blog about reviews writing

Saturday, September 29, 2012

If You Would Date Your Character, There Is A Problem

When you have a love interest in your novel that is the opposite gender as you, there needs to come a point when you ask yourself a question:

Would you date this character?

If this character asked you out, would you be fangirl-squealing for joy?  (Or fanboy-squealing?  Is there such a thing as a fanboy, and would he be squealing?  I don't even want to know.)  Would you faint out of sheer excitement?  Would you make plans for that date to happen, oh, five minutes from now? 

If you answered yes to any of these questions, there is an issue.  A serious issue.  As in, get professional help immediately.

Okay, maybe you don't need a therapist.  But do you need to read this post?  Yes, you do. 

Here's the thing: if you are this excited about dating your novel's love interest, you might have overlooked a major part of character development.  Character flaws. 

If you would love to date your love interest, then you might have subconsciously made this character into your ideal, perfect-world boyfriend/girlfriend.  Instead of writing about a realistic person, you might've created someone so perfect and idealistic that it simply isn't possible to be like them in real life.  You didn't create a real-life character--you created the kind of impossible, flawless human being that you'd love to date but doesn't exist.  I will not mention Edward Cullen I will not mention Edward Cullen I will not mention Edward Cullen 

So please, when writing romance into your novel, consider your feelings towards the love interest.  Make sure you haven't abandoned character development. 
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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Insurgent (Divergent #2) by Veronica Roth

One choice can transform you--or it can destroy you.

But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves--and herself--while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.

Tris's initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable--and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.

"New York Times" bestselling author Veronica Roth's much-anticipated second book of the dystopian "Divergent" series is another intoxicating thrill ride of a story, rich with hallmark twists, heartbreaks, romance, and powerful insights about human nature.

Released: May 1st, 2012     Pages: 525
Publisher: HarperTeen       Source: Bought (to celebrate my new job a few months ago.  Bought with my own money to celebrate the fact that I did indeed have money.  The more I think about this, the more contradictory it seems.)

First, I'm going to say things that have no place in a professional review.  But since I'm not a professional reviewer and have never claimed to be such, I'm going to say them.  Two things: 1. This book, when I take off the gorgeous hardcover jacket, is the exact same color as the sheets on my bed.  This just makes me feel like I really have my life put together. 

2. Why is Goodreads calling the third book "untitled", and why is there no cover?  The title is obviously Detergent, as the author has been calling it that on her blog for a good while now.  I saw the cover on her Tumblr, too.  Here it is:
One choice can disinfect you.
But I digress.  Anyway, the problem I had going into this was that I hadn't read Divergent in over a year, and I had forgotten some things.  This always raises red flags in my mind and makes me wary of a book.  I read Veronica Roth's "Guide to Remembering Stuff Before You Read Insurgent".  I suppose it helped.

I'm going to start off with my criticisms, because I like to end on a good note.  I liked Tris, as a character, when I wasn't mentally yelling at her to be rational.  I liked Tobias, too.  It was easy to see his backstory, and how his traumatic past affected him. 

I liked the pacing of this book, too.  It didn't slow down, and didn't leave me bored at all, that I can remember.  It was full of twists and turns.

Now on to the criticisms.  First, there are too many side characters in this series.  I had trouble keeping them all straight (something which is almost never a problem for me).  Why couldn't the author have combined some of them?  Second, I can't take a villain seriously if her name is Jeanine.  It just makes me think of Aunt Jemima. 

A more major problem was that for much of this book, I couldn't tell where the plot was going.  Not in the what-unexpected-twist-will-come-next? sense, but the I'm-really-not-sure-what-the-point-is sense.  There was conflict, yes, but what did Tris want?  What was she trying to accomplish, other than survival?  I didn't get a good sense of that. 

Some of the plot doesn't seem to come together.  For example...if Divergent are so rare (which is the impression I've been given), then how come they're suddenly popping up everywhere?  Actually, this could go either way, because I have a theory about this.  I'll reveal it when I read the final book in the series.

Why is everyone so afraid of Erudite?  Yes, they did bad things, and they're a bit scary.  But...has anyone been paying attention to Amity lately?  They freak me out.  Their ideals freak me out.  I mean, peace is wonderful, but the lengths they go to in order to keep the peace are seriously messed up. 

It looks like I have more criticisms than praise.  I guess this is true, to some extent.  Still, I enjoyed this book.  It seems like I didn't because I have much more specific dislikes than likes.  3.5 stars.  I'll read the sequel.

Finally, no review of a Divergent series book is complete without this:
Tris doesn't want to feel left out.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

How to Write Faster

I've never come across a writer who didn't wish they could write just a little faster.  Writing faster means faster progress.  More visible progress, at least.  More books.  More practice, more experience. 

The trouble is, how does one write faster?  Here are some tips.   Keep in mind that these things still take time.  Some save no time at all, but instead break up the writing process a little to make the act of writing itself go a little smoother.
  • Don't procrastinate.  You definitely don't need to go on Twitter right now, trust me.  iFunny can wait for later.  If you don't allow yourself to procrastinate, you get your writing done faster.  Guaranteed.  Think about it.  If you sit down at your computer to write 500 words, and you spend half an hour doing things other than writing those words, it's going to take you half an hour longer to get it done.  Simple logic.
  • Write a lot.  The more you practice, the faster you'll get.  It used to take me an hour to pound out 200 words.  Now I can sometimes get close to 1,000 or more, if it's a good day for me.  The more you write, the more you'll develop your personal voice.  You'll learn the best ways to phrase things, you'll learn how to work with your inspiration and characters.  It works the same way as reading.  Do you remember, in elementary school, how it would take you a week to read a 50 page chapter book?  Now you might read around two 400 page books per week or more (okay, I read two books in the last two days).  Writing kind of works the same way.
  • Outline.  This is a good option if you spend a lot of time staring at your screen, trying to think of what should happen next.  If you outline, you save yourself that time.  Yes, it'll still take quite a bit of time making up the outline.  It doesn't have to be fancy--all it really has to do is tell you where your story is going.  That way, you've saved yourself all that time you would've spent racking your brains and instead turned it into valuable time putting down words. 
  • Don't second-guess yourself.  Don't edit as you go.  That last line you wrote...maybe it's not perfect.  Should you change it?  How could you rephrase it?  Don't think these thoughts.  No, your first draft won't be perfect.  That last line might well have been messy and unnecessary.  Save it for later.  Just keep writing.  If you have to analyze every single thing you write, as you write it, you'll never make progress.  Write now, edit later.  Yes, editing takes a lot of time, but this way you'll make much better use of your time.
  • Get zapped by a radioactive laser beam.  It might just give you special speed-writing powers.  Or it might just give you cancer.  You never know.  Disclaimer: I haven't actually tried this.
An important thing to keep in mind is this: Don't compare yourself to other writers, in terms of writing speed.  Your critique buddy churns out three novels a year, while you struggle to finish one?  That's fine.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with that.  Everyone writes at their own pace.  Don't let others' writing speed discourage you. 

Again, these tips aren't miracle cures.  They won't make you able to write 15,000 words a minute.  But they might just help. 

Do you have any tips to add?
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Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Iron King, The Icebound Land, and Starclimber mini-reviews

The Iron King (The Iron Fey #1) by Julie Kagawa

Meghan Chase has a secret destiny; one she could never have imagined.
Something has always felt slightly off in Meghan's life, ever since her father disappeared before her eyes when she was six. She has never quite fit in at school or at home.

When a dark stranger begins watching her from afar, and her prankster best friend becomes strangely protective of her, Meghan senses that everything she's known is about to change.

But she could never have guessed the truth - that she is the daughter of a mythical faery king and is a pawn in a deadly war. Now Meghan will learn just how far she'll go to save someone she cares about, to stop a mysterious evil no faery creature dare face; and to find love with a young prince who might rather see her dead than let her touch his icy heart.

Released: February 1, 2010       Pages: 363
Publisher: Harlequin Teen       Source: Library

I've been hearing about this for a long time, and finally my curiosity got the better of me.   It got off to a not-so-great start, for me.  The beginning was too stereotypical.  It was so predictable and was the kind of paranormal book beginning that you could change a few names and slap onto any other paranormal book and call it good. 

Thankfully, it picked up after awhile.  I loved the land of the fey.  It was beautifully described, and incredibly rich and unique and complex.  I met some weird yet fun (sometimes) creatures.  I also met some weird and fun characters, whom I liked, for the most part.  They seemed to have a decent amount of depth to them.

This book surprised me a bit, actually.  It was more lighthearted than I expected.  I was fully prepared for 363 pages of dark paranormal angst with some fey mythology thrown in.  It ended up being lighter on the angst and heavier on some stuff that was just plain fun.  Like the cat. 

I liked this.  I have my issues, but overall it was a good read.  I'll be checking out the sequel.

 The Icebound Land (Ranger's Apprentice #3) by John Flanagan

Kidnapped after the fierce battle with Lord Morgarath, Will and Evanlyn are bound for Skandia as captives aboard a fearsome wolfship. Halt has sworn to rescue Will, and he will do anything to keep his promise, even defy his King. Expelled from the Rangers he has served so loyally, Halt is joined by Will's friend Horace as he travels toward Skandia. On their way, they are challenged constantly by freelance knights, but Horace knows a thing or two about combat. Soon he begins to attract the attention of knights and warlords for miles around with his uncanny skill. Even so, will they be in time to rescue Will from a horrific life of slavery?

The smash hit series continues with another heart stopping adventure.

Released: November 25th, 2005     Pages: 266
Publisher: Puffin Books                Source: Library

So far, this series is improving book by book.  It's not a completely obvious, smack-in-your-face kind of difference, but it's getting better gradually.  I'm seeing more and more depth in the characters and the plot is getting more intense.  The stakes are higher.  Yay.  (I'm still holding out for some kind of supermassive epic showdown in the final book.)

It has issues, though.  Like the plot issue.  Some of the plot elements don't seem plausible, or they're a stretch to believe.  I'm prepared to let it slide, though, because it's still enjoyable. 

Another issue is the writing.  There's some major headhopping going on, and it gets disorienting.  And John Flanagan doesn't know the difference between horses and ponies, apparently.  He refers to the same animal as both a horse and a pony.  What is it, Mr. Flanagan?  It can't be both.  (More on this at the bottom of this post.)

Still, I can look past this series' shortcomings and enjoy it.  I'll definitely be reading the fourth book.

Reviews of other Ranger's Apprentice novels:
Starclimber (Matt Cruse #3) by Kenneth Oppel          
"Mr. Cruse, how high would you like to fly?" A smile soared across my face.
"As high as I possibly can."

Pilot-in-training Matt Cruse and Kate de Vries, expert on high-altitude life-forms, are invited aboard the Starclimber, a vessel that literally climbs its way into the cosmos. Before they even set foot aboard the ship, catastrophe strikes:

Kate announces she is engaged—and not to Matt.

Despite this bombshell, Matt and Kate embark on their journey into space, but soon the ship is surrounded by strange and unsettling life-forms, and the crew is forced to combat devastating mechanical failure. For Matt, Kate, and the entire crew of the Starclimber, what began as an exciting race to the stars has now turned into a battle to save their lives.

Award-winning and bestselling author Kenneth Oppel brings us back to a rich world of flight and fantasy in this breathtaking new sequel to Airborn and Skybreaker.

Released: Februrary 24th, 2009     Pages: 390
Publisher: HarperTeen                  Source: Library

This book has a gorgeous cover.  It's cooler in real life.  It managed to be pretty without alienating boys, which is a rare find these days.

I just...don't know what to say about this book.  It's beautiful.  It's exciting and crammed with suspense and exhilarating and emotional and just plain cool.  And it's also kinda funny.  What more could you ask for in a book? 

I love the main characters, Matt and Kate.  They make an interesting pair--they're each lovable on their own, and have their own personalities.  But together, they're unstoppable.  Romance writers: take note.

Kenneth Oppel is a master of writing emotion.  He grabs hold of his readers' hearts, and then breaks them into tiny pieces.  Then he waves his magical writing wand and makes it all better again. (Or sometimes the other way around, like the ending of This Dark Endeavor.) Sometimes in the space of about four pages.  He did this to me again in Starclimber.  I was getting close to writing a rather strong letter to the author...but then he pulled something awesome out into the story and made me realize that my reaction was, in fact, exactly as he intended.  New Year's resolution: spend an hour each day balancing an Oppel book on my head so maybe some of this skill will diffuse into my own writing.

My only complaint with this book is with Tobias.  I wanted to learn more about him, but I never got to.  I kept waiting for the big reveal, but it never came.  Still, this is only a minor problem compared to the rest of the story.

This series is awesome.  Recommended for, uh, everyone.
Reviews of other Matt Cruse novels:
Airborn (Matt Cruse #1)
Skybreaker (Matt Cruse #2)

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Stormdancer (The Lotus War #1) by Jay Kristoff

The Shima Imperium verges on the brink of environmental collapse; an island nation once rich in tradition and myth, now decimated by clockwork industrialization and the machine-worshipers of the Lotus Guild. The skies are red as blood, the land is choked with toxic pollution, and the great spirit animals that once roamed its wilds have departed forever.

The hunters of Shima’s imperial court are charged by their Shōgun to capture a thunder tiger—a legendary creature, half-eagle, half-tiger. But any fool knows the beasts have been extinct for more than a century, and the price of failing the Shōgun is death.

Yukiko is a child of the Fox clan, possessed of a talent that if discovered, would see her executed by the Lotus Guild. Accompanying her father on the Shōgun’s hunt, she finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in Shima’s last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled thunder tiger for company. Even though she can hear his thoughts, even though she saved his life, all she knows for certain is he’d rather see her dead than help her.

But together, the pair will form an indomitable friendship, and rise to challenge the might of an empire.

Released: September 18, 2012          Pages: 336
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books    
Source: ARC provided by the publisher through NetGalley

First Look: ***** First of all, let's hear it for NetGalley.  I had to read the entire thing on my iPod, but I still got to read it, so...yay!  I was interested as soon as I first heard about this book.  Japanese steampunk?  How could I possibly turn that down?  And then I saw the's fabulous.  It simply begs you to read it. 

Setting: ***** Again...Japanese steampunk.  How cool is that?  It's just one of those things where I could slap myself and say "Why didn't I think of that?"  Jay Kristoff did a great job with it, too.  Everything was so detailed, and I could clearly see the setting around me as I read. 

The dystopian aspect of it was interesting, too.  The setting itself had a story.  Many other dystopian books should take a lesson from this.  This land was messed-up, but Kristoff gave us a reason why it was messed up.  He explained it.  He gave us backstory.  He didn't just hand us a dystopia and expect us not to wonder what happened to it.

Characters: ***** My only major complaint is with Yukiko.  I liked her, and she was an interesting character.  I could feel for her, and her emotions really came through the pages.  But I wanted to know more about her backstory.  We heard a bit about her childhood, but not much apart from that.  If she's sixteen, she can't have spent the last few years sitting at home all day.  So what did she do?  Why did she get to go on the mission to catch the arashitora?  It didn't make sense.

Out of all the characters, though, Buruu is definitely my favorite.  He's not human, and yet he had a personality.  I loved his connection with Yukiko.  It reminded me of the relationship between Eragon and Saphira (except that Buruu didn't have to provide common sense for the both of them...). 

Plot: ***** I liked how this book introduced conflict right away.  Just a few pages in, when we hadn't yet gotten to the major plot of the book, there was already tension and conflict.  All throughout the book, this never changed.  It had a good sense of urgency throughout, which I like.

Also, there was plenty of action.  I was left wondering and guessing about things (a good thing, in this case, because I wanted to know what would happen next!).  It kept me turning pages.

Uniqueness: *****
Like the quote on the cover says, there's nothing you need to hear after "Japanese steampunk".

Writing: *****
If I remember correctly, there were a few shifts into present tense that didn't make sense to me.  I had an issue with the point of view, too.  Sometimes I would be a few paragraphs into a new section, and I still wasn't quite sure whose point of view it was from.  This is never a good thing, as it was disorienting and confusing. 

Also, I found a few typos.  But this is an ARC, after all, so it was to be expected.

Likes: Buruu.

Not-so-great: Nothing worth mentioning.

Overall: I really enjoyed this, and I'm glad I got the chance to read it early.  It had interesting characters, and a cool plot.  There were a few disorienting point of view switches, though.  Still, the setting was awesome.  Japanese steampunk, everyone.  Come on.  How cool is that?  I'm so glad this lived up to the hype, for the most part.
PS: Have you seen the trailer for this book?  If not, go watch it.  Seriously.  I promise you it's unlike any other book trailer you've ever seen.

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Friday, September 14, 2012

Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass #1) by Sarah J. Maas

After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin. Her opponents are men-thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king's council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she'll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom. Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilarating. But she's bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her... but it's the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best. Then one of the other contestants turns up dead... quickly followed by another. Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.

Released: August 7th, 2012                Pages: 416
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children's     Source: Copy provided by publisher
First Look: ***** When I first read the pitch for this, I was excited.   When I read that this was being called "The Hunger Games meets A Game of Thrones", I was even more excited. I love THG. I've never read aGoT but it's definitely on my to-read list (this is now a lie.  I have read aGoT and it was awesome.  Throne of Glass has no basis for which to say that the two are similar, because they aren't.  I don't know who decided this, but aGoT is soooo much more...just, more.  It has more to offer readers and there's really no comparison.).   In reality, it's a bit more like Grave Mercy with a tiny bit of THG thrown in.

Setting: ***** The setting was full of potential.  You've got a world slowly being conquered by a so-called tyrant--a recipe for tension and awesome.  Unfortunately, this potential wasn't used to the fullest, all because of telling.  Instead of showing me how tyrannical the king was, the author just had one of her characters mention it every so often.  Because of this, I had a hard time caring. 

Characters: ***** The characters just barely made it into the four star range for me.  (And if Amon Byrne didn't exist [fictionally, of course], they might not have, because Westfall reminded me immensely of Amon, and I love Amon.)  Anyway...for me, these characters were not instantly likable.  It took me a long while to grow to care about them.  Celaena annoyed me for a good portion of the book, but I did manage to bring myself to care about her towards the end.  While she's nowhere near the Katniss Everdeen/Holly Short league, she's got enough spunk to appeal to many readers (especially girls).

Dorian was interesting.  He was well-developed, and thankfully didn't have Edward Cullen Complex (a condition in which the love interest is impossibly perfect and the reader is in great pain).  Westfall...I liked him from the start, no matter what Celaena said.  Apparently he was gruff and distant and unlikable for much of the book, but I wasn't getting that.  To me, he seemed perfectly likable.  *shrug*  Literature is up to interpretation, I suppose.

Plot: ***** I counted ten sentences in the pitch.  Eight of them talked about the competition, or the murders.  Only two of them talked about how bored Celaena was and her relationship with Dorian.  That's 80% competition and mystery, 20% love and boredom. 

In reality, this book spends only around 25% of itself dedicated to the competition.  About 75% was devoted to arguments, kissing, and other things related to Dorian, and also Celaena being bored.  And getting dressed.  The "tests" (elimination rounds) were few and far between. 

Also, what was up with that whole spirit thing?  It felt like an idea that wasn't thought of until the book was two-thirds written, and was thrown in.  That's fine, and it does happen while writing.  When it does happen, though, the writer shouldn't leave it like that.  They should go back during their revisions and add this new element into the story towards the beginning, to make it feel more natural.

Uniqueness: ***** It had enough unique elements in order to stand out from the crowd in that respect.

Writing: ***** I spent more time I should have trying to figure out whose POV any given section was in.  I liked hearing from other characters, but sometimes it was a bit jarring and the voices were hard to tell apart.

Also, the author used one of my writing pet peeves.  Instead of writing "she" or "Celaena", the author would write "the assassin".  While it's not quite as bad as "the girl", it's still annoying.  At least it isn't condescending.  *glares at certain other YA/MG authors who shall remain nameless (...for now)*

Nothing not already mentioned.

Not-so-great: What was the whole point of the puppy?  Why was that even in the book?

Overall: This book bears the unfortunate title of First Book of Annie's School Year.  This is unfortunate because, as happens every year, the return of school slams the brakes of my reading speed and, for the first few weeks, brings it nearly to a screeching halt.  And the longer I take to read a book, the less I tend to like it.  Maybe I should be a little lenient because of this, but...I can't bring myself to give this four stars right now.  Maybe someday I'll go back and want to change my rating.  This book had a cool premise, and the characters were decently likable.  Unfortunately, too much of the plot was focused on things other than (and less exciting than) the whole competition thing.  I'll read the sequel, and hopefully I'll be able to like it more.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Whenever You Feel Like Giving Up (From Underneath the Rubble, Sing a Rebel Song)

It has become an established scientific fact of my life that my iPod loves me.  I didn't realize electronic devices were capable of love.

What makes me say this? 

Earlier today, I was driving home.  I was feeling discouraged (for reasons that are irrelevant in the context of this blog post).  Since I basically cannot drive alone without music, I had my iPod on shuffle. 

And then this song came on:

I haven't had this song very long, but it's already one of my favorites.  From underneath the rubble, sing a rebel song.  Listen to the whole thing (I'm listening to it right now).  Seriously.  Everything about the song screams "Don't give in."

After that, my iPod came up with this:
Again, you have to listen to this whole thing, too.  For all of the plans we've made, there isn't a flag I'd wave.  Don't care if we bend, I'd sink us to swim. We're marching on. 

So it's official.  My iPod loves me. 

Um, Annie.  All you've done is posted a Coldplay video and a OneRepublic video.  You've done that before.  So what?  (And we all know you like OneRepublic a little too much more than the average person.)

My discouragement today had nothing to do with writing.  I realized, though, that this still applies.  We've all hit a point where we feel like we're hitting a wall with our writing.  Maybe nothing turns out how you want it.  Maybe you're dumping out words but none of it is coherent.  Maybe you can't get out any words at all. 

You know what I'm talking about.  The moment when our main character is our worst enemy.  The moments when we consider giving up on our WIP because it's hopeless.  And yet, we stick with it.  We push through. 

We keep marching on. 

Let me ask you a question.  How many words are in your current WIP?  (Or, how many words are in your favorite piece that you've written?)  I have 83,169 words in SotLC.

I have 83,169 reasons not to give up on writing.  I have 83,169 reasons to "sing a rebel song".  83,169 reasons to keep on going.

I have nowhere near adequetly covered this subject.  But the songs go a long way; they say so much more than this post. 

Keep marching on, fellow writers.  Keep on writing.  Every sound word a symphony  step forward, every teardrop revision is a waterfall second chance.

How many reasons do you have to keep marching on?    
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Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Always War by Margaret Peterson Haddix

For as long as Tessa can remember, her country has been at war. When local golden boy Gideon Thrall is awarded a medal for courage, it’s a rare bright spot for everyone in Tessa’s town—until Gideon refuses the award, claims he was a coward, and runs away. Tessa is bewildered, and can’t help but follow Gideon to find out the truth. But Tessa is in for more than she bargained for. Before she knows it, she has stowed away on a rogue airplane and is headed for enemy territory. But all that pales when she discovers a shocking truth that rocks the foundation of everything she’s ever believed—a truth that will change the world. But is Tessa strong enough to bring it into the light?

Released: November 15th, 2011          Pages: 197
Publisher: Simon & Schuster             Source: Library

First Look: ***** For some reason, when I first heard of this, I thought it was about WWII.  Probably because the title "The Always War" reminded me of "The Never War".  It's an interesting connection, actually, and I'm a bit surprised that the publishers let Haddix use such a similar title.  (For the record, The Never War (by D. J. MacHale) was published in 2003, is part of a New York Times bestselling series, and has over 8,000 Goodreads ratings.  So it's not exactly an obscure book.)  Even after I realized this book was not about WWII, I still kept it on my to-read list.  I've read four other books by this author and have never been hugely impressed by her work, but I figured I'd give it a shot.  Anyway, it has a really awesome cover.

Setting: ***** Are there only, say, three different dystopian worlds that authors use in their books?  I'm really starting to feel that way.  I'm having a hard time finding a good, unique dystopian world.  (For the record, they do exist.)  America was at war, yes, and the standard of living was not what it is in the present.  And...?

For me, in a dystopian world, there's got to be some sort of drive.  Something to force the characters out of their comfort zone and force them to make a change in the world.  I want an urgency.  And in this book, Tessa wasn't really out to change her dystopian world.  I didn't feel that sense of something-needs-to-change.  In reality, all she wanted was to follow Gideon.  That's the only reason she got into the adventure to begin with. 

Characters: ***** The only character who interested me at all was Dek.  I wanted to know more of her story, but I never got to.  Other than her, we had basically two other characters--Gideon and Tessa.

I found it hard to get a sense of Gideon's personality because he had serious issues.  Tessa seemed to think he was some sort of brilliant revolutionary or something.  Honestly, he had some PTSD and needed therapy more than anything else.

And Tessa...Tessa, Tessa, Tessa.  What am I supposed to do about you?  I got hardly any sense of who she was.  I knew little about her backstory, and she didn't do anything to contribute to the story.  She was a bystander in the story.  She was along for the ride, it seemed, and nothing else. 

Plot: ***** I almost gave this four stars, moved way too quickly.  I don't have to say this often in my reviews, but it does happen.  The entire novel felt rushed.  I could barely get a sense of what was going on before it was BAM!--off to the next plot point now! 

I felt like I only read half a book.  I spent most of the time wondering why this part was skimmed over so much, where all the backstory was, etc.  There was so much of this storyline that could have been expanded on, and this would have made the book longer. 

Uniqueness: ***** There wasn't anything to make this stand out from other dystopians.  I felt like I had read about this exact same setting before.

Writing: *****
Again, like with the plot, I felt like I only read half a book.  The writing did more skimming along the top of the story than narrating it.  I wanted to know more about the characters, the world, the plot, but I didn't get it.  I didn't feel connected to the story at all.

Likes: The plot twist with the war and the computers was cool, if not a bit predictable.

Not-so-great: Nothing not already mentioned above. 

Overall: I read this over a week ago, and I'm still feeling like I only read half of this book.  Except that I read it all.  It was rushed to the point of skimming over some seemingly important plot points.  The characters did nothing to make me like them, and Tessa didn't even do anything herself.  The setting felt like a copy of other dystopian books.  Not recommended.
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Monday, September 3, 2012

The Last Guardian (Artemis Fowl #8) by Eoin Colfer

Seemingly nothing in this world daunts the young criminal mastermind Artemis Fowl. In the fairy world, however, there is a small thing that has gotten under his skin on more than one occasion: Opal Koboi. In The Last Guardian, the evil pixie is wreaking havoc yet again. This time his arch rival has somehow reanimated dead fairy warriors who were buried in the grounds of Fowl Manor. Their spirits have possessed Artemis’s little brothers, making his siblings even more annoying than usual. The warriors don’t seem to realize that the battle they were fighting when they died—a battle against Artemis—is long over. Artemis has until sunrise to get the spirits to vacate his brothers and go back into the earth where they belong. Can he count on a certain LEPrecon fairy to join him in what could well be his last stand?

New York Times best-selling author and comic genius Eoin Colfer will leave Artemis Fowl fans gasping up to the very end of this thrilling finale to the blockbuster series.

Released: July 10th, 2012        Pages: 328
Publisher: Hyperion                Source: Library

How does one review an Artemis Fowl book? 
Where do I even start?  I haven't ever reviewed one of these before, so I haven't ever had this problem.  Because Eoin Colfer is a genius.  Seriously.  He's written a book series that is so good, I can't possibly begin to do it justice with a review.  So this review will probably be more like a rant. 
In this series, you can't help but love the characters.  Throughout the first seven books, each of them has grown.  They've changed (just like real people!  *gasp*) and in some cases (Hi, Arty!), matured.  Example A: Artemis Fowl is a nice guy who wants to do good in the world.  In the first book, he was a greedy little preteen who kidnapped fairies.  And yet...Colfer laid the groundwork for this current Artemis all along.  There were little hints all along the way to show us...maybe Artemis isn't a horrible person at heart.  Maybe, just maybe, he did the wrong things for the right reasons.*
“Either that boy is the sanest creature on Earth...or he is so disturbed that our tests cannot even begin to scratch the surface.” 
Oh, Artemis.  Your characterization is simply brilliant, and I am forever in awe of Colfer's character development skills.  I don't know of a better way to sum that up. 
The other major thing I love about Artemis Fowl books is the signature Eoin Colfer humor.  This book made me laugh out loud.  Literally.  Even more so than the other Artemis Fowl books.  The series is intense and suspenseful and action-packed, but yet there's always room for something hilarious.  Always. 
What truly brought this book together, though, was the sheer level of emotion.  There were moments that might have had me crying, if I was that type of reader.  You'd think that the words "touching moment" and "Artemis Fowl" would never be found remotely near one another, but....  It's like that moment in Inheritance, when you finally realize just who Murtagh is in love with.  You want to go and grab some random passerby and shout this glorious news at someone.  You want to go cry for a decade or two.  You want to give Murtagh a good, hearty slap.  And you want to high-five the author.  All at the same time. 
Eoin Colfer masters this same technique of taking the reader's heart, ripping it to shreds, then putting it back together.  Like....
“Artemis looked at Holly and felt a tremendous affection for her... he could properly appreciate how fierce and beautiful his best friend was...
She is truly magical, thought Artemis. Perhaps her qualities are more obvious to me now that I have decided to sacrifice myself.”
Aww, that's cute.  But wait!  There's more!  Before I got my hands on a copy of this, I decided to look at the quotes on Goodreads.  Just to see what witty, amusing things were in store for me.  In addition to amusement, I found stuff like this:
“Don't hate me forever, Arty," whispered Holly. "I couldn't bear that.” 
Which then begs the question...what on Earth is going on?  But when I read the book, it made sense. 
“How could you...? How?"
"Logically you have no right to be angry. I simply followed your lead."
...He is really going through with it.  "No," she managed.
"There is no other way.”
And then, I was reading along, and Artemis came to a decision.  I slammed the book shut, and I was basically like "No.  This is not happening.  This will not happen."  Then I opened it again,
The ending.  Oh my goodness, the ending.  Who would've known Artemis would pull something like that?  It was a spectacular ending to the series.  The ending was actually surprisingly Pendragon-esque.  Something I like to call "the loop ending".  In one of my other reviews, I described the end of Pendragon like this: "OH-MY-GOODNESS-WHAT-IN-HALLA-JUST-HAPPENED, Oh-that's-adorable!, I-DON'T-UNDERSTAND-THIS-AT-ALL-BUT-I-LOVE-IT-ANYWAY....NO-WAIT-IT'S-PERFECT!"  The end of the entire Artemis Fowl series was a bit in this same vein, for me.  Just maybe without the "I don't understand this" part. 
And here lies the end of my rant review.  This book is awesome, people.  I didn't even begin to do it justice.  The series is awesome.  Just...go read it.  Please. 
*By the way, this is an interesting concept that I'm pretty sure will be a major theme of my next book.  I also think that pretty soon, I'll announce what this next book is, in case you are wondering.

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Saturday, September 1, 2012

End of Summer 2012

Once again, we've come to the end of summer.  At this point, I have only three more days before it's back to school time, which always makes me a bit sad.  School is a lot of work. 

Here's a pretty song that fits the end-of-summer theme:
(The Afters are wonderful, aren't they?  That voice, that piano....)

But instead of sitting here lamenting, let's have some stats.  My reading habits are much different during the summer as compared to the rest of the year, so it's nice to do a mini-recap. 

Number of books read: 22
Total pages read: 8,259
Average number of pages per book: 375
Average pages read per day: 89.77
Average rating: 3.86

Top Five Books
5. Glow (Sky Chasers #1) by Amy Kathleen Ryan
4. Skybreaker (Matt Cruse #2) by Kenneth Oppel
3. Variant (Variant #1) by Robison Wells
2. The Drowned Cities (Ship Breaker #2) by Paolo Bacigalupi
1. The Last Guardian (Artemis Fowl #8) by Eoin Colfer

A few housekeeping (blogkeeping?) notes: The next month will be a bit sporadic, in terms of posting.  I have school all day, then tennis all afternoon, so I have barely any time to myself, let alone to write blog posts.  I'll try to get reviews up, at a minimum, but it might not happen as fast as it usually does.  Don't worry, though--tennis ends at the end of September, and then I'll be back in full swing (as much as that's possible with schoolwork, of course)!

What were your favorite books this summer?  What did you read?
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