sense in narration, with hearing a close second.  Why limit yourself to these two?  Don't forget to think about what your character is physically feeling, smelling, or tasting.  Did Hero fall on the ground during the fight and get a taste of dirt?  Things like that.  Utilizing all the sense can turn a mediocre fight scene into one that comes to life.
  • Consider terrain/surroundings.  (Both of the below videos have nice examples of this, especially the Princess Bride one.)  If your fight takes place on a flat piece of grass, it's going to be very different from a duel that happens on a mountaintop.  Keep in mind the surroundings when writing the scene, and use these to spice up the action.  Hero has to worry about Villain's blade coming after him, and falling off a ledge?  Things like this make everything more interesting. 
  • Please, please, please don't have your characters lugging around twenty pound swords.  I already ranted about this, so I won't go into too much detail.  Do your research, and find that swords actually were not heavy.  More info on this here.
The trick to fight scenes is keeping it tight.  Don't use any excess narration or description.  Use all the senses to bring the scene to life in the mind of your reader. 

While I'm at it, here are some rather nice duels.  The first is between Jack Sparrow and Will Turner in The Curse of the Black Pearl, and the second is the Inigo/Dread Pirate Roberts one from The Princess Bride.

What are your tricks for writing fight scenes?

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Monday, December 3, 2012

Song of the Ovulum (Children of the Bard #1) by Bryan Davis

It has been fifteen years since Billy and Bonnie Bannister helped repel the demonic assault on Heaven. Now they and Ashley Foley sit in a maximum security prison where the authorities conduct experiments on them to learn the secrets of long life. Earlier, the world’s acceptance of dragonkind crumbled, and the Enforcers took the infant twins born to Billy and Bonnie and stole Excalibur, hoping to develop a weapon to battle the dragons that are sure to try to rescue their allies. All the while, a great secret from the past is being revealed to Bonnie through a dream. Joran and Selah, teenaged children of Methuselah, have been trapped in a strange world for centuries, yet still able to manipulate certain events in our world during that time.

Walter Foley finds the Bannisters’ son and hopes to use his dragon traits to help him rescue the prisoners. In the meantime, an ancient demon locates the Bannisters’ daughter and plans to use her to help him discover the hiding place of the most powerful ovulum in the world and squelch its protective song. With that ovulum in his possession, he will be able to conquer and control both Earth and Second Eden.

The fate of two worlds now rests on the Bannisters’ two teenagers who must use their dragon traits and their innate courage to battle demons, a sorceress, and soldiers in a military compound in order to rescue parents they don’t even know.

Released: June 28th 2011             Pages:482
Publisher: Living Ink Books        Source: Library

At first, I had a huge paragraph typed out explaining how this series works, but then I realized that a list/chart would make this so much easier.  Like it says, it's best to read in the left order.  You can start with the first book in any of the series (though if you start with Eye of the Oracle or Song of the Ovulum, be sure to read the recap at the end), but for the best reading experience, I'd start with Raising Dragons.
Click the chart to see it bigger.
So, anyway, Song of the Ovulum is a continuation of one of my all-time favorite series.  I had no idea that there would be a third quartet until last summer.  I thought it was over with The Bones of Makaidos, but I'm certainly glad it's not. 
Let's go back a few years.  I read the first book of this series four, maybe even five years ago; I'm not sure.  For a year or so in early middle school I kept track of what I read in a little notebook, but it seems to have disappeared forever.  Just kidding, I found it.  (And it's soooo incredibly amusing.  I wrote 1-line reviews/comments on each of the books, and also one-line summaries.  More on this below.*)  I read the first book back in 2007. 
When you go back to a series you haven't read in a long time, there's always that fear that it's not as good as you remembered.  There's always that fear that your tastes have changed, or that you built it up so much in your mind that you don't remember any of the negatives.  (This is honestly the only reason I've been putting off a massive Pendragon reread that I kind of want to do, but kind of don't.)  I had this same fear with this book. 
Fortunately, this book mostly lived up to my old feelings for the series.  Yeah, it wasn't as good as the previous books, but I still liked it.  It just wasn't favorite-book worthy.  Good, but not amazing. 
I was so, so happy to read about some of these characters again.  Walter Foley, how I've missed you!  Ashley, and the dragons!  Even Larry!  It was, for me, a massive reunion.  I'm hoping that in the next I get to read more about some of my other favorites that we didn't see much in this one, like Sapphira Adi and Elam.   

Also, I love the entire premise of this.  All the stuff with dragons and technology is so cool.  And, there are some awesome re-imaginings of Bible stories.  Bible stories, with dragons! 

I now how two issues with this book that I didn't have when I was younger.  The first issue is with the black-and-white morality of these books.  A character is either good or evil.  A good character, even if they do wrong, is still in the right.  An evil character is inherently evil.  Life doesn't work this way.  Nobody is completely good or completely bad; everyone is somewhere in between.  Some shades of gray would add so much complexity and depth to this series, but without it, it almost feels like it's missing something.

My other issue is with all the melodramatic things that go on.  Characters are moved to tears quite often--more often than seems realistic to me.  Just like with the morality, emotions are all at extremes in this series.  There is no level of apathy whatsoever.  A person is not just moderately joyful--they are as far up on the happy spectrum as they can get.  Again, this isn't realistic. 

Still, this series is definitely worth a read.  Bryan Davis writes some compelling characters, with awesome worldbuilding and DRAGONS DRAGONS EVERYWHERE.  While I have issues with this series now that I didn't have when I was younger, it will still always have a special place among my books. 

Similar Books: It has the undisguised Christian themes of The Door Withinsome amount of world-hopping like in House of Dark Shadows (you don't want to know how many times I typed dork shadows before I got that right), has lots of dragons and dragon/human interaction, as well as a mix of sci-fi and fantasy (and is also by the same author) like Starlighter, and is, of course, a continuation of the stories of Raising Dragons (Dragons in Our Midst series), Eye of the Oracle (Oracles of Fire series).
*About my elementary school mini-reviews...LOL.  My summary for every single Warriors book was "Cats battle for clans, fall in love, etc. etc. etc.".  After about the fifth Series of Unfortunate Events book I must've gotten tired of trying to think of actual comments and just wrote "How unfortunate" for each one.  My comment for a book I didn't like was "No.  Just no."  My reviewing history started not in 2011 when the blog started, but in 2007. 
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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Spark (Sky Chasers #2) by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Waverly and Kieran are finally reunited on the Empyrean. Kieran has led the boys safely up to this point, and now that the girls are back, their mission seems slightly less impossible: to chase down the New Horizon, and save their parents from the enemy ship. But nothing is truly as it seems…Kieran’s leadership methods have raised Seth’s hackles— and Waverly’s suspicions. Is this really her fiancé? The handsome, loving boy she was torn from just a short time before? More and more, she finds her thoughts aligned with Seth’s. But if Seth is Kieran’s Enemy No. 1, what does that make her?

In one night, a strange explosion rocks the Empyrean—shooting them off course and delaying their pursuit of the New Horizon—and Seth is mysteriously released from the brig. Seth is the most obvious suspect for the explosion, and Waverly the most obvious suspect for releasing him. As the tension reaches a boiling point, will Seth be able to find the true culprit before Kieran locks them both away—or worse? Will Waverly follow her heart, even if it puts lives at risk? With the balance of power precarious and the clock ticking, every decision counts… every step brings them closer to a new beginning, or a sudden end...

Released: July 17th 2012                  Pages: 309
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin          Source: Bought

Why do publishers have to change the style of covers in the middle of a series?*  It annoys me to no end, because I take pride in the streamlined look of my bookshelf (I organize by height...), and this just makes everything look uneven.  We don't need to encourage inconsistency in books!


Time for another episode of Lord of the Flies, spaceship edition!

After reading Spark, I have one question: Was Amy Kathleen Ryan trying to make Kieran and Waverly likable?  Was I supposed to even care about them?

That's two questions.  I lied.  But really, how am I supposed to care about this story if two out of three point of view characters fall into near-sociopath territory?  (Seriously, here's a list of sociopathic traits.  Kieran and Waverly display far too many of these.)  This is my stumbling block for this book.  This is why I had trouble bringing myself to care. 

I understand that Kieran and Waverly have been though more than a person should have to go through.  Because of this, they have become either hardened and unfeeling, or anxious and depressed.  For comparison purposes, let's talk about Bobby Pendragon, another sci-fi main character.  He goes through five times the trauma that Kieran and Waverly see (Sky Chasers has two books so far.  Pendragon has 10.  Do the math).  And yet...instead of becoming a sociopath, he sticks to the quest.  He grows more and more determined the more struggles he goes through.  He remains likable and retains his morals and sense of goodness.

I can't bring myself to care about characters who, instead of retaining their core of morality, turn heartless.  Waverly tortures a guy, which is horribly unneccesary.  She lost a lot of points for that, with me.  Then again, she regained some of those when she was kind to Seth.  More people need to stick up for Seth.

Seth was the main reason I enjoyed reading this book despite my dislike of Kieran and Waverly.  Seth is the one to watch for in this series.  He's the only character I really connected to, the only one I cared about.  He's also been through a lot, but did he lose his humanity?  No.  That's why I like him.

Despite the sociopathic main characters, this story still interests me.  It makes me a little mad, too, but I still want to know how it ends.  I'll be sticking around for the next book, if anything just to see if Waverly and Kieran ever become likable again. 

Similar Books: It's got the spaceshipy-ness (technical term, there) of Inside Out, or A Confusion of Princes, and has the no-adults aspect of Variant and the darker no-adultness of Gone.

*This just furthers my notion that I need to start my own publishing company.  Our covers will be friendly to both genders (ie. the dress thing is out the window forever and ever unless our cover model is Max Klinger), and they will stay consistent throughout a series.  We will edit our books, for goodness' sake.  We will publish stuff that's actually original, and we won't merge with Random Penguin House or whatever it is now (or the HarperShuster or whatever that is quite possible...yep, they've been talking about it.  Can anyone say monopoly?).  We won't Fifty Shades-ize or vampire-ize anybody's book.  And we'll have a giant portrait of J. R. R. Tolkein in our main office.  Who is with me on this?

And while I'm at it, here's a shoutout to the person who currently has my school library's copy of A Clash of KingsSeriously, get a move on.  It's been a month.  Could you read quickly, por favor?  Look, I even made you a meme:

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

How To Write For Teenagers

If you're an adult writing for teenagers, good for you.  That's awesome.  And yet...I see problems in thse adult-written YA books way too often.  Intentionally or not, some adults tend to portray teens unrealistically.  If you think teens readers won't catch it--they will.  Here are some pointers on writing for teenagers: (By the way, I'm a teenager, so I live that life all day long, so I'm more than qualified to write about this.  Also, this list is not all-inclusive.) 
  • Don't call them 'children'.  Or 'youths'.  You may think of teens as children, but we don't think of ourselves like that.  No teen is going to call him/herself or her friends "children".  So don't refer to them as children in your book.  It's condescending, because most people think of children as people in the 2-10ish range.  We're older than that.  And we don't use "youths" either, because we just, well, don't. 
  • Slang rule: if it sounds weird to you, it sounds weird to teens (generally).  We don't talk in acronyms, we don't call each other "homedogs", unless we're joking.  Or "homeslices".  "IDK, my BFF Jill" is not typical teenage slang.  It's not a "cell", it's just a "phone".  Again, if it sounds bizarre to you, there's a really good chance it also sounds weird to a teenager.  Make an effort to learn how teens talk, but don't overdo it and don't throw in every slang term you've ever heard from the eighties to now.    
  • We are not all rebellious, sarcastic, smart-alecky people.  I do know some smart-aleck teens, and some teens that are sarcastic all the time.  The problem is, the ratio of sarcastic teens to non-sarcastic ones in books is much, much greater than that ratio in real life.  In books, it seems, half of the teenage characters are always using sarcasm, all the time.  In real life, this is not the case.  I do know some people that are like this, but not all that many.  Every teen uses sarcasm at times, but not to the extent that authors like to think they do.
  • Don't write your book solely to prove a point/teach a lesson/get your political agenda across.   Nobody wants to listen to an author get up on their soapbox and preach.  That's not what a novel is for.  If start writing a book with the mindset of "I want to teach teens a lesson", it WILL show through.  And the average teenager will be annoyed and bored and will think that you are really full of yourself.  So don't do it.  It's perfectly fine to weave themes into your novel, but if you set out to write propaganda rather than a story, it will show through no matter how good you think you are.  I won't name any names, but *coughcoughcough*
  • We're not all hipsters.  I think this one stands on its own. 
  • Driving is still new and sometimes scary.  Also, we don't all have cars or ways to pay for gas.  For some reason, in YA books, 16-year-olds tend to drive around freely, all by themselves.  For the 16-year-old, though, driving is new.  We're not quite used to it yet.  For example, I'm not comfortable driving on the freeway by myself, even though I'm a licensed driver.  Also, keep in mind that the majority of new drivers don't have their own car.  Therefore, their driving is limited by the availability of their parents' car. 
  • Some teens actually are responsible.  Some of us can keep track of our lives and go to bed at decent hours and be all around...responsible.  Yes, there are plenty of irresponsible teenagers, but it's an unfair stereotype to the rest of us.
  • Most of us don't fall in love in 2.5 seconds.  I could write half a dozen blog posts on how annoying and unrealistic "insta-love" is.  It's so, so frustrating.  When will authors learn to just skip the insta-love?
  • Crushes, boyfriends, romance, etc. are not the only things we are capable of thinking about.  We are also capable of thinking about school and music and narwhals and the price of tea in China and Pokemon and church and books and computers and the macarena and mousetraps and politics and food and Ikea and sleeping and basically everything an adult is capable of thinking of.
  • We like our electronics.  In all honesty, our iPods are our constant companions.  We use them quite often throughout the day.
  • We're not all about partying.  Since I started high school, I haven't been to a party with my friends that had more than six people.  At these parties, we don't drink or pass around drugs.  We movies.  And eat too many sweets, and spend a long time talking. 
  • We don't think we're invincible.  I don't know where the idea that all teens think they are invincible came from.  Some do, I'm sure, but do we all?  No.  I know that if I drive 110 miles per hour down the freeway, I'm probably going to crash and get killed.  I'm aware of that fact, so I don't do stuff like that.  Do I think that if I do meth, I won't get addicted, because "that kind of thing doesn't happen to me"?  No.  I think most teens understand the basic concept of "if I do this I might get injured or killed, so it's probably best not to".
  • If you think you know what it's like to be a teen because you've "been there, done that", you need to rethink.  Yes, you were a teenager once.  That's fantastic for you.  Bravo.  *slow sarcastic clapping*  If you think you know all about teenagers and are a complete expert on today's teen because hey, they can't be any different from when I was a teenager in the 19whatevers, you're wrong.  I completely agree that at the core, teenagers today have the same general hopes, fears, responsibilities, etc. as they have for years and years.  Still, there are differences between the '60s teen and the 00's teen.  They might be major, or they might not be that prevalent.  These teens grew up in different eras, so there will always be differences on some level.  Take some time to get to know someone who is a teenager today--don't assume all teens are the same across the board.
  • Teens are people, just like you!  We have memories and fears and hopes, etc.  *gasp*  It's shocking, isn't it?  We don't have underdeveloped emotions!  Wow!  *headdesk*  Just because a person is a teenager does not mean they are not capable of feeling strong emotions.
  • NEVER, EVER "TALK DOWN" IN YOUR WRITING.  Don't simplify things for your younger audience.  Don't sugarcoat anything.  Teenagers can handle it, okay?  I can't believe the number of times I've wanted to seek out the author of a YA book I was reading and give them a nice long lecture on how no YA reader wants to be treated like they are somehow a lesser reader because they're reading YA. 
Yes, I have seen at least one example (unfortunately, in most cases I've seen far too many examples) of each of the above things.  My main advice for writing for teens is this: Get to know a teenager.  Or three, or twelve, or twenty.  Get to know a lot of teenagers.  Before you write, spend time with them.  Learn about them.  If it's been a few years since you've talked, and I mean really talked, to a teenager, you're going to write a bad book.  I guarantee it.  If you take the time to get to know the age group your characters belong to, you'll come out with a much more realistic book.  And teens will appreciate your writing much more for this. 

PS: It's also worth pointing out that so many fictional teenagers have problems with the fact that they were picked on as a child.  Don't get me wrong--there's a huge difference between being picked on, and being outright bullied.  I'm not talking about bullying, because that is a serious issue and it's a whole different story.  The thing about being picked on as a child is this: everyone was picked on as a child, in one way or another.  I believe that there are few exceptions to this rule.  At one point throughout their childhood, a kid will be picked on.  It's a fact of life; it's a part of growing up.  We get over it.

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Crimson Crown (Seven Realms #4) by Cinda Williams Chima

A thousand years ago, two young lovers were betrayed—Alger Waterlow to his death, and Hanalea, Queen of the Fells, to a life without love.

Now, once again, the Queendom of the Fells seems likely to shatter apart. For young queen Raisa ana’Marianna, maintaining peace even within her own castle walls is nearly impossible; tension between wizards and Clan has reached a fevered pitch. With surrounding kingdoms seeking to prey on the Fells’ inner turmoil, Raisa’s best hope is to unite her people against a common enemy. But that enemy might be the person with whom she's falling in love.

Through a complicated web of lies and unholy alliances, former streetlord Han Alister has become a member of the Wizard Council of the Fells. Navigating the cut-throat world of blue blood politics has never been more dangerous, and Han seems to inspire hostility among Clan and wizards alike. His only ally is the queen, and despite the perils involved, Han finds it impossible to ignore his feelings for Raisa. Before long, Han finds himself in possession of a secret believed to be lost to history, a discovery powerful enough to unite the people of the Fells. But will the secret die with him before he can use it?

A simple, devastating truth concealed by a thousand-year-old lie at last comes to light in this stunning conclusion to the Seven Realms series.

Released: October 23rd 2012         Pages:608
Publisher: Hyperion                       Source: Library

My love for this series cannot and will never be contained in four reviews.  It's like my reviews of the entire Inheritance series--a review can't do it justice.  Though I will try, it won't happen.  This time, I'm opting to use many GIFs (apparently that's a word now) and random pictures to try and explain my love for The Crimson Crown, and the entire Seven Realms series.
It took a long, long time for the library to get a copy of this.  (There are 80 copies of Fifty Shades of Grey in the system, but it took over a month beyond the release date to get this book?  Someone needs to sort out their priorities.)  When I finally got it, I felt like this:
The true masterpiece of The Crimson Crown is how much I care about the characters.  Caring makes all the difference in the world.  If I didn't feel emotionally attached to these people, I would have had no reason to like this book.  But Chima is a master of sucking readers in and gluing them to the pages and making the characters come alive.
And then, Chima goes and kills off certain characters that I'm really, really, really attached to.  BUT WAIT.  They're not actually dead.  I think my heart stopped and then restarted itself during that part.
Then there's all the suspense.  THE SUSPENSE!  And the "Raisa, no, don't do it!","Don't believe him, Raisa, he's a liar!", " just're engaged to...NO.", "That's the most adorable expression of love I've ever seen.  Han Alister for the win!", "Chima, why?", and other assorted expressions of disbelief, horror, wonder, sheer happiness, and pretty much every emotion that exists.
And then, of course, Han comes in like this...
...and saves the day and makes everything okay and is just all-around awesome.  There was only one thing that disappointed me, though.  I was secretly hoping for some sort of massive, end-all magical showdown between Han and Gavan Bayar. Something like:

While there was definitely a confrontation and Bayar got what was coming to him, I was hoping for something bigger, flashier, with more dangerous spells.  Also, I was still holding on to the hope that Fiona could redeem herself and have some part to play for good in this, but apparently not.  Ah, well, can't win 'em all.
No review of The Crimson Crown would be completely without talking about the parallels between the story of Han and Raisa and the story of Hanalea and the Demon King.  Oh, the parallels!  I love this aspect so much.  I love big, important, looming backstory, and this stuff was excellent.  It made this a story not just of people in one time, but a story of people throughout the history of the Seven Realms.  It turned the story into something bigger and grander than it already was.  Something even more epic and beautiful.  

The ending...can I just say, perfect?  Absolutely perfect?  It was so beautiful and adorable.  I'm referring to the scene where two certain characters made a, commitment.  And the very last paragraphs, with Alger Waterlow and Hanalea.  BEAUTIFULNESS OVERLOAD.
I have one final thing to discuss: Amon Byrne.  He's been my favorite, since the start.  Whenever he was in a scene, this was me:
I can't possibly begin to cover my love for this book, and this series.  I also don't know how to describe my sadness that it's over.  All my favorite series are slowly coming to a close, last year and this year.  I don't know what I'll do when Light comes out next year.  I think that's the end of my mega-favorite series.  I do think the Seven Realms series should have had seven books.  I would have read them all and loved them all. 
But, alas, I will have to content myself with rereads, because I already miss Han and Raisa and Amon and Fire Dancer and Cat and maybe (or not) even Micah. 

If you haven't read this series yet, you should.  Seriously.  Just go get yourself a copy of The Demon King.
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Friday, November 23, 2012

Freakling (Freakling #1) by Lana Krumwiede

A thrilling, fast-paced dystopian novel about the dangers of unchecked power and the dilemmas facing a boy torn between two ways of life.

In twelve-year-old Taemon’s city, everyone has a power called psi—the ability to move and manipulate objects with their minds. When Taemon loses his psi in a traumatic accident, he must hide his lack of power by any means possible. But a humiliating incident at a sports tournament exposes his disability, and Taemon is exiled to the powerless colony.

The "dud farm" is not what Taemon expected, though: people are kind and open, and they actually seem to enjoy using their hands to work and play and even comfort their children. Taemon adjusts to his new life quickly, making friends and finding unconditional acceptance.

But gradually he discovers that for all its openness, there are mysteries at the colony, too—dangerous secrets that would give unchecked power to psi wielders if discovered.

When Taemon unwittingly leaks one of these secrets, will he have the courage to repair the damage—even if it means returning to the city and facing the very people who exiled him?

Released: October 9th 2012          Pages:320
Publisher: Candlewick Press       Source: Won an ARC through a Goodreads First Reads giveaway

First Look: ***** This looked pretty interesting.  I actually had a similar idea revolving in my head for quite awhile (though it's now been put indefinitely on the back burner).  Ultimately, the execution of this book was very different from my idea, which is perfectly alright with me.  Also, it's kinda refreshing to read middle grade every so often--it gives me a break from angsty romance and love triangles everywhere.

Setting: *****
I love, more than anything, the fact that this setting made me think quite a bit about something I'd never thought of before.  These people had spent their entire lives doing thing with psi, with everything from eating to doing work to playing sports.  (Using "psi" is basically doing things with mental powers, like telekinesis.)  I had never before considered how much our daily lives revolve around doing things, physical things.  I'm pressing down on my keyboard right now.  Earlier I picked up my food with a fork in order to eat it.  I put my contact lens on my finger and put it into my eye (yep, I'm a contact-wearing person now).  We physically do things, all day, every day.  So what if you, say, didn't have to touch your phone in order to press the buttons?  What if you could control everything internally?  And then, what happens when you lose that power, in a world that doesn't know how to live without it? 

This aspect was fascinating.  Had this book been longer, I'm sure Krumwiede would have delved into this even more, but she still did a great job exploring this idea. 

Characters: ***** I liked Taemon.   He reacted realistically to the events of the story, and had plenty likable traits.  He was smart and determined.  There wasn't anything that made him stand out from the crowd, but he was still a fairly solid lead.

Some of the side characters--especially kids other than Taemon--were flat.  I could find no distinguishing traits about them.  Except for Moke, though.  I liked him.  Something's up with that kid--I want to know more!  And Yens had some really weird and interesting stuff going on.  I'm skeptical that any sixteen-year-old would actually want to kill their brother, but...okay.  At least he didn't stray into I'm-evil-because-I'm-evil mode.

Plot: *****
It was interesting, went too fast, for me.  Some of this probably came from the fact that it was a MG book, but still (or maybe that's just me, because when I was twelve I was reading 500-page monsters).  There were some things that could have been expanded on, giving the plot more depth. 

I'm also a bit skeptical on some of the plot elements.  As in, would that society turn completely from a good place to a not-so-good place that fast?  I'm not sure I believe it.   Can a twelve-year-old outsmart a prison system put in place by trained adults?  Not sure I believe that, either.

Uniqueness: *****
This book mixes familiar dystopian aspects with fresh, different ones.

Writing: *****
There were some typos, but my copy is an ARC, so that's to be expected.  Unless they weren't corrected when the book went to actual printing.  But I'll assume they were.

Otherwise, the writing did a good job telling the story.  I don't have anything more to say about it.

Likes: Nothing not already mentioned above.

Not-so-great: First thing: There are some weird biblical references here.  I'm not sure whether this is a good or bad thing.  I can't decide if some of these references are unintentional, of if they were meant to be there.  First, there's the thing about the True Son, which is an obvious Christ-figure reference, not to mention a very interesting word choice.  The "True Son" (okay, the kid who they thought was the True Son) tore down the temple.  Um....
Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." (John 2:19)
And now I'm left wondering if the actual True Son is going to build it up again.  Also, there's some stuff about a prophet leading people to a new land, etc. 
Second thing: In the powerless colony, there is a family that safeguards a secret library.  In this library, there is a book titled Understanding the Atom.  The parents of the family make a comment that goes something like this (this is by no means an exact quote, but it's the general message): "If you knew what an atom was, and how to use it, you could destroy the world.  That is why we must keep this knowledge secret."  This is obviously referring to the atomic bomb, and how a person could potentially use this power to destory the world.  I'm not going to sit here debating the ethics of dropping bombs on Japan during WWII, but in short, I believe it was necessary.  There are 11-17 million reasons for this.  (And no, I'm not just tossing out numbers.)  Also, the idea of hiding knowledge has never sat well with me.
*spoilers in this paragraph only* Third thing: I don't really agree with the choice Taemon made at the end, to get rid of everyone's psi.  Yes, psi could be and was abused.  But the majority of people used it for good.  Taemon, who lives without psi anyway, has no right to make everyone's choice for that.  I don't think he had any right to do this, even if it was "for the greater good".  This doesn't sit well with me, either. 
Overall: This is an interesting dystopian read with a likable main character.  It presents some really cool and fairly well-executed concepts.  I love the idea of psi and the culture that goes with it.  This is a middle grade book, so it's aimed at 10-14 year olds, but then again, I'm sixteen and enjoyed it.  The only thing that gives me pause is the subtext.  There's some serious stuff going on beneath the surface of this book, and some of it doesn't sit well with me.  Taemon's story is just the tip of the iceberg, here.   I feel like younger readers won't see the subtext, but I did.  It'll be interesting to see where the series goes.   

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