blog about reviews writing

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Because It's Annie's Birthday...

I'm going to post a bunch of amusing pictures.  Actually, I typed this up over a month ago, because I'm actually taking an Advanced American Literature final right now, but you guys get to see it now.  I'll warn you: this post has no real point.  If you're amused, great.  If not, well, I guess I'm just back where I started, with no monthly recap because Blogger decided to randomly delete the post.
You might want to click this one to see it full-size.
I am most definitey the introvert.
How WWII was really decided.

Kenny seems cool, although that does add up to three halves....

If you want, there's more here, here, and here.

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, Fear, and The Ruins of Gorlan Mini-Reviews

Once again, I find myself in a position where I'm backed up on reviews (I'm behind 4 now...a new record!).  As always, I don't like doing these short reviews.  It's unfair to both the book and you guys, but I have to be realistic with myself, and a short review is better than no review.  So here goes. 
Also, just so you know, there won't be a monthly recap this month.  I had collected a huge, wonderful bunch of links that you would've liked.  Then the post mysteriously disappeared, and I can't find it anywhere.  Instead I'll have some amusingness for Wednesday.  Unless anyone by any chance knows how to track down missing blog posts.

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer (Necromancer #1) by Lish McBride

Sam leads a pretty normal life. He may not have the most exciting job in the world, but he’s doing all right—until a fast food prank brings him to the attention of Douglas, a creepy guy with an intense violent streak.

Turns out Douglas is a necromancer who raises the dead for cash and sees potential in Sam. Then Sam discovers he’s a necromancer too, but with strangely latent powers. And his worst nightmare wants to join forces . . . or else.

With only a week to figure things out, Sam needs all the help he can get. Luckily he lives in Seattle, which has nearly as many paranormal types as it does coffee places. But even with newfound friends, will Sam be able to save his skin?

This got creepy in places.  And funny.  This created a bit of an odd contrast, since sometimes I didn't know whether to be laughing or creeped out.  Or both.  I liked that aspect of it. 

This was something different.  I liked the mixing of all the different supernatural creatures, and Sam's ability seems unique.  Speaking of Sam...I liked him, as a character.  He was realistic, and likable.  I cheered for him the whole way through.

I enjoyed this. Though I do have an issue with the statement about Douglas looking stupid holding a riding crop. As someone who has spent quite a bit of time walking around with a riding crop, I know that isn't true. It's hard to look stupid with a crop, though it can be done. A person kinda feels cool walking around with a crop, to tell the truth. You can slap your thigh nonchalantly and just generally be awesome, 'cause, you know, you have a riding crop and other people don't.   But I ramble. 

Overall, this is a good book.  Recommended for fans of paranormal/supernatural fiction.  Or people who are amused by Elton John references that might be missed by a large portion of this book's audience. 
Fear (Gone #5) by Michael Grant

It's been one year since all the adults disappeared. Gone.
Despite the hunger and the lies, even despite the plague, the kids of Perdido Beach are determined to survive. Creeping into the tenuous new world they've built, though, is perhaps the worst incarnation yet of the enemy known as the Darkness: fear.

Within the FAYZ, life breaks down while the Darkness takes over, literally—turning the dome-world of the FAYZ entirely black. In darkness, the worst fears of all emerge, and the cruelest of intentions are carried out. But even in their darkest moments, the inhabitants of the FAYZ maintain a will to survive and a desire to take care of the others in their ravaged band that endures, no matter what the cost.

Fear, Michael Grant's fifth book in the bestselling dystopian Gone series, will thrill readers . . . even as it terrifies them.

It's only been a year since I read the last Gone series book.  No big deal, right?  WRONG.  I first got into the Gone series shortly before Hunger came out.  I've been a huge fan ever since, and a year between books is a long time to wait. 

Thankfully, I was nowhere near disappointed with this latest installment.  What really keeps me going with this series is the characters.  I genuinely feel like I know them, and I want them to come out on top.  Well, except for the ones I don't like.  Like, say, Drake.  But now the author's got me even a bit sympathetic to Caine.  What's up with that?  That's the beauty (and the scariness) of it--the characters are all so real.

The intensity of this series of marvelous.  I love all the action and suspense.  And with that ending, now I can't help but wonder, and count down the days until the next book.

This is a horribly short review for such an awesome book.  I suppose if I think of something more to rant on, I'll add it.  Or maybe someday I'll return to this and post a full review.

If you haven't yet gotten on board with the Gone series, you need to.  As soon as possible.  This series just keeps getting better.  It leaves you on the edge of your seat, it makes you thankful for just about everything, it creeps you out and scares you, and stuns you with its awesomeness, it leaves a trail of epicness everywhere you take it, etc. 

Reviews of other Gone novels:
Plague (Gone #4)
Light (Gone #6)

 The Ruins of Gorlan (Ranger's Apprentice #1) by John Flanagan
They have always scared him in the past—the Rangers, with their dark cloaks and shadowy ways. The villagers believe the Rangers practice magic that makes them invisible to ordinary people. And now 15-year-old Will, always small for his age, has been chosen as a Ranger's apprentice. What he doesn't yet realize is that the Rangers are the protectors of the kingdom. Highly trained in the skills of battle and surveillance, they fight the battles before the battles reach the people. And as Will is about to learn, there is a large battle brewing. The exiled Morgarath, Lord of the Mountains of Rain and Night, is gathering his forces for an attack on the kingdom. This time, he will not be denied. . . .

I've been wanting to read this series for awhile.  Even though it's probably more of a middle grade book than YA, I am of the firm opinion that you're never too old for a good MG.  Especially MG fantasy. 

This book had a great premise that, for the most part, it carried through on.  I liked our MC, Will, even though he seemed a bit young for his fifteen years.  I was cheering him on anyway.  I liked Halt, too, and I was especially happy to see a bit of a horse-rider relationship forming (if you ever want to win me over quickly with a book, throw in a solid horse-rider relationship.  Works almost every time.).

I do have my issues with this book, though.  First up is my plot issue.  It moved along fairly slowly for a good two-thirds of the book.  I kept waiting for these so-called battles to start, and in the end, they barely even showed up in the book.  I'm hoping the next books will improve on this. thing I didn't understand.  Hey, there's a super-powerful monster to kill!  Let's send one of our best Rangers, a newbie, and a clueless apprentice to kill it!  Makes total sense to the author, apparently, but not to me.

My second issue is with Horace, and the bullies that were picking on him.  Yes, I understand that these bullies were horrible to Horace and made his life utterly miserable.  Yes, I understand that something needed to be done.  But...we don't deal with bullies by beating them mercilessly.  Halt could've just scared them, and they'd leave Horace alone.  That would have been enough.  But no, we've got to beat them, fight them with swords, knock them unconscious.  This went too far.  I don't care how horrible a bully is to you--you don't just beat them until they beg you to stop.

My third, more minor issue, is with the pony.  Now, I loved the pony, and his relationship with Will.  But why does every fantasy author assume kids can't ride full-sized horses?  I was perfectly capable of handling a full-size horse when I was much smaller than Will.

Despite my issues, I liked this book.  I suppose it's more of a 3.5, but I round up.  Because it's mathematically correct, and I'm nice.  Four stars it is.

Reviews of other Ranger's Apprentice novels:

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Write What You Love (Recycled)

Note: This is a recycled post from early 2011.  I suddenly found myself in a position where I had not blog post written for today, and would have no opportunity in the next few days.  So I pulled up an old post you might not have seen (or remembered), and edited it a bit.  Enjoy!

At some point in their life, every author has asked this question:

"What should I write?"

I hope you weren't expecting some long complicated answer, because you won't get one. The only answer is write what you love.

Think about books for a second. Think of your favorite books. What kind of books make you stay up late after bedtime, thinking just one more more chapter...and it turns into three hours? For me, it depends, but in this case I'll say epic fantasies. I love the adventure, magic, and just plain awesomeness of Lord of the Rings-style sagas. I like dragons and wizards and cool stuff like that.

Is that what I'm writing? Pretty much! Well, it's not on the same all-out war level of fantasy as LOTR. But it has dragons get it.

What you should never, ever do is write on a trend. Dystopias are popular now, sure, but publishing is sloooow, and by the time you're even done writing the trend will be long past. It's already starting to die, and that's a problem for your super-trendy book. I wouldn't have wanted to be the author of Twilight's agent right after the book's huge success. Just imagine how many people sent her their vampire romance novels just because Twilight did well! Never write something just because you think it will sell well. Fantasy novels aren't the trend right now, but I'm writing one just because I love it that much.

Here's a good rule of thumb: If you were a reader and saw your book at the library (or bookstore, for the germophobics), would you pick it up? Would you like your own story? If no, chances are you aren't writing what you should be writing. Do you, as the author, enjoy your own story? If not, your readers will pick up on that, and they won't enjoy it either.

So, here's my say on what you should write: Write what you love. Write the story that wants to be told. Write the words that keep you up at night, distract you during class, and run through your head all the way home. Write a story you truly enjoy. Write the book that keeps coming back, long after you've told yourself to forget about it.

Robert Frost once wrote: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”

This is wonderful advice, on so many difference levels.  If your story doesn't make you excited, then it certainly won't affect the reader.  If you don't care, then don't expect the reader to care.  
But if it makes you care, makes you thrilled, makes you excited?  Write it.  Write with passion, and get that story into the world.

Because anyway, it's your story, so nobody else can tell it better than you! post signature

Monday, May 21, 2012

Get In Late, Get Out Early

For awhile now, I've found myself giving the same piece of writing advice over and over.  Finally, I've decided to just write up a whole post about it.

When do you start your first scene?  How do you start it? How do you know when to end a scene?

For questions like these, go by this rule: Get in as late as you possibly can, and get out as early as you possibly can. 

What this means is that you shouldn't start your book (or your first scene, or any scene) any earlier than you need to.  When does the action start?  When does the essential plot problem come into play?  When is your inciting incident?  Start here, and not a minute sooner. 

For example, say I'm writing a book about Fred, a high school student who wants to be a detective.  His goal in the story is to solve the mystery of who stole his friend's iPad (all my plot-building power goes into my actual books, so I have no decent plots to use as examples). One morning, he gets up and takes a shower.  He gets dressed and grabs a poptart on his way out the door.  He picks up his friend Jason, and they have a lengthy discussion on the merits of Firefox vs. Google Chrome.  When he gets to school, he meets up with his other friend, Bob.  Out of the corner of his eye, he sees a dark shadow appear, snatch the iPad out of Bob's backpack, and disappear again. 

This is where you should start your story, right at that moment where he sees that sketchy shadow.  That's when the real plot begins.  The scene where he drives Jason to school isn't needed.  It's part of Fred's life, yes, but it's not part of the plot.  It's not needed. 

This same principle applies to every scene you write.  Start it as late as you possibly can, while still having it make sense.  This, then, ties into the next part of this in-late-out-early rule.  When you're finishing a scene, get out as early as possible.  What is the earliest point you can end this scene without omitting any crucial elements?  This is where it should end. 

This goes for the end of the entire book, too.  You have a little more room to work here, but you should generally follow the same rule.  Don't let your ending drag.  This is probably another post for another time, so I won't get in too deep on this.  But if the main plot of your story has ended, and all loose ends have been wrapped up, don't keep going.  Stop before your readers start losing interest.

Get in late, get out early.  I don't even remember where I first heard this, but it's proved to be one of the best pieces of advice I've received.  Don't start any earlier than you need to, and don't keep going after everything has been wrapped up. 

Have writing questions? Don't hesitate to shoot me an email at theanniemarie(at)gmail(dot)com!       
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Friday, May 18, 2012

TimeRiders (TimeRiders #1) by Alex Scarrow

Mess around with time and the world you know...could become a world you don't.

Liam O'Connor should have died at sea in 1912. Maddy Carter should have died on a plane in 2010. Sal Vikram should have died in a fire in 2026. Yet moments before death, someone mysteriously appeared and said, 'Take my hand ...'

But Liam, Maddy and Sal aren't rescued. They are recruited by an agency that no one knows exists, with only one purpose - to fix broken history. Because time travel is here, and there are those who would go back in time and change the past. That's why the TimeRiders exist: to protect us. To stop time travel from destroying the world...

Released: January 2010   Pages: 432
Publisher: Puffin Books   Source: Bought
First Look: ***** I loved the premise of this, right from the first time I read the back cover.  I just had to buy it.  I'm rather fond of time travel stories.  I hoped this one would follow through.  This might be a shorter review, since I've gotten behind again. 

Setting: ***** The historical aspects of this were cool.  Of course, setting your first scene in the sinking Titanic is always a fantastic idea.  The other settings were interesting, too.  The author definitely did a nice job making the altered history seem very believable. 

Characters: ***** This was the disappointing part of this book, in my opinion.  The characters all fell flat.  They had the potential to be interesting, likable characters, but I couldn't connect to them.  None of them really had distinct personalities.  Out of the three main characters, I'd have to say Liam was my favorite, though that's probably because he got the most time in the spotlight. 

I'm really hoping the next book improves on this aspect.  The thing I wanted to see, especially, was the growth of a bond between the three main characters.  I didn't see much of this, but hopefully it gets better as the series goes on.

Plot: ***** The plot was compelling.  The premise was awesome, and it was carried out well.  It's so easy for plots of books involving time travel to become either unbelievable, or hopelessly confusing.  Or both.  Fortunately, this book had neither.  The believability of the plot is, in my opinion, the real gem of this book.  Scarrow makes us think "Yeah, this could happen in our future."  Then when history gets all twisted around, it's still convincing.  It can be a bit spooky, to think of the things that might've happened had history taken a different path. 

Uniqueness: *****
It's a straight-up time travel book.  No dithering about in paranormal.

Writing: *****
This is one of those books where it's just so easy to blow through the entire thing and realize you hardly remember any of the writing. That's a good thing, in its own way. It's written in a manner that keeps you going through the story without letting the narration remind you of the fact that, hey, you're actually reading a book.

My only complaint was some of Liam's dialogue.  Someone who was a teenager in 1912 isn't going to have "friggin" in their vocabulary.  They aren't going to use "awkward" the way we use it today.  It just didn't make sense for him.

Likes: Bob.

Not-so-great: Nothing that wasn't mentioned above. 

Overall:  I enjoyed this book.  It had a cool premise which, thankfully, followed through.  The plot was compelling, and it offered some interesting thoughts on how history could have been different.  It was full of action and suspense.  It was a little lacking in the character development area, but I'd still recommend it, especially to people who like time travel books, or anyone who's looking for a distraction from all the recent paranormal or dystopian stuff that's being published lately.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Character Needs Vs. Wants

A huge part of figuring out who your characters are is figuring out what they want most in life.  And also, what they need most.  These are an integral part of your story.  In fact, it's really the only reason you have a story at all.  It's hard to write a book if you don't know what your character wants, and how far they'll go to get it. 

At some point during your writing, I highly recommend you sit down and do two things.  I recommend doing this before you even start the book, but if you're having character troubles, it's also a good way of straightening them out.  You should write down the answers to these two questions:

1) What does your character want most?
2) What does this character need most?

These questions help you with character development.  Actually, they help with plotting too.  I'm convinced you can't have a book without having answered these questions in some way or other.

They're more complex than they seem, though.  And no, they aren't the same question.  What your character wants and what they need can often be two very separate things, sometimes conflicting.  Here's an example from my book, Secrets of the Legend Chaser.  Once again, I'll use my ever-willing (Haha, kidding, he has no choice!  Love you, buddy!  Yep, he'll be making me pay for this during revision tonight.*) guinea pig, Davi. 

What Davi wants: to find the dragon eggs (he's searching for a legendary bunch of them, a treasure allegedly stolen away by humans hundreds of years ago).  A desire which, in turn, comes from a desire to feel responsible, to feel like he's able to accomplish something.
What Davi needs: to go back to his home and forgive his father.

What Davi wants and what he needs are two very different things.  What he wants is completely controlled by him, something he feels he must achieve in order to prove himself. 

He's actually not even aware of his need.  It's there, in some deep part of him, but he doesn't know it.  In fact, the last thing he wants is to go back and face his father.  It's something he's been avoiding for five whole years. 

What he doesn't realize is that he has a forgiveness problem.  And a guilt problem.  Both of these would be solved by returning to his father, but of course, that's the last thing he wants.  But the guilt lurks at the corners of his mind, never leaving.  It haunts his every step.  It's slowly getting to him. 

At one point in the book, Davi has realized that what he wants doesn't exist (which may or may not be actually the case, as he finds later....).  He's crushed.  Having been denied the one thing he wants, he's left with no choice but to return to his father.  Where he finally gets his needs met. 

Throughout the book, though, his wants and needs are at constant odds with one another.  Davi pushes away his needs because he fears them, which creates more conflict.  And your goal as a writer is always to create the maximum amount of conflict possible. 

There's a good chance your character's wants and needs will be different.  Sometimes they'll overlap, but often times they won't.  Take advantage of this.  Exploit it, because it has countless wonderful conflict opportunities to offer.   

What your character wants, and what they need, are integral parts of your story.  If you know them, you have a solid handle on who this character is, what what the plot will be. 

You tell me: Do your characters' needs and wants differ?  How do they conflict?  How do you use this?

*(He/I felt the need to continue this conversation.)  Him: You're right, actually.
Me: Bring it.  Because I know that you actually have a deep fear of personal confrontation.
Him: I'm the better swordfighter.  I also am 6 inches taller than you and weigh probably 40 pounds more.  And I'm older than you.
Me: No you're not older--oh, wait, you are.  Actually, I was thinking of more of an intellectual battle.  Which I will win, possibly because I created you, and possibly because I'm an INTJ (and on average, 1,123 people lose an argument with an INTJ every minute).
Him: I've bested you before.  I can do it again.
Me: Do you want me to kill off another of you close friends?  I did it before, I can do it again.
Him: That's low.
Me: I'm a writer.  And also terribly difficult to offend.  And also a writer.  I win.  (And also, I'm listening to your themesong right now.  It's called "Dead Wrong"  Ha.)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1) by Robin LaFevers

Why be the sheep when you can be the wolf?
Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae's most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she
deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

First Look: ***** I don't understand what people seem to love about this cover.  I don't really like it.  I had a very in-depth conversation about this with the friend who loaned it to me.  She completely agreed, and we decided the factors that made us dislike the cover: 1) Photo quality.  It almost looks a bit grainy or something.  It just isn't very clear. 2) The dress.  I mean, how much more low-cut can you get?  3) The model's expression/photo angle.  This is a combination of two things, we decided.  One, the model's face has an odd expression, making it look unnatural.  Two, the photo almost looks like it was taken from a low angle, giving the impression that we're looking up into this girl's face.  Now, I'm 5'1".  I look up at tall people all the time.  I don't need to to be reminded that the average person is taller than me.  4) Font.  There are three different fonts used on the cover, and it makes the whole thing look a bit over-photoshopped.  5) The tagline.  It really doesn't have much to do with the book, and it sounds like a Twilight reference, except with sheep and wolves instead of lions and lambs. 

Okay, so we really didn't need the cover analysis.  I just find it interesting, and I didn't want to let all that analyzing work go to waste.  I still picked this book up, though, because the premise looked interesting. 

Setting: ***** I liked the historical aspect of it.  I enjoy historical fantasy, and I think it's a very underused genre.  It lacked the sparkle that I like to see in a setting, though.  Nothing really stood out to me about the setting, other than the historical part. 
Characters: ***** The author was definitely going for the strong-female-heroine thing with Ismae, the Katniss Everdeen don't-mess-with-her sort of feel.  Ismae had this, on the surface.  As a reader, I knew she could take care of herself and win any fight that came her way.  It didn't extend any deeper than this, though.  See, there are two kinds of this "strong female lead".  One is the kind where she's tough, as in she can beat up anyone who messes with her.  Then there's the second kind, who goes a bit deeper.  Who is tough on the outside, but also has a kind of emotional toughness.  Like her personality is strong, as well.  Ismae was, for me, the first kind of heroine.  I never really connected with her, and I wanted a bit more from her.  And I didn't like how long it took her to question the convent's orders.  If there's one thing I can't stand, it's people who don't think for themselves and follow everything blindly.

As other characters go, I liked Duval.  I thought he was an interesting character.  And the duchess Anne gets two virtual high-fives from me.  One for being awesome and tougher than Ismae, despite not even being a teenager yet, and the second for having a really cool name. 

Plot: ***** I got into it, at the end.  It had me wondering what would happen next, and I was eager to find out.  The plot moved forward at a good pace, at the end.

The trouble was that it took too long to get there.  For the first three quarters of the book I was getting bored.  It moved too slowly for me, took too long to get into the action.  I would've liked this book a lot more if it would've picked up at the beginning.     

Uniqueness: ***** The blend of history and made-up mythology was unique.

Writing: ***** Honestly, the first-person bothered me a bit. I'm not quite sure why. Also, the present tense really bothered me. Present tense tends to do that, for me. When it's done really well, I hardly notice it's there. But with this book, I just kept noticing and noticing. It just didn't feel all that natural.

Likes: Anne. 

Not-so-great: Duval's healing.  Really?  Really?  Author, was that really necessary? 

Does Ismae really need to have sex with him in order to heal him?
Also, the religion aspect of this bothered me a bit.  I'm fine with fictional gods, usually.  I can deal with.  But having fictional gods and acknowledging the presence of Christ at the same time?  Not okay.  That's taking it too far.  And capitalizing every "he" or "his" that had to do with the god of death didn't help, either. 

Overall: This was an okay book.  I'm definitely in the minority on this.  The concept was quite unique and had a lot of potential, but it just didn't follow through, for me.  The characters and setting were simply okay, for me.  The present tense narration got on my nerves.  The plot picked up, at the end, but the beginning moved quite slowly, more slowly than I like.  I was bored for a while.  The sketchy religious aspects didn't help.  This was an okay book, and I'd recommend you give it a try if it looks interesting, because it seems I'm one of the only ones who didn't think this book was utterly amazing. 

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