blog about reviews writing

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Crown of Embers (Fire and Thorns #2) by Rae Carson

In the sequel to the acclaimed The Girl of Fire and Thorns, a seventeen-year-old princess turned war queen faces sorcery, adventure, untold power, and romance as she fulfills her epic destiny.

Elisa is the hero of her country. She led her people to victory against a terrifying enemy, and now she is their queen. But she is only seventeen years old. Her rivals may have simply retreated, choosing stealth over battle. And no one within her court trusts her-except Hector, the commander of the royal guard, and her companions. As the country begins to crumble beneath her and her enemies emerge from the shadows, Elisa will take another journey. With a one-eyed warrior, a loyal friend, an enemy defector, and the man she is falling in love with, Elisa crosses the ocean in search of the perilous, uncharted, and mythical source of the Godstone's power. That is not all she finds. A breathtaking, romantic, and dangerous second volume in the Fire and Thorns trilogy.

Released: September 18th 2012     Pages:410
Publisher: Greenwillow                 Source: Library

This is the first book I've ever managed to get sucked into a black hole in the library transit system.  I didn't realize the transit system had a black hole, but apparently, it does.  I requested this book at the beginning of September.  When it came out, the request status went to "in transit", like it usually does.  And then it stayed in transit all the way through September, October...and into January.  I have no clue what happened, but a week ago (January!), I finally canceled the request.  Because I found this book in my school library.

This book is gorgeous.  The cover art is beautiful and a little bit shiny.  It's one of those books that's just fun to hold.  Hey, I never said I was above the influence of pretty covers.

But anyway...I'm glad I'm not hearing about Elisa's weight every chapter like I did in The Girl of Fire and Thorns.  I get that it was a real thing that people could relate to, but it got annoying.  Now, in The Crown of Embers, Elisa has grown.  She's lost weight, but I think she's also realized that there's more to life than what you look like.  Her conflicts over how to be a good queen add depth to her character. 

On the other hand, she frustrated me sometimes.  As soon as a certain act of treachery was committed, I knew exactly who did it.  To me, it was blatantly obvious.  And then there's this Franco guy, whose name comes up every time something bad happens.  But let's not look into that, 'kay?  Because obviously, that isn't suspicious at all.  Nope.  Seriously, is it that hard, Elisa?

Elisa's relationship with Hector, though a bit cliché and melodramatic, was well done.  It didn't develop too fast, and I found myself rooting for them.  It felt real.  And I appreciate that.  Also, it got to me feel for them, especially at the end.  (If you've read the book, you know what I'm talking about.)

My favorite part of this, though, is by far the setting.  It was utterly rich and captivating.  I loved it so much, I can't even begin to describe it.  The way Rae Carson weaves the setting into the narration creates a fabulous picture of it in my mind.  I love the desert/Hispanic twist to all of it.  IT'S SO GORGEOUS, PEOPLE.  I actually want to live there.  Well, maybe not with all the war and such.  After the war is over and everything's good again, I'm moving in. 

Overall, I very much enjoyed this, and I'll be reading the sequel!  The characters are quite likable, and the plot moves along well, even though some of the big reveals are obvious.  Above all, it has a gorgeous and unique setting that I want to live in.  Four stars!

Similar Books: It features a main character who is a queen like The Demon KingBitterblue or Falling Kingdoms (okay, some of these characters are princesses, but whatever...).  It has elements of magic like in Shadow and Bone and Grave Mercy.

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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Revision: An (Un?)Expected Journey

In late 2011, you might recall hearing about the completion of the novel that I've been working on for what seems like forever.  Pretty soon after, about *coughcough* months ago, I started revising. 

Oh dear.  Revising.  You writers know what I'm talking about.  You know, revising?  Turning your 85,000 word pile of nonsense into something more legible? 

Or at least, going through and renaming everybody who is currently named "Cedric".  Maybe that's not a problem every writer has, but it's something at least I had to do.  At one point in my story, I had a very minor character, a soldier, who needed a name.  This character wasn't important enough for me to spend hours pondering a name, so I just named him "Cedric" and figured I'd rename him later.  It ended up that I had about 8 people like that who needed names.  And so they all became Cedrics.

Why Cedric?  Because this quote: "Cedric, you're like this guy, that's just--around, all the time, when I don't need a guy around. You're this spare guy, all the time, this spare dude. You're SUCH a SPARE!"*

And so, when finished with my first draft, I had a prologue that needed to be deleted but ohmygoodnessican'tbeartoseeitgo, plot threads that were never wrapped up, eye colors that randomly changed throughout the novel, a chapter 11 and 13 but not 12, several billion adverbs, and 8 people named Cedric.

But I began the revision journey, despite the daunting task that it was.  I was actually kind of excited to do it.
Revising any novel is an adventure.  Even an 85,000 word novel that's this big:

I'm quite proud of the size, actually.  I like having a printed copy of the book.  I like being able to hold it and say "This is what I was doing all those hours typing away on the computer." 

Sometimes, revision is fun.  You can see progress!  Yay!  I'm irrationally proud of how red some of these pages are.  On one hand, yuck.  My writing was that bad?  On the other hand, look how much better it'll be now!

These are my worst (best?) two pages.  Just so, if you've never revised a novel, you can see all the red marks that happen.  Again, I'm prouder of this than I should be.


Maybe someday I'll go through and analyze all the changes I made and turn it into some sort of how-to-revise article type thing.  Or maybe not.
When revising, you often find things you weren't expecting.  Like references to books that, at the time the first draft was written, you hadn't read.  Case in point:
"Winter is coming, he thought."  (That line, by the way, ended up getting deleted.)
Because apparently my main character is tossing around the "Brace yourselves...winter is coming" line now.  And apparently Ned Stark lives on.  Brace yourselves...revision is coming?  (This isn't the first time I've subconsciously made a literature reference.  A poem I wrote in ninth grade was handed back to me with a note that said "see me".  A little freaked out, I went and talked to the teacher, thinking I had written a terrible poem or something.  But no, my teacher just pointed at a line in the poem and basically said, "Do you realize you have a Greek mythology reference here?"  But I digress.)
In some cases, while revising, I underestimated my writing.  I went overboard on removing passive voice and deleting adverbs.  I deleted nearly 300 adverbs from this novel.  Three.  Hundred.  Which begs the question: What was I thinking, to write 300 adverbs in the first place?  What kind of madness is that?
And yet, I had to restrain myself from automatically crossing out every adverb I came across.  I learned to pull back and consider each adverb rather than ending its life just because of all the wonderful parts of speech it could have been born as, it had the misfortune of being an adverb. 
Sometimes, though, revision is not as fun as you want it to be.  Sometimes you get tired of your story and you just wish everyone could get along.
First-drafting is letting your characters run amok and deciding how they want the story to happen.  Non-writers will be sitting there, thinking "Um, they're fictional characters.  They don't exist.  They can't do anything the author didn't tell them to do."  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  This is not the case.  An author's characters do, indeed, have their own minds and sometimes act of their own accord.  How else can I explain the plot points that happening without me planning them?  How else do you explain the random characters that popped up out of nowhere?
And they never have the decency to pop up fully formed out of nowhere.  No, springing out in full armor and ready for battle from the head of Zeus the author is something that only happens, apparently, in ancient Greece.  Instead, these characters come into your story and start manhandling your plot, and now you have to go and develop their backstory because they have no consideration for your revision woes. 
But anyway.  Back to characters controlling the story.  Often times, the things your characters do of their own accord work for the story.  You write something, realize you hadn't planned that at all, and you know your MC decided that one himself.  But sometimes, it doesn't quite work.  My MC made a few decisions on his own.  One of them was to step out of the friendzone I had so carefully placed him in.  I didn't even realize that happening when I was doing the first draft.  No, it wasn't until I was revisng, editing all the interactions between him and the main heroine, that I realized that he was not firmly inside his little friendzone bubble.  Oh, it's subtle, but it's there.  Davi, why must you get yourself into more trouble than you already are?   
So then, if first-drafting is letting your characters run amok and being all "I do what I want!", revising is putting them back in their place and reminding them (less than gently) who is really in charge here.
(Because there is obviously a Loki gif** for every part of revision.  Revision, in Loki terms:
First draft: Author: I am burdened with glorious drafting (though I am not overly fond of what follows).  Characters: I do what I want!
Revision: Author: KNEEL!  Your plot was made to be ruled.  Characters: *all assume the I-just-found-out-my-true-parentage face, otherwise known as The Face That Launched A Thousand Fandoms*
Characters again: Are you ever NOT going to fall for that?
And then, sometimes, you honestly just feel like this during revision:

But then, you actually finish revision.  And your plot-hole-filled, badly paced, adverb-riddled mass of words is now something readable.  Something good
And maybe now my characters and I can agree on a plot that works for all of us. 
In summary:
Revision: Sometimes fun.  Sometimes not-so-fun.  (But more fun with gifs, honestly.)  It can feel like you're trying to turn My Immortal into War and Peace.***   It's sometimes like this:
It's the I'm-Chris-Hemsworth-and-I'm-Going-To-Catch-That-Prop-If-It-Takes-All-I've-Got feeling.**** 
All in all, I guess my main thing to take away is that I now actually know how to revise a novel (this was my first time doing it). 
I'm hoping to get some query letters sent out sometime in the near future.  Wish me luck!  And maybe eventually I'll tell you what my next book is about.

*100 points if you can tell me who said that.
**We all know that the real reason he's the villain is because Tony and the gang didn't let him join the shawarma-fest.  Also, you see that cane-flip?  I heard somewhere that Tom Hiddleston did that in one take.  Apparently it was a "I couldn't do that again in a million years if I tried" thing.
***Though I could argue that, for various reasons, My Immortal is actually a masterpiece.
****I'll admit it--this gif gets funnier the longer you watch it.  And Chris Evans looks kinda funny doing...whatever he's doing.  And now I'm just wondering how the Mjolnir prop weighs.  (I've realized, by the way, that the best way to pronounce "Mjolnir" without injuring myself is "Thor's hammer".)

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Monument 14 (Monument 14 #1) by Emmy Laybourne

Your mother hollers that you’re going to miss the bus. She can see it coming down the street. You don’t stop and hug her and tell her you love her. You don’t thank her for being a good, kind, patient mother. Of course not—you launch yourself down the stairs and make a run for the corner.Only, if it’s the last time you’ll ever see your mother, you sort of start to wish you’d stopped and did those things. Maybe even missed the bus.But the bus was barreling down our street, so I ran.

Fourteen kids. One superstore. A million things that go wrong.

In Emmy Laybourne’s action-packed debut novel, six high school kids (some popular, some not), two eighth graders (one a tech genius), and six little kids trapped together in a chain superstore build a refuge for themselves inside. While outside, a series of escalating disasters, beginning with a monster hailstorm and ending with a chemical weapons spill, seems to be tearing the world—as they know it—apart.

Released: June 5th 2012               Pages: 294
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends        Source: Library
First Look: *****If you’ve been reading my reviews for awhile, you might have noticed that I have a thing for stories about a group of kids trapped in an enclosed space, Lord of the Flies style. I’ve read lots of these—Lord of the Flies in space, Lord of the Flies in a radioactive bubble, Lord of the Flies in school, etc. And now we have Lord of the Flies in Wal-Mart. Well, not exactly Wal-Mart. But close enough.

Setting: ***** Is there such thing as a Greenway?  (I’d look it up right now but I’m typing on MS Word because my internet is down.  I know.  The horror of horrors.)  It sounds like Safeway.  I’m kind of wondering if the author wasn’t trying to make me think of Safeway, but isn’t that more of a grocery store than the Wal-Mart/Target type thing these kids were in? 

Anyway.  The setting wasn’t particularly memorable.  I know it was set in the fairly recent future, but I wish I would’ve learned a little more about this future.  Was it covered in natural disasters, and this most recent one was just the worst?  Or was it calm until the earthquake hit?  I have too many questions about this setting to give it a high rating.

Characters: ***** I couldn’t bring myself to care about Dean.  He was a decent character, but I could never connect with him.  He was constantly putting himself down, and it bothered me to no end.  This kid had absolutely no self-esteem whatsoever.  Usually, when characters are like that, they improve over the course of the book.  Not Dean. 

The only character I truly liked was Niko.  He was interesting, and likable.  He was equal parts normal kid and hero, and I enjoyed that.  He had a nice contrast with the other characters.  The only other person I have a comment either way on is Astrid.  I didn’t understand why Dean liked her so much.  She was prett—no, I’m sorry, she was hot.  Whatever that means.  She was just your stereotypical “hot girl”.  (I cringe as I use the word “hot” like this.)  Dean loved her for her looks, and not much else. 

Plot: ***** At the beginning, it moved super fast.  Almost too fast.  Then, at a certain point, it slammed on the brakes.  For a while it was sooooo slow, then it went back to a normal rate.  Pacing, people!  Learn how to use it!  Some parts of the plot were interesting—the blood type thing, the conflicts within the group of kids.  But others were just “meh”.   

The romance was very, very cliché.  Unpopular, quiet boy in love with the popular girl?*  (And he loves her just because she’s pretty and popular.)  I’m so sick of this stereotype.  If I see it one more time, I will scream.  It’s overused and overrated.

At the same time, there were some other romances going on.  They didn’t fit the book.  They just felt thrown in.  Especially the more sexual stuff.  It felt awkwardly crammed in (and really awkwardly written), like this book was trying to be too many things at once.  

Uniqueness: ***** It did the standard near-future dystopia with natural disasters thing, but with a new twist. 

Writing: *****
This is the most annoying aspect of the book.  I wish I hadn’t returned it to the library so soon, because now I can’t show you any examples.  Mainly, the reason the writing bothered me was because it was condescending. 


The author felt the need to remind me of things I already knew.  For example, when the bus was flipped on its side.  I think I was reminded of that three times.  As if I didn’t catch it the first time.  It wasn’t even a subtle reminder—it was a “Remember, the bus was on its side!  Don’t forget!” sort of thing. 

There are some flaws in books that I can tolerate more than others.  I have zero tolerance for condescension.  I know when an adult author is “talking down” to me, as a teenage reader.  Even as an elementary school reader, I remember a few times when I felt like a book was being dumbed down just because I was young.  Authors should never, ever dumb down their writing.  Your audience knows how to read.  It’s the reason they picked up your book in the first place.  Give them a little credit. 

Likes: Nothing not already mentioned above.

Not-so-great: The word "holler" should be banned.  Seriously.  It bothers me, for some reason.**

Overall: Overall, this was a book with a cool premise that didn't quite live up to its hype.  The characters weren't anything special, and the plot was slow in places.  The writing was condescending and annoying and awkward.  You might want to try it, if it looks like something you'd be really into, but otherwise I'd pass.
Similar Books: Trapped, Gone, Ashes, The Kill Order

*I’d just like to point out that the popular girl’s name is Astrid.  Does anyone see where I’m going with this?  How To Train Your Dragon, anyone?  I bring this up because it’s actually one case where the cliché romance works.  Probably because it’s HTTYD and it’s wonderful and perfect.

**Other words that should be banned, while we're at it, are "legit" (unless used sarcastically and preceded by "seems"), "polish" (as in "nail polish" but no "nail"), "prostrated" (I hate how it sounds for some reason), and "reverse racism" (because it is just racism anyway).

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Liberator (Dragons of Starlight #4) by Bryan Davis

As the long-awaited invasion of human forces looms, Jason, Koren, and Elyssa struggle to alert the soldiers to an unforeseen menace on the planet of Starlight---a deadly illness has been released, one that already has Koren in its grip. Starlighter Cassabrie harbors a secret she believes can counter the devastation being unleashed by dragon king Taushin's latest maneuverings, but she can disclose little of her risky plan. As Cassabrie fights to save her people, the dragon Magnar works to move the Starlight prophecy in his favor. His actions could release an ancient race of dragon-like beings, making the plight of humans even more perilous. Wishing only to free the slaves and to bring peace, a few young warriors are poised to face three armies as they battle for control of two worlds. Can love, faith, and courage be enough? Will Cassabrie be the humans' last hope?

Released:July 10th 2012          Pages: 433
Publisher: Zondervan              Source: Bought
Sometime in the middle of Diviner, this book's predecessor, I gave up trying to understand the plot.  I just...stopped.  Now, I read the first two books of this series back last January and April, so I'd been away from the series for awhile.  But still.  I'm wondering if I didn't manage to miss an important plot element somewhere along the way, because much of what I was reading in Diviner and Liberator made me go "Um...what?"
At this point, I think not trying to understand the plot actually helped me enjoy this book.  If I had gone through and tried to piece it together, I would have been more annoyed than I already was.  Now, none of this is a good thing.  I just accepted it because the alternative was rereading the entire series.
My review of Diviner hardly covered all the issues I had with it, and most of these issues still pertain to this book.  Here are the things that annoyed me, in no particular order:
1. Many characters are so righteous and noble all the time.  ALL THE TIME.  Especially Jason and Elyssa.  This is Christian fiction--I get it.  But just because you're trying to promote Christian ideals in your book doesn't mean your characters can be better-than-ideal humans.  No, humans aren't that noble.  They make mistakes.  The point of Christianity isn't perfect people being perfect all the time.  It's imperfect people growing and becoming better people.  (For the record, there is some great Christian fiction about imperfect, human people.  Like this, this, and this [this one isn't published as a Christian fiction but it could be counted as such].)
 2. For a book with characters that have such strong morals, the morals of this book are actually pretty screwed-up in places.  Mainly, the whole thing about "Well, since the slaves have a very rational fear of being independent and therefore are skeptical about the creepy magical girl offering them liberty, they don't deserve freedom!"  What?  No.  If you had lived your whole life as a slave, the idea of "let's go to another planet and be free, whatever that means" would freak you out, too.  It would freak anybody out.  So would the odd magic and the scary dragons.  These people had reasons to be afraid, and saying they don't deserve freedom is like saying that a dog doesn't deserve to go to the vet because he's scared of it.
3.  This: "Still, with so few dragons, every male needed to find a proper mate to help populate Starlight, and only one or two intelligent females remained available."  Um...what?  All the female dragons are turning into mindless monsters?  When did that start happening?  Am I the only one who finds this more than a little concerning?
4. There's an evil dragon named Beth.  BETH.  'Nuff said.
5. The writing was disorienting.  We'd be in one scene, with a certain set of characters, in a certain place, and then suddenly more characters would appear out of nowhere.  Apparently they were there all along, but it felt to me like they popped up out of thin air. 
6. How does a society not advanced enough to have invented the microscope know to (and how to) sterilize things to not spread germs?
7. Wait...that Goodreads blurb has a typo.  It says human's where it should say humans'.  *fixes typo* this on the back of my book?  *goes to check my copy*  Oh, come on.  There's a typo on the back cover, too.  Editors, anyone?  Editors?

So, what did I like about this?  The cool setting.  I love the mix of science fiction and fantasy.  Koren's character development.  Because she was one character who seemed realistic, who had moral growth.  And because of that, I could connect to her.  Also, the relationship dynamic between Magnar and Arxad is interesting, but I wish it would've gotten more attention.

Even though this book annoyed me, I have loved some of this author's other books.  Which is why this made me happy:
Overall, this was a "meh" type of book that got on my nerves in several ways.  It's more of a 2.5 star book, but I rounded up.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

100 Things Every Beginning Writer Should Know

  1. Nothing you write will ever be perfect the first time.
  2. Writing is hard.
  3. Show, don't tell.
  4. Character development is the key.
  5. There will always be someone who doesn't like your book.  This is okay.  Haters gonna hate!
  6. Take every suggestion/comment/criticism with a grain of salt.
  7. Music is your friend.
  8. Writing a book takes a long time.
  9. Writing gets better with practice.
  10. Avoid cliches.
  11. Do research, but don't include every piece of research in your book.
  12. Give every character a secret.
  13. Physical descriptions of people are less important than you think.
  14. Spelling and grammar DO matter.
  15. There is more than one way to write a book.
  16. Carry your writing supplies with you everywhere.
  17. Don't listen to people who say writing is stupid.  They are stupid.
  18. Revision takes five times longer than you think it will.
  19. Don't use "the mirror trick".
  20. Don't write purple prose.
  21. Watch your pacing!
  22. There are lots of things about writing that aren't fun, but the fun parts make it worth it.
  23. Never be afraid to take a break.
  24. Don't stress about your word count.
  25. Find a writing routine that works for you, and stick to it.  And then, shake it up every so often.
  26. Spellcheck isn't God.
  27. Bigger words aren't always better.
  28. Know your characters better than they know themselves.
  29. Develop your antagonists, too.
  30. It isn't the end of the world if you have to delete something.
  31. Never underestimate the power of good old fashioned pen and paper.
  32. Know where your story is going.
  33. Readreadreadreadreadread.
  34. Don't overuse adverbs.
  35. "The difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug." -Mark Twain
  36. No one knows your story better than you do.
  37. Write about things you love.
  38. If you're bored, your readers will be bored.
  39. Simplicity is underrated.
  40. It's okay to use "said" more than you think it is.
  41. Don't be afraid to imitate other authors.
  42. You learn something every time you write.
  43. Stick with it!
  44. No two writers are alike.
  45. Don't edit as you write your first draft.
  46. Nothing you write is ever set in stone.
  47. Write about things that scare you.
  48. Originality isn't always about having nothing in common with other stories.
  49. There are some tropes that never get old.
  50. Your story does not have to be a complex literary tome full of symbolism and metaphors.
  51. Use all five senses.
  52. Know what your characters want.
  53. Your writing will get better!
  54. Nobody likes to read flashbacks, or dream sequences.
  55. If you say "well, you haven't gotten to the good part yet", you have a problem.
  56. You are the only one who can tell your story.
  57. A little comic relief can go along way.
  58. The internet is a great source of writing advice.
  59. Don't emotionally exhaust your readers.
  60. Keep a file of "deleted scenes".  That way, you don't feel like you're technically "deleting" them.
  61. Take inspiration from other authors.
  62. Don't be afraid to change things of your story.
  63. Make your characters miserable.
  64. Learn proper dialogue formatting and punctuation.
  65. Your writing style is unique.
  66. You have the final say on any changes made to your story.
  67. Don't be afraid of criticism.
  68. Nobody likes a Mary Sue.
  69. Remember why you started.
  70. Take advice.
  71. Let your characters teach you things about their story.
  72. In the end, no one can "teach you" how to write.  You have to learn for yourself.
  73. Don't be afraid to end your revision and call it done.
  74. If you are tempted to skim a section, your readers will be, too.
  75. Fiction is more real than you might think.
  76. You are your own harshest critic.
  77. Write a lot.
  78. Don't over-describe.  Don't under-describe, either.
  79. Everyone gets stuck.
  80. Longer does not mean better.
  81. People read for dialogue.
  82. Don't let Shiny New Ideas distract you.
  83. The strongest characters are the ones that are most human.
  84. When you think you've learned everything about writing, you're wrong.
  85. Revision is just as important as writing itself.
  86. Everyone loves a good vs. evil story.
  87. Let your characters make mistakes.
  88. Finish what you started!
  89. Don't line edit anything that you haven't structurally edited first.
  90. Keep a place to write down all your story ideas.
  91. Whether or not your readers can connect with your characters can make or break a story.
  92. If it doesn't affect you emotionally, your readers won't care.
  93. Listen to your instincts.  If something seems off, it is.
  94. Praise makes you feel good, but constructive criticism helps you improve.
  95. Back up your files.
  96. Experiment.
  97. Outlining helps some people, but hinders others.  Find your planning style.
  98. Writing is not the same as speaking.
  99. The best writing is the kind where you don't even know it's there.
  100. Love what you do!
There's a second list of 100 things writers should know--it's right here.
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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Falling Kingdoms (Falling Kingdoms #1) by Morgan Rhodes

In a land where magic has been forgotten but peace has reigned for centuries, a deadly unrest is simmering. Three kingdoms grapple for power--brutally transforming their subjects' lives in the process. Amidst betrayals, bargains, and battles, four young people find their fates forever intertwined:

Cleo: A princess raised in luxury must embark on a rough and treacherous journey into enemy territory in search of a magic long thought extinct.

Jonas: Enraged at injustice, a rebel lashes out against the forces of oppression that have kept his country impoverished--and finds himself the leader of a people's revolution centuries in the making.

Lucia: A girl adopted at birth into a royal family discovers the truth about her past--and the supernatural legacy she is destined to wield.

Magnus: Bred for aggression and trained to conquer, a firstborn son begins to realize that the heart can be more lethal than the sword...

The only outcome that's certain is that kingdoms will fall. Who will emerge triumphant when all they know has collapsed?

Released: December 11th 2012          Pages: 412
Publisher: Razorbill                           Source: Library
First Look: ***** This was quite possibly my most anticipated non-sequel release of 2012.  While I didn't get to read it in 2012, I got to it as soon as I could! 

Setting: ***** The author did a great job making the distinctions between the three kingdoms.  Right away, I got a good sense of each kingdom and their cultures, and I had no trouble with mixing up the kingdoms.  It's so hard to write a high fantasy setting that stands out in the readers mind, because anyone who is a frequent high fantasy reader has read so many of these same settings that they all start to blur together.  While this book didn't have a setting that made me go "Wow!", it's memorable enough.

Characters: ***** Let's start with who I didn't like: Cleo.  She came off, to me, as whiny and spoiled.  Some character faults are easier for me to forgive than others, and I have a hard time forgiving whiny characters.  She got a guy killed, for goodness' sake, because she couldn't bear to not have her own way.  I didn't care for Lucia much, either, but that was more because I hardly got to know her.

So then, why have I given this category four stars?  One word: Magnus.  Magnus was a fabulously written character.  Everything about him felt real.  He may not have been the most admirable character at times, but he was portrayed as a very human character, and that made me feel for him.  Even with his attraction for Lucia (Jaime Lannister, anyone?), which was more than slightly creepy.  Well, actually, not as creepy as you'd first think, but still weird.  I really felt for him, and I wanted to see him succeed.  His heartbreak came through so clearly through the writing.

Other characters were interesting, too.  Like Jonas.  I loved his story.  Theon was getting to the point of being interesting, but we never got to know him very well.  To be honest, I kept expecting him to turn into a huge jerk and try to take over the world or something.  Because his name is Theon.  Did the author expect us to miss that one?

Plot: *****  I love it when an author has several point of view characters that are completely against each other.  It raises the stakes exponentially.  It's like that horrible and awesome moment in The Scorpio Races when you realize that you want Puck to win, and you also want Sean to win at the same time.  Falling Kingdoms got me relatively close to that point.  Maybe not to the point of tSR, but pretty close.

Other than that, it was a tad slow at the beginning, but it picked up.  Especially at the end.  I was super happy that this is one high fantasy that spent more time on major, kingdom-wide problems that romance. 

Uniqueness: ***** There's enough about this to make it unique, though it wasn't a huge standout.  (Then again, I have an unusually high tolerance for epic fantasy archetypes.)

Writing: *****
To tell you the truth...I finished this book a few days ago, and I'm completely blanking on what the writing was like. 

Contrary to what you might think, this is a good thing.  It means that while the writing wasn't jaw-dropping amazing, it did a good enough job telling the story that I forgot it was there.  And that is a wonderful feat for any novel (except the kind that are written so beautifully that you want to savor every single word).

Likes: Nothing not already mentioned above.

Not-so-great: This actually isn't a dislike.  It's just something that deserves mention.  Morgan Rhodes has proved that she is not afraid of killing off major characters, George R. R. Martin style.  Seriously.  It's like Hamlet or something.  This makes me concerned for my favorites.  I want them to survive! 

Also, SWORDS ARE NOT HEAVY.  How many times do I need to say this? 

Overall: I very much enjoyed this.  It's a high fantasy book with a solid plot that pits the point of view characters against one another.  While some characters got on my nerves (Cleo), others were compelling and made me feel for them (Magnus!).  I will definitely be getting my hands on the sequel when it comes out.

Similar Books: It has a high fantasy setting and features princesses like those of The Girl of Fire and Thorns and Bitterblue.  It has some magic to it, like Grave Mercy or Shadow and Bone.  It pits multiple point of view characters against each other like Fall of a Kingdom and A Game of Thrones.  It actually has many things in common with aGoT.  Namely, an author who isn't afraid to kill major characters.
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Friday, January 11, 2013

Two Year Anniversary!

I've been blogging for two years now.  I know.  Somehow I have accumulated 61 followers and 32,000-something pageviews.

I'm not quite sure how or when that happened.  But hey, I'll take it! 

The huge one that surprised me this year was my plot diagrams post.  I've gotten sooooo many hits on that thing.  I get people searching for "Hunger Games plot diagram" almost daily at this point.  That post didn't even have a plot diagram of any book in particular, but...okay? 

Here's a list of my top ten posts of all time (by number of pageviews):
10. Word Count Anxiety - 100 views.
9. How To Finish a Book - 101 views.
8. My review of Bitterblue - 115 views.
7. Top Ten Books of 2012  - 130 views.  This one has skyrocketed, compared to my other posts. 
6. Alternatives to Inkpop - 135 views.  Are there any Inkies still hanging around here?  How's life been without our wonderful Inkpopolis?
5. My review of The False Prince - 144 views.  I have no idea why this gets so many hits--maybe it has something to do with the GIF of Leonardo DiCaprio.  That's my only theory.
4. The Actual Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight - 195 views.  It has nothing to do with the book--I just felt like figuring it out one day.
3. A Villianous Post - 290 views.  I'm glad this one gets views, actually.  I rather like it.
2. My review of The Death Cure - 550 views. Because apparently all you have to do to get pageviews is stick the word "Wikipedia" in your review and people searching for that on Wikipedia get directed here. Again, um, okay. Didn't expect that one.
1. Not Your Teacher's Plot Diagram - 3412 views.  Well, that escalated quickly. 

It's interesting, the posts that get lots of hits, and the ones that remain largely ignored.  Most times I don't understand it at all.

What's changed since I started blogging back in 2011, or even since my one year blogoversary?

My reviews have gotten much longer and more in-depth.  And more nitpicky.  And also a bit more snarky, with more frequent GIFs.  I posted less in 2012 than I did in 2011, for whatever reason.  (Sorry.)  I also got a huge number of spam comments in my second year of blogging, but turning off anonymous comments seems to have fixed that.  Other bloggers, take note! 

What can you expect from me in my next year of blogging?

Pretty much the same stuff as always.  I have no intention of changing anything major.  I do know, however, that you'll be seeing more GIFs in 2013 than ever before, but I'm slowly amassing a formidable collection of them to use in reviews.  Half of them may or may not be Loki GIFs.  So you can expect lots of Loki GIFs in my reviews.  Because...Loki.  Why not?  I do what I want*.

Here's a shoutout to all my readers.  Thank you!

*Yes, that sentence happened.  Yes, that phrase was used intentionally.
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Monday, January 7, 2013

How To Revise Your Novel (An Overview)

Before we start this post, I'm going to make one thing very clear: revision and editing are not the same thing.  They are not interchangeable.

Revisions refers to the overall process of turning a first draft into a final draft.  Editing is the act of going through a draft line by line and fixing typos, passive voice, etc.  Again, revision does not equal editing.  And now we may begin.

"Writing uses a lot of paper, a lot of toner, and a lot of time and patience." -Holly Lisle

I once read an article online that said that revising your novel will take five times as long as you think it will take.  Through the process of revising my first full-length novel, I have found this to be very, very true.  Sometimes, with revising, the hardest part is knowing where to start.  In this post, I'll share how I edit, step-by-step.  Because, let's face it: your first draft needs to be revised.  It is not perfect.

Keep in mind that every writer has their own method of revising.  Some people go through 5-10 or more drafts when revising.  And then some people use Holly Lisle's single draft revision method (actually, I disagree with some of what she says, but it's still good revision advice).  I'm not a fan of either of these.  Too many drafts just gets tedious, but when revising in only one draft leaves too much opportunity to miss a problem, in my opinion. 

From start to finish, here is the Annie Revision Method:
  1. You've finished your novel?  Great.  Now leave it alone for a month.  Okay, so technically, there's a step 0.5 in here.  Right after I finish my first draft, I read through the entire novel (I borrowed my brother's e-reader for this), and celebrating my accomplishment.  I didn't go through and think about what I did wrong.  I just read it and savored the glory of having finished it.  Then I put it away for a month and did my best to forget about it.  If you start revision right after finishing the draft, you won't be able to look at it with fresh eyes.  You're still too involved in the story to be as objective as you need to be.  It's best to let your novel sit in a drawer for awhile and let your brain mull over other things.  You might even start a new novel.  (There's also a good chance that during this time, your subconscious will think of something cool that could be added to your first draft.)
  2. After you've let the novel sit for awhile, do a readthrough, with a pencil and a notebook.  Again, I did this on my brother's e-reader, but you could also just do this on your computer screen.  I read my way completely through the novel, this time looking for problems.  Don't bother with typos or passive voice or anything like that.  Just note the big stuff.  Look at the overall plot, and look at things on a chapter level and/or a scene level.  How is your pacing?  Are your chapters all the same length?  Does your plot continually build to the  climax?  Do your characters develop?  That sort of thing.  In your notebook, make note of where you find problems and how to fix them.  Also, note continuity errors.  For example, do you describe your main character as having blue eyes in chapter one, but five chapters later, he has green eyes?  Watch for those errors as well.
  3. Large-scale revision (or "substance revision").  I have a passionate hatred for this part.  It took me forever and it's difficult to measure progress.  Still, it's a key aspect.  Now is the time to go and fix the large-scale problems you noted in your notebook.  Again, don't look at line-by-line issues yet.  Some writers will say that you need to do this step with a physical, printed copy of your manuscript.  I say don't.  Do this on a computer.  It'll be so much faster.  You'll need to rearrange scenes, delete large chunks of text, add chapters, etc.  This will be so much harder than it needs to be if you do it on a printed copy.  Keep in mind: you will need to cut things from your novel at this point.  Scenes, or even whole chapters, might need to go.  It's hard, but you have to make yourself do it.  It's a good idea to start a "deleted scenes" file, to store all the things you deleted.  Maybe it'll come in handy later.  Or it'll just make you feel better, because technically you're still saving the writing, even though it's not in the story anymore.  Once you feel that your story is good on a large scale, it's time to move to step four.
  4. Line edits.  Oh joy.  This is actually my favorite part.  Now, you need to print out your book.  There is no other way to do this.  You NEED to have a physical copy, preferably (at least) double spaced, with wide margins.  Yes, it's going to take a lot of paper.  Yes, it's worth it.  Now is the time to look for typos, to edit for passive voice.  Go at it with a red pen.  Check for misspellings, paragraphs that should be combined, etc.  At some point, you'll need to type this all into the computer.  This gives you the benefit of looking over your edits once before the final draft.
  5. Celebrate.  You are done.  (Unless you get an agent and he/she wants you to revise more.  But for now...)
Again, there are multiple ways to edit, but this is my process.  And it gets done in only two drafts! 

Some day, I might post a revision checklist, of all the things you have to think about before you can call your book "done".  For now, I'll link to another checklist you might want to use.

Any writer will tell you that revision is hard.  Harder than doing the first draft?  Debatable.  But it is doable, and you'll have a much better novel to show for it.

Always keep in mind that the point of revision is to turn the book you wrote into the book you wanted to write.

How do you revise?  What's your favorite part?  Least favorite?
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Saturday, January 5, 2013

A Clash of Kings, Feedback, and Diviner Mini-reviews

A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire #2) by George R.  R. Martin 
                                                                                         Released: November 16th 1998         
Pages: 761
Publisher: Bantam Books                 
Source: Library

This is a huge and complex book.  It has countless tangled plotlines to weave through and try to sort out.  And yet when you try and untangle them, you find that they have grown even more tangled.  This is what I love about A Song of Ice and Fire so far.  I'm not even close to the end, and the tension is already high. 

And the characters are just as complex.  I still have the same set of favorites as I did in the last book--Bran, Arya, Tyrion, Jon Snow.  In the first book, I wasn't a fan of  Daenerys, but now I'm starting to like her more.  And then the author had to go and make me think someone I liked was dead, when they really weren't.  I'm still a bit angry about that.  The author should be receiving my angry letter any day now.  But this character lived, so I guess it's all good.  For now.

Another thing I like about this series is that no one is cast as "the villain".  There are characters that have more good in them than others, yes.  There are characters I want to win, and characters I want to lose.  But there is no designated villain (the only exception to this might be Joffrey.  Nobody likes Joffrey.).  It makes everyone seem more human, more layered. 

Overall, I enjoyed this (though it did take me a while to slog through).  I'll be reading the sequel!

Feedback (Variant #2) by Robsion Wells

Released:October 2nd 2012         
Pages: 356
Publisher: HarperTeen               
Source: Library

This book really disappointed me.  I loved Variant, but this book just didn't do the same thing.  Variant had some cool action and conflict, a sense of intensity, and a cool twist at the end.  Feedback, not so much. 

I spent much of the book trying to figure out what on earth was going on.  Some things didn't add up, and some just didn't make sense.  Also, there was a lot of name-dropping all over the place.  There were many characters to keep track of, and because of this, I felt that none were fully developed.  Benson suddenly became passive and hardly did anything all.

And then...that ending.  What did I just read?  What just happened?  The ending was bizarre (and trust me, I have a very high tolerance for weird in books).  Is there going to be a third book?  It seems that there should be, to explain that weird little twist, but I've heard nothing of it.  If the series ends here, it is not a satisfying ending. 

I just wish this book didn't disappoint me so much.

Diviner (Dragons of Starlight #3) by Bryan Davis

Released: August 23rd 2011        
Pages: 427
Publisher: Zonderkidz                  
Source: received as a gift

This series has a lot going for it.  It's got a really cool setting that's an interesting blend of science fiction and high fantasy.  It has an exciting (albeit sometimes confusing) plotline.  It has a wonderful message. It has dragons!  Yay for dragons!

And yet, the more of this series I read, the more some things start to bother me.  The main thing is how righteous and noble all of the characters are.  Yes, they are wonderful heroes, and all-around "good guys".  They are too much "good", and too little "guys".  What I mean is this: the protagonists pretty much always see the right path and take it.  They readily sacrifice themselves for the good of others.  They are utterly dedicated to the eradication of evil.  But they are too much all of this.  They aren't relatable.  It's not a bad thing to have internal doubts about sacrificing your life your someone.  It's human.  These people (with the notable exception of Koren at one point) never have second thoughts, never make mistakes.  And this gives them so much less depth than they could have.

I'm fascinated by the relationship between Magnar and Arxad.  There's some history there of brother/brother conflict.  Some Thor/Loki type conflict, almost.  And yet the way the interact now kind of reflects this, and kind of doesn't.  I'd love for the next book to delve deeper into this relations.

I guess my mini-reviews became more 2/3 reviews.  Oh well.  I enjoyed Diviner, but I had my issues with it.  It's more of a 3.5 star read, but I round up.

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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Top Ten Books of 2012

Once again, it's time for the top ten books of the year!  As usual, my most-read genre was fantasy, though this year I've started to delve more into more solid sci-fi type things (like A Confusion of Princes or Glow--a genre that I've taken to calling "spaceshipy sci-fi"). 
This past year there was a little bit of a rise in the number of YA epic fantasy, which is a trend I'm hoping will continue into 2013.  The Divergent and Hunger Games-type dystopians seem to be slowing down...a bit.  What new trends will pop up next year?  I predict more sci-fi/romance, and maybe some more unique steampunk settings (like Stormdancer).
Here's the top ten list!
10. The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi
Of all the dystopian novels published in the past few years, this series is a huge standout.  This book's predecessor, Ship Breaker, made my top ten list last year, so it's not surprise that its sequel also made the list.  As I mentioned in my review, if you like mediocre, bland, copycat dystopian settings, this book is not for you.  This book has such a gritty and real-feeling setting, with characters to match.
9. A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
This series has become a bit of a personal challenge for me.  I'm to the point where I'm going to finish the series, whether I like it or not.  Fortunately, I've enjoyed the first two books, especially this first one.  I love how complex it is.  There are so many tangled plot threads that sometimes it's a challenge in itself to keep track of them.  And in this case, I like that aspect.  I love how many layers this series has, how many layers each character has.  But apparently I have to wait until 2020 for the final book.  Um...what's up with that?

8. Fear by Michael Grant
What can I say about this series that I haven't already said?  We're getting close to the final book now, and the tension is high.  Fear rose to meet my high expectations for this series, and has risen the bar once again.  Light had better be amazing beyond belief, to top this.

7. Every Day by David Levithan

I took a risk in picking up this book.  I typically avoid romance (especially contemporary romance) like the plague.  It just isn't my thing.  And yet, the premise of Every Day was just too unique for me to pass up on.  It was one of those occasions where just the blurb itself made me so curious that I had no choice but to go read it.  And I'm glad I took that risk, because this book is beautiful.  It's gorgeous and wonderful and there's really no other way to describe it.

6. Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby
This is an exciting, well-written, captivating little book.  It took me a little while to get into it, but once I did I was hooked on this story and its characters.  And its simple, honest writing style.  Most of all, though, this book has some beautiful messages that make it well worth the read.

5. Witchlanders by Lena Coakley
This book's cover and blurb are deceptive.  From the cover, you'd think this is a book about a girl, probably a girl who is a witch.  In that, you'd be wrong.  This book is about two boys, Ryder and Falpian (though Falpian's POV takes up half the book, he isn't mentioned at all in the blurb).  The author does a wonderful job contrasting the two POVs, and making them clash and conflict with one another, and then showing us how intertwined they really are. 

4. The Crimson Crown by Cinda Williams Chima
This, for me, was a much-anticipated series finale of 2012, and it did not disappoint.  Series finales can be tough--we have a way we want the series to end, and sometimes endings can be a letdown.  Not so with this book.  The ending just felt right.  This was a great end to the series, and left me feeling satisfied (though I also would've been happy to read a ten book series instead of a four book one ).  I've seen rumors that the author might return to this world in the future, which I'm really hoping is true!

3. The Last Guardian by Eoin Colfer

 Oh, Artemis Fowl.  I've been in love with this series since I first read the first book in fifth grade.  Since then I've read and reread all of these books many times.  It's sad to see the end of this series come around, but at the same time I'm glad.  Some series are stretched out way too long, but this was the perfect time to finish the Artemis Fowl series.  I love the character growth, not just in Artemis, but in everyone else as well.  And besides, this book made me laugh out loud.  Literally.

2. Starclimber by Kenneth Oppel

 This book is just so much fun.  Everything about it makes me happy.  It's a good old fashioned adventure story with lively characters and cool gadgets.  It isn't weighed down by unnecessary angst like so many young adult novels.  It's  It's fun to read, and it's one of those books where you can tell the author had fun writing it.  This is another fabulous series conclusion, though again, I would've happily read a dozen more Matt Cruse novels.

1. The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

Though the third book of this trilogy, Monsters of Men, wins the Came Closest To Actually Making Annie Cry award, The Ask and the Answer is still my favorite of the trilogy, and my favorite this year.  Where do I begin?  Everything about this book is so real.  The characters are as real as I've ever read.  The writing style is raw and unpolished, which makes it honest and true to life.  The plot is intense and gritty, and raises some very real and difficult questions.  Todd and Viola had a beautiful relationship that just felt right, and all throughout this book I was desperate to find out what would happen next.  This book is raw and beautiful and again, utterly real.

Here are some of my reading stats:
# Books read: 81 (on Goodreads it says 83 but two were short prequel stories)
Average rating: 3.8
Average time to read one book: 4.5 days
# Pages read: 31,236
Avg. pages per day: 85
Avg. pages per book: 386

Interestingly enough, the avg. time to read one book, avg. rating, and avg. pages per day have not changed at all since last year.

If you missed the 20 questions recap, it's right here.

What were your favorite books this year?  What trends do you want to see/think we'll see in 2013?
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