Monday, February 27, 2012

Airborn (Matt Cruse #1) by Kenneth Oppel

Matt Cruse is a cabin boy on the Aurora, a huge airship that sails hundreds of feet above the ocean, ferrying wealthy passengers from city to city. It is the life Matt's always wanted; convinced he's lighter than air, he imagines himself as buoyant as the hydrium gas that powers his ship. One night he meets a dying balloonist who speaks of beautiful creatures drifting through the skies. It is only after Matt meets the balloonist's granddaughter that he realizes that the man's ravings may, in fact, have been true, and that the creatures are completely real and utterly mysterious.

In a swashbuckling adventure reminiscent of Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson, Kenneth Oppel, author of the best-selling Silverwing trilogy, creates an imagined world in which the air is populated by transcontinental voyagers, pirates, and beings never before dreamed of by the humans who sail the skies.


First Look: ***** I'm really not sure why I haven't picked this up before.  It's one of those books that I passed by pretty much every time I went to the library, but never paid attention to.  I'm really glad I picked it up! 

Setting: *****
I loved the steampunk aspect of this book.  It's a good example of the fact that sometimes, the coolest settings are created by changing relatively minor things.  In this book, the early 1900s world very, very similar to what our real world was, except instead of airplanes, we have airships.  Blimps.  Dirigibles (I love this word!).  Whatever you want to call them.  It isn't a world-shattering thing, but it makes a very compelling world nonetheless.  I enjoyed the uniqueness and detail of this setting, as well.

Characters: ***** 
These characters were characters you could really cheer for.  Matt's enthusiasm for what he did (worked on an airship) was contagious.  The author managed to capture his love for flight and let it seep through the pages to us.  I liked that.  I also liked how he was three-dimensional.  He had his share of faults and things that haunted him, but he was still very likable.

I also liked the supporting characters.  You know you've got a good all-around supporting cast when the author can throw around a name just once or twice, and you immediately know who he/she is throughout the entire book.  None of this "Wait...who is Mr. Smith, again?" stuff. 

Plot: *****
I enjoyed the plot.  It kept me wanting to know what was going to happen.  I felt like it got a bit slow in the middle, but it managed to pick itself up again.  This book also deserves a huge amount of credit for the romance aspect of the plot.  It was definitely there, but...it didn't overshadow the real plot.  It didn't come right out and wave a flag that said There's romance here, people!  It wasn't as wonderfully subtle as Monsters of Men, but it was still very nicely done.

Uniqueness: ***** 
A fresh, unique read.

Writing: *****
Going into this, I was really hoping it would have the same nondescript writing as This Dark Endeavor, written by the same author.  Fortunately, it definitely did.  What I like most about Oppel's writing is that you really don't realize it's there.  It gets in, tells the story, and gets out without making a fuss.  It isn't the gorgeous utter wonderfulness of The Scorpio Races, but it was still very well-written.  It doesn't distract you from the story.

Likes: The steampunkishness.  (Yeah, that's a word now.)  The cool airship.  The cloud cat.  And other things, mentioned above.

Not-so-great:
Nothing that springs to mind.

Total Score:
This is a very good book.  It's not quite a five-star, but it's getting there.  It's got great characters, a compelling plot that only drags a tiny bit in the middle, and a well-written narrative.  It's also a standout in that it's unique--steampunk meets Gilligan's Island meets Pirates of the Caribbean, in a way.  I can't wait to get the sequel!  Recommended for fans of steampunk and science fiction, and especially recommended for anyone who remotely enjoyed Eoin Colfer's splendiferous novel Airman.


Reviews of other Matt Cruse novels:
Skybreaker (Matt Cruse #2)
Starclimber (Matt Cruse #3)

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Dear Secular Music

Dear Secular Music,

I've had enough. 

I used to be so attached to you.  I listened to you every day, day in, day out.  I listened to you each morning on the bus, during study hall, in the car, and while doing my homework.  And I liked you.  I thought you were the greatest thing known to mankind. 

Then you started changing.  Those things I used to love about you (Jordin Sparks, OneRepublic, etc.) just aren't the same.  I still like them, but they're...different.  They've started swearing in their music.  They've gone back on their claims to be "Christian artists".  Now, instead of just downloading their newest single as soon as I see it, I have to go check the lyrics first, just to be sure. 

I'm tired of your unreliability.  I can't trust you to not be explicit.  I can't trust you not to go against my beliefs.  I'm utterly sick and disgusted at the way it's nearly impossible to find clean music anymore.  I want songs about life and love, and I just hear songs about sex and parties.  Even the radio isn't clean, and don't try to tell me you can make a song "clean" by just not singing the last letter of a swear word.  You sound ridiculous. 

I'm not saying it's completely over.  I'll still listen to you.  I still like the songs I have, and I'll probably still buy your new ones. 

But see, there's this other music.  It's called Christian music.  It never swears, ever, and there's never anything explicit about it.  I can trust Christian music.  It's reliable.  And you know what?  I'm finding that the more I listen to it, the more I like it. 

There's so many things I like about it.  The Afters.  Kerrie Roberts.  Britt Nicole.  Tenth Avenue North.  They aren't going to fall into that pit that it seems like nearly every secular artist these days falls into. 

I'm sorry, but that's the way it is.  Each day I find myself listening to less and less of you.  I'd love it if you could change, but that won't ever happen.  I know it. 

This isn't a goodbye.  Not yet, at least.  But it's coming very close. 
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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Shiver (The Wolves of Mercy Falls #1) by Maggie Stiefvater

the cold.
Grace has spent years watching the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf—her wolf—watches back. He feels deeply familiar to her, but she doesn't know why.


the heat.
Sam has lived two lives. As a wolf, he keeps the silent company of the girl he loves. And then, for a short time each year, he is human, never daring to talk to Grace...until now.


the shiver.
For Grace and Sam, love has always been kept at a distance. But once it's spoken, it cannot be denied. Sam must fight to stay human—and Grace must fight to keep him—even if it means taking on the scars of the past, the fragility of the present, and the impossibility of the future.

First Look: ***** The premise of this book didn't really interest me.  I tend to shy away from werewolf books.  But then I read The Scorpio Races back in November...and I couldn't help but pick this up.  I was hoping for something at least partially as awesome as TSR. 

Setting: *****  At first, I was all excited and "Yay, Minnesota!".  I was hoping for a good story set in a realistic Minnesota that I could relate to.  I wanted to read about the place where I live, written by an author who did her research.  Unfortunately, I didn't get it.

Yes, the book is supposedly set in Minnesota.  But I really don't think it was, because nobody acted like a native Minnesotan.  My main example: Every chapter number had a temperature underneath it.  This is cool by itself, but Stiefvater would've been better without it.  Why?  Because it was unrealistic.  It would say 50 degrees (F), which is all well and nice and believable for a Minnesota September.  But then one of the characters would make a comment about the "frigid breeze" or the "ice-cold chill" or something.  This is not realistic.  People who've lived in MN their entire life do not think 50 is frigid.  Or ice-cold.  That sounds amazingly warm right now, actually.  People wear shorts and flip-flops in colder weather. 

Characters: ***** I liked the characters well enough.  I could relate to Grace's personality.  I could definitely understand her introvertedness.  Is that a word?  Well, it is now.  Also, I found Sam to be an interesting character, too. 

My problem with both of them is that they weren't realistically flawed.  I could see flaws in Grace, but she still seemed close for comfort to Mary-Sue territory.  And I couldn't find anything at all wrong with Sam, that I can think of.  Which makes him just another example of the perfect-supernatural-love-interest phenomena that's making its way through YA books.

Grace's parents also drove me crazy.  They were way too ignorant of what's going on their daughter's life.  I understand that they were supposed to be a little out of it, but this was just unrealistic.  It made no sense.  And Grace didn't even seem to care. 

Plot: ****
The plot itself was pretty interesting.  Throughout the book, it raised many questions that I really, really wanted to have answered.  I liked all the story about the wolves (though I'm hoping the next two books don't get overly environmentalist, because I don't enjoy reading that kind of thing*). 

I'm really interested to see what happens with this in the next book.  Especially with the ending, and what happened to Sam.  I won't say what, for fear of spoilers, but....

Uniqueness: *****
The werewolf-temperature thing was pretty unique. I'll give it that.

Writing: *****
There wasn't anything in this writing to distract me from the story, which does huge things towards my enjoyment of a book.  I don't remember catching any typos, and there wasn't much in the way of awkward phrasing or overuse of passive voice or anything.

It did disappoint me a little, though.  I was hoping for some more Stiefvater seven-star-worthy amazingness like TSR.  I didn't get that from this book.

Likes: I like wolves.  A lot. 

Not-so-great:
I'm not impressed with Sam and Grace's "togetherness".  And yes, I mean what you think I mean.  Now, I'm not here to rant about abstinence, but....  Sam and Grace, do you realize what happened to the last characters I read about that slept together before they got married?  The guy got his shoulder ripped open by an evil bird-monster-thing, while these same monsters kidnapped the girl.  Yeah.**  [insert more abstinence ranting here] 

Total Score:
Despite the insta-love, I managed to enjoy this book.  I really did.  Even so, I had my issues with.  It's definitely not up to par with The Scorpio Races, unfortunately.  The Minnesota setting isn't realistic.  The characters were so-so.  I liked the fresh twist on werewolves.  Overall, I guess I'd recommend this to paranormal fans.  My rating is more like 3.5 stars, but I round up.


*Hoot is the exception to this rule.  Because I love it.  And because it does it in a non-confrontational way.  And because it's one book that actually has a great movie based off it.  And because "...bringing twelve new jobs to Coconut Cove!"
**Yes, I'm referring to Eldest.  Yes, I'm talking about Roran and Katrina.  I've noticed that the Inheritance series is actually full of lessons that your health teacher would approve of.  There's also a pretty good anti-drinking one.  I don't think Paolini intended this at all.

Reviews of other Wolves of Mercy Falls novels:
Linger (The Wolves of Mercy Falls #2)
Forever (The Wolves of Mercy Falls #3)
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Friday, February 17, 2012

Double Trouble Cover Reveal

This week, the covers for two upcoming books I'm really excited about were released.  Yay!

Here's the first:
The Crimson Crown, book four of Cinda Williams Chima's splendiferously fabulous Seven Realms series
The Last Guardian, the final book in Eoin Colfer's amazingly awesomely amazing and awesome Artemis Fowl series
It's exciting.  Trust me. 

Two other things, while I'm at it:
There's a rather interesting thread going on over on Inkpop.  It contains pictures like this:


Also, there's an article on Stephanie Meyer's website that explains her thought process during New Moon.  I have captured a screenshot from this article:

Folks, Meyer is anti-human.  She's anti-you.  She's anti-me.  She's anti-Bella.  I cannot understand this at all.   
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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Actual Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

I keep seeing a book pop up, a book called The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight.  While I have no interest in the book itself, it made me think.  What is the actual statistical probability of love at first sight?  It's impossible to get an accurate number, but I can at least narrow it down a little.  Because it's Valentine's Day *coughsinglesawarenesscough*, and all that.

First, I am going to assume three things: 1. I will fall in love at first sight with the guy I marry.  2. This as-yet-unknown guy will be from the United States.  3. He is currently between the ages of 13 and 19, making him within 3-4 years of my own age (mostly to make my math a little easier). 

Then I did a little research.  This is what I found.  All numbers are very rough estimates. 

Right now, there are around 22 million teenagers in America.  Half of them are male, which means there are 11 million teenage boys. 

There are 313,019,172 people in America when I checked the census counter, and 6,994,383,344 people in the entire world. 

1 of those 11 million teenage boys will be my true love.  1 of 313,019,172 people in America, 1 of 6,994,383,344 in the world.

The probability, then?  There are three ways to look at it. 

Out of the 11 million teenage boys in America, the probability is 0.000009%.
Out of the 313,019,172 people in America, the probability is 0.000000319%.
Out of the 6,994,383,344 people in the entire world, the probability is 0.00000001.43%.

Those are staggering numbers. 

That, my friends, is about the closest anyone can get to the actual statistical probability of love at first sight.  Fascinating, no?  In fact, if you are a teenager in the USA, this applies to you.  Even if I can't take into account the chances of meeting this person, because that would be impossible to calculate.  But it's still very interesting.

Does that mean I think I won't ever meet this person?  No, of course not.  I believe I will meet this person, despite the 0.0000000143% probability.  (That's where God comes in....)

So, happy Valentine's Day.  Or Singles Awareness Day.  Or Let's All Binge on Chocolate Day. 

PS: For the first time ever, I have needed my graphing calculator to write a blog post (though if you see an error in the math, please let me know!). 
PPS: No, I didn't just find another way to put off doing my review of Shiver.  No, of course not.  What on earth are you talking about?
PPPS: The cover for the fourth book in the Seven Realms series, The Crimson Crown, has been revealed!  It's...wait for it...crimson.  I like it, although the burning buildings are a bit intriguing.
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Saturday, February 11, 2012

They're, Their, There, and Other Commonly Mutilated Words

They're, there, and their receive an awful lot of abuse.  So do many other words.  You'd think most people would get them down in middle school, but apparently not.  Without further ado, here are some commonly mixed-up, misused, or generally abused words.

There, They're, Their

I went to that store over there.
That is their dog.
They're going to the movies tonight.

No, these words are not interchangeable.  They each have a separate meaning.  If you can't see it from the examples, this is how you decide which to use:

If the something you are talking about belongs to someone, use their to indicate possession.  If you could replace the word in question with they are and the sentence would still make sense, then use they're (because they're is actually they and are combined)For anything else, use there. 

Your, You're

This is your coat.
You're tired today.

This one isn't too hard to remember, once you get it down.  Your indicates something that belongs to you.  You're indicates something you are.  Use the same trick as with they're: If you could replace the word in question with you are, then use you're.  For anything else, use your.

A lot vs. Alot

This one doesn't need much explanation.  All you need to know is that Alot is not a word.  So don't use it.  If you aren't sure if you can remember this, then click here.  Actually, even if you know this already, click it anyway.  It's hilarious.

Except vs. Accept

Did the college accept you?
I like all chocolate except white chocolate. 

Use accept when something or someone is being let in or confirmed into something, like being accepted into a group.  Use except when there is an exception to something.  As in, I like all of something except this. 

Its vs. It's

It's hot outside today.
That bird just took its bath.

This one seems so backwards, but hey, I didn't make the rules.  Use it's as a replacement for it is.  Use its to refer to something that  belongs to it. 


If you learn one single thing from this post, though, learn that FUNNER IS NOT A WORD.  DON'T USE IT.  EVER. 

I hope all of this makes sense.  If you need clarification, don't hesitate to comment and ask!  This post will be added onto as needed.

PS: I wish I could explain the differences between lied, lay, lie, etc., but I don't understand this one, either.  If you know, feel free to share!


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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Monsters of Men, Shifter, and Legend Reviews

Oh dear.  Unfortunately, my teachers have been dumping piles of homework onto my head lately.  Which means I'm behind on my reviews.  I don't like doing these mini-reviews, but it's better than no review at all.  Even though these books deserve so much better.

Monsters of Men (Chaos Walking #3) by Patrick Ness

As a world-ending war surges to life around them, Todd and Viola face monstrous decisions. The indigenous Spackle, thinking and acting as one, have mobilized to avenge their murdered people. Ruthless human leaders prepare to defend their factions at all costs, even as a convoy of new settlers approaches. And as the ceaseless Noise lays all thoughts bare, the projected will of the few threatens to overwhelm the desperate desire of the many. The consequences of each action, each word, are unspeakably vast: To follow a tyrant or a terrorist? To save the life of the one you love most or thousands of strangers? To believe in redemption or assume it is lost? Becoming adults amid the turmoil, Todd and Viola question all they have known, racing through horror and outrage toward a shocking finale.

This one started out slower than The Ask and the Answer.  For awhile, it was looking like this book would fall very, very short of its predecessor.  And that would have disappointed me.  But it didn't.  Once the slow parts were over, it really picked back up. 

Ness's writing is spectacular.  I don't know how else to say it.  It's not flowery, pretty, gorgeous prose.  It doesn't dazzle you with wonderful turns of phrase and metaphors and such.  It's too in-your-face for that.  The only word I can think of to describe it is honest.  It stays true to the character's voice.  It's just...awesome.  You have to read it to understand it. 

I really enjoyed getting a bit of 1017's point of view in this book.  That was interesting.  I also like the different fonts.  And the way Ness was not afraid to delve really deep and ask some pretty serious questions.  This book made me think.  A lot.  I like that.

Still, I was expecting this book to be a four-star...until the very ending.  Wow.  I'm not going to spoil it, but it's...awful.  Definitely would've made me cry, if I was that sort of person.  And it was beautiful and wonderful at the same time.  I loved it.  I don't even have words for the last chapter...just read it, okay?  It's a monumental book that you all should go get right now.  Especially if you're considering writing romance, because you can't really have YA romance that's better than the one between Todd and Viola. 
  Nice, right?
PS: Check this out: 

Shifter (The Healing Wars #1) by Janice Hardy

Nya is an orphan struggling for survival in a city crippled by war. She is also a Taker—with her touch, she can heal injuries, pulling pain from another person into her own body. But unlike her sister, Tali, and the other Takers who become Healers' League apprentices, Nya's skill is flawed: She can't push that pain into pynvium, the enchanted metal used to store it. All she can do is shift it into another person, a dangerous skill that she must keep hidden from forces occupying her city. If discovered, she'd be used as a human weapon against her own people.

Rumors of another war make Nya's life harder, forcing her to take desperate risks just to find work and food. She pushes her luck too far and exposes her secret to a pain merchant eager to use her shifting ability for his own sinister purposes. At first Nya refuses, but when Tali and other League Healers mysteriously disappear, she's faced with some difficult choices. As her father used to say, principles are a bargain at any price; but how many will Nya have to sell to get Tali back alive?


I have very mixed feelings about this book.  On one hand, the premise was very unique.  The magic system was cool, and the characters had lots of potential to be very complex, interesting people.  The setting was interesting, and there was plenty of plot to work with.

But then...I couldn't really connect to the characters.  I'm not even sure how to say Nya's name.  I thought she was likable enough, but I didn't feel for her.  For whatever reason, I couldn't bring myself to care about her or her problems.  That's probably the main reason I didn't enjoy this book as much as I could have. 

I also felt it moved a little slow.  Sure, enough stuff happened, but the action just wasn't gripping enough to move it forward for me. 

Overall, my dislikes and likes are fairly balanced.  I wouldn't tell you not to pick it up if it looks interesting, but I wouldn't recommend it, either. 


Legend (Legend #1) by Marie Lu

What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic's wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic's highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country's most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths - until the day June's brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family's survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias' death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.


Full of nonstop action, suspense, and romance, this novel is sure to move readers as much as it thrills.


I don't think any of my Goodreads friends who read this book didn't like it.  I'd heard so many good things about this book, so I just had to pick it up.  And I'm glad I did.

I really connected with one of the main characters, Day.  He was a very interesting character.  I really felt for him, and I wanted him to succeed.  He was very realistic.  It took me longer to like June, as a character.  I got there in the end, though.  I actually didn't like her for awhile, but then she managed to redeem herself.

This book threw so many curveballs at me.  There were some pretty major twists I never saw coming.  And I love surprises in books!  I'm really eager to see where Marie Lu goes with this series--this is a very exciting start.



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Saturday, February 4, 2012

Your Novel is Like Clingwrap

Many agents, editors, random people off the street, and everyone else in between might tell you that your novel needs to be "tight".  Your prose needs to be "tight".  Your narrative needs to be "tight". 

What does this even mean?  I was struggling with a way to explain this for you guys, and I came to one conclusion:

I needed to use an odd analogy.  So here goes.

You know when you have steak for dinner, you always have that little piece that never gets eaten?  (Okay, that's the way at my house, at least.)  You take it and put it in a little bowl.  You get out the clingwrap and stretch it over the top of the bowl.  You make it really, really tight. 

Then you poke the clingwrap, because it's entertaining.  It bounces back at you.  Don't tell me you've never done this.   

Your novel should be like this. 

Your narration should be tight, like that clingwrap.  You need to be able to poke and prod it from different angles, searching for weak points and loopholes, and it won't break.  It needs to be seamless and clear, without those annoying little wrinkles.  Loose, wrinkly clingwrap won't keep food for very long, right?  Same with your novel.  Awkward prose can't make even the best plot work well. 

If the clingwrap is tightly wrapped over that bowl, instead of all wrinkly, you can clearly see the juicy steak underneath.  If your narrative flows smoothly without apparent flaws, it won't distract readers from the juicy plot underneath.  But if your narrative doesn't flow and has odd seams and wrinkles, then the reader won't be able to focus on the plot underneath. 

A "tight" narrative is seamless.  Seemingly effortless.  It doesn't distract readers from the story.  In fact, if done right, readers will hardly notice the writing is there at all. 

When you hear the word "tight" used in a writerly context, think of clingwrap.  It might be odd, but hey, you'll remember it now. 


Random Aside: Ah, clingwrap.  Reminds me of The Supernaturalist, and all those fun times at Clarissa Frayne's *NOT*.  Ziplock, too.  Haha. 
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