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Saturday, March 30, 2013

How To Avoid Infodumping

"I love those times when I'm reading and then the author comes along and drops a massive infodump in the middle of the action," said no one, ever. 

Infodump is one of those things that for some reason, writers tend to think it's okay to do.  And it's not.  There is never a time when it is okay to infodump. 

Infodump is exactly what it sounds like.  It's when an author tells you a huge amount of information (that you might or might not need to know in order to understand the book) in one big block of text or awkward chunk of dialogue.  It gets the information down, yes, but it's dreadfully boring and often makes the info hard to remember.  The author might interrupt a piece of dialogue between two sisters to explain the long and complicated history between them.  The author might stop right before two enemies are about to duel to explain the significance of dueling in the kingdom. 

And then, there's another type of infodumping.  Dialogue infodumping.  It might go something like this:

"How are you?" Mary Sue asked.
"Fine, fine," Gary Stu said.  "But, as you already know, last week I broke up with my girlfriend, I'm haunted by dreams of Nerf snipers, and I'm still being stalked by a weremoose.  So not all that well, actually."

My face whenever a wild infodump appears.

Did you catch it?  That was infodumping.  No, it wasn't a huge block of text.  It's all in the "as you already know".  Mary Sue already knows all of this information about Gary Stu.  The reader doesn't, though, so one might think that dialogue is a good place to sneak that in.  It's not a good idea, though, because it sounds stupid.  If Mary knows all of this, Gary wouldn't tell her again.  He'd have no reason to repeat himself. 

Look, I made a list of people who enjoy reading "as you already know" type infodump:

1. ...

So, infodump=bad.  Fine.  How do you avoid it, then?  Sometimes a reader needs to know some information in order to understand the book.  There's nothing wrong with that.  At least, there's nothing wrong with it as long as you don't infodump.

You need to decide what information is crucial to your story.  Do we need to know that the main character's best friend committed suicide a month before the story opens?  Probably.  Do we need to know that best friend's favorite color?  Probably not.  Take a good, long look at your story, and the information you're considering.  If the story makes sense without including that information, don't include it. 

The trick, then, to including that information is to sneak it in.  You can't disguise infodump, but you can include that same information in smaller tidbits.  It's like putting grinding up a baby aspirin and putting it into applesauce.  A baby wouldn't take a whole pill, but if you smash the medicine into tiny pieces and put it in something tasty, they'll never know it's there.

Same thing with writing.  We need to know some backstory, or something about your setting/characters/plot?  Stick a line here, a hint there.  A non-obvious reference in dialogue, as long as you aren't getting back into "as you already know" territory.  A little bit of information here and there isn't infodumping, and it's a million times more pleasant to read.  And you still cover the same info.   

When sneaking that info into your story, though, be careful to continue to show everything, instead of telling.  More on this here.

In summary, nobody likes long, boring infodumps.  There are better ways to show that information (keyword: show) without intruding on the narration.  Because it's not about you, as the author.   It's about the characters.

PS: Shipping wars are still happeningNow that all my OTPs (the ones that were included to start with, anyway) have been eliminated....ahem.  But there's still time to vote if your favorites are still there.  I've predicted from the beginning that it'll come out to Johnlock (not canon? phsaw) vs. 10th Doctor/Rose.  
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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Why We Love Loki

For some, one of the great mysteries of mankind is the fact that Marvel's Loki probably has more fangirls than all of the other Avengers combined.  Many people can't understand this.  After all, he killed 80 people in two days, right?

And yet, there is that population of fans who find themselves strangely fond of this "villain".  If you aren't sure why, here is an explanation.  If you are already in Loki's Army, well, then here's a tribute to his...Lokiness.  And also, what writers can learn from him about character creation.  Because this is a writing blog, after all.  And we here at The Epic, The Awesome, and The Random are rather fond of Loki ("we" = Annie).

Note: This post is burdened with glorious spoilers about the ending of Thor.

1. Let's get the most obvious thing out of the way first: Tom Hiddleston.  The man Tumblr worships.  The original "Extremely Photogenic Guy".  The guy who can go viral on Youtube with a video of him packing a suitcase.  The guy who is so polite and gentlemanly, he probably thanks the ATM for giving him money (not my information--a "Hiddlesfact".  Becase those are obviously always entirely true).  There was one big reason he was picked for this part, and it's that he's awesome at it.  Originally, Joss Whedon wanted to have two villains in The Avengers, but after seeing Hiddleston's ability to completely become Loki in Thor, he decided against it.  He's an awesome actor that can show every ounce of depth that exists in a character.  Kristen Stewart, are you taking notes?

2. Odin, the God of Terrible Parenting.  I am of the belief that Loki wouldn't have fallen as far as he did (That was bad word choice, I know.  I probably just offended both the Loki fandom and the Sherlock fandom at the same time.  Too soon, too soon.)  have descended into villainness if his adoptive father hadn't given him the final (metaphorical) push.  Let's look at Odin's track record (quotes paraphrased by yours truly):

Odin: Both of you [Thor and Loki] were meant to be kings.  Except you, Loki.

Odin: *rides grandson (Sleipnir) into battle against Frost Giants*

A typical Asgardian family argument: Thor: *angst angst* Aaaargh! 

Odin: Oh, Loki, I see you're having an identity crisis and hanging by one hand off a bridge?  Well, you still aren't good enough! 

Loki: Something's wrong with me.  I'm cursed.  What's wrong with me?
Odin: JK LOL, I'm not your father.  I kidnapped stole you from Laufey. 
Loki: Wha--
Odin: *takes a nap*

Seriously, Odin.  If he had been a little more supportive towards Loki, Loki might not have wanted to go attack Earth in The Avengers.

3. In the beginning of Thor, the hero/villain roles are somewhat reversed.  Thor is an arrogant jerk, and Loki is the likable, reasonable one.  Thor is eager to go smash some bad guys around, not really caring that it'll start a war in which fellow Asgardians--and possibly his friends and family--will die.  Loki urges him against it, and when he can't stop Thor, slips Odin a little note about the plan.  Loki goes to Jotunheim to protect his brother, and gets Odin's help to stop Thor's stupidity.  (Can anyone tell that I can't stand Thor until he goes to earth/Midgard?) 

And what, exactly, does he do in this movie to make him a villain?  In fact, not much.  He lets Laufey in, but then he kills him, so that sort of negates itself.  He takes the throne, but Thor's on Earth and Odin is in a coma, so who else would take it?  In the end, the only evil thing he does is send the Destroyer after Thor.  Other than Thor, though, I don't think this action hurts anyone (other than damaging a few buildings, perhaps).  I'm not sure this single action is enough to justify calling him a villain in this movie.

4. He saves Odin's life.  Of course, he's the one who let Laufey in to kill Odin in the first place, but still.  Which begs the question...did Loki plan to let Laufey in and then kill him all along, or was it a spontaneous decision?  I like to believe the former.  I think he felt a little hurt that Odin didn't believe he was a worthy king, and wanted to prove himself.   

Rainbow Bridge?  Rainbow Road?  Anyone?
5. He won in The AvengersOh, you thought the Avengers won?  Nope.  Think again.  Consider this: Loki doesn't really care about Earth.  Why should he?  All he wants is to win Odin's favor and be respected in Asgard, and let everyone know he is a perfectly fit king.  But he can't get to Asgard since the Bifrost was destroyed (so how did Thor get to Earth?  I have no idea...), so he needs another way to go.  So he comes up with a foolproof Machiavellian plot: he'll try to take over Earth, which Thor cares about.  Thor will defend Earth.  If Loki wins, he gets control of Earth and gets to rule people, and is now free to use its resources to get back to Asgard.  If he loses, he gets taken back to Asgard by Thor.  Tony Stark was never more wrong than when he said "There's no version of this where you come out on top."  Um, no matter what happens, he wins.  Oh, Joss Whedon is definitely tricky....  There's a full, more in-depth article on Loki's victory here.

This is especially true when you think about Nick Fury's line "Then why do I get the feeling [Loki] is the only one of us who wants to be here?"  Loki let himself be captured.  Remember, in that Germany scene, when he transforms from his Asgard-style self, all decked out in cloak and helmet and scepter, into his Midgard suit/scarf self?  Unless I'm missing something, I see no reason why he couldn't have changed back into the Asgard form any time he wanted, and have access to his weapons.  But he didn't, because he wanted to be taken back to Asgard.

6. He is so often on the verge of tears.  Did you catch this while watching the movies?  He spends a lot of time on this line between crying and composure.  Or just plain being evil, but with watery eyes.  Tom Hiddleston says: “All of his villainy comes from an emotional place. He’s heartbroken. His whole life has been a lie. He’s born as a cast out child to this monster. He was then adopted, he was then lied to and betrayed. And yet, he has an enormous style and elegance and a grace whether it’s a genetic inheritance or some natural predisposition. But if you’re going to destroy the universe you might as well look good doing it.” 

Basically, Loki has a tragic life and is stylish.  We just plain feel bad for him.  He's going around beating up Avengers, but he's...crying?  This pain is at the core of him, and it's what separates him from the rest of the pack of "bad guys".  Most of us can't relate to a desire to take over the world or kill people, but we know these base emotions and can connect.

Underneath that in-control exterior is a little boy who wants to be loved.  All he wants is acceptance from his father.  To not always be in Thor's shadow.  To not be "another stolen relic".  To have an abudance of pudding.  

7. And the second part of this quote: style.  Let's face it--would Galbatorix be a more fan-loved villain if, in the Eragon movie (I know, I know--bear with me), he hadn't been rather bald and unmemorable (not to mention unintentionally amusing)?  If he had been the more dashing, younger villain like I imagined him, he might be easier to connect with.  But he's hard to like--unlike Loki, with his shiny gold helmet and majestic green cloak.  Loki is tall (seriously--Hiddleston is well over six feet tall), exudes an aura of power, and has a massive amount of fangirls who find him quite handsome. 

8. He's quotable, and everyone likes a quotable person.  Or, okay, I like a quotable person.  Loki's most memorable monologue is probably the one in The Avengers, in Germany: "Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It's the unspoken truth of humanity, that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life's joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel."  And maybe it looks at humanity in a dark light and maybe it's twisted, but there is truth to it.  Not truth that we'd like to admit or embrace, and not truth that we can't avoid, but Loki's hit on humankind's nature to become a follower.

Also, Loki's monologue to he talking to Natasha, or himself?  Or both?  It seems that his words apply to both of them.  "Can you wipe out that much red?"  Loki, too, has red in his ledger.  (There's a graphic that does a better job showing this.)

And thus, a ship was born.
"I am Loki, of Asgard, and I am burdened with glorious purpose."  He's going to attack, but he's going to do so eloquently.  Of course.  There's no barbaric battle cry going on here.  (Again, let's contrast this with the Typical Asgardian Family Argument, above.)

And then there's the "If it's all the same to you, I'll have that drink now."  And my favorite, "Now can I give you a kiss?"  The second one is from a deleted scene, and he's poking fun at Thor.  I have no idea why that scene was ever deleted, because it does a great job showing their brotherly relationship.

9. Can we all just take a moment to appreciate how symbolic Loki's fall into space is?  Am I the only one who sees this?  I've never read about this anywhere else.  In Thor, Loki retains a bit of innocence.  He hasn't gone into full-on villain mode yet.  And then he's hanging from the Rainbow Bridge, and it seems like Thor and Odin would be able to save him.  He's still holding on, physically and emotionally.  But then something inside him lets go.  Literally and metaphorically, he falls.  (Can someone please explain to me why authors and movie directors love to throw beloved characters off bridges, ledges, buildings, etc.?)  The next time we see him, either in Thor's post-credits scene or in The Avengers, something has changed.  He has descended, now, into a more complete state of villainy.

10. Other random things: 1. Thor has spent quite a bit of time on Earth and has no idea how to use technology.  Loki has spent little time here, and already knows how to use complex gadgets.  2. His I-can't-believe-I'm-related-to-you-idiots face when Thor and Odin are arguing.  3. Steve and Wendy.  4. Alan Rickman, Owen Wilson, Joey the war horse, velociraptor, and other impressions.  5.  Random scarves.  6. He's still intimidated by his big brother.  7. "I do what I want."  8. The cane-flip.  9. "You can't kill an entire race."  "Why not?" 10. "And you can return Jotunheim to all its...glory."  11. FEELS.  ALL THE FEELS.  12. And more.

Don't get me wrong.  I don't condone murder or attacking other people's planets.  Many things that Loki does are not admirable.  What I'm trying to point out is that Loki is not your typical black-and-white villain.  He's a shade of gray somewhere in between (as is everyone, in fact).  He's more complex than your usual Disney-type I'm-evil-'cause-I'm-evil bad guy.  In Thor, especially, he's not even really a bad guy at all.   

Hiddleston, again, on Loki: "My job is to find sympathy where society refuses to. People like Loki are often locked up and judged and reviled—and rightfully, kind of, chastised and castigated and lionised. My job is to find the humanity in him. Ultimately, underneath all of Loki’s hatefulness and spite is a lost child. I have to get underneath the skin of that. He’s just someone who is so lacking in self-esteem, all he needs is true affection, I guess."

Loki is a fascinating character that is so often overlooked by moviegoers.  All some people see is the villainy, when there are so many layers underneath.  This, right here, is the key to character creation in any medium, whether it be a novel, movie, etc.  Layers, and the ability to connect with the audience.  To create a character that is larger than life and yet so very human, like Loki.  (And Loki isn't even human.) 

I'm eager to see what happens in the second Thor movie.  I've heard that Loki goes through some sort of redemption, which I'm happy with.

To be fair, there should be a portion on this chart for Darcy* and Lady Sif. 
Those two need to team up, because they'd be unstoppable together.
So, for all of you who don't understand why Loki has such a large fanbase--maybe you understand now?  Or maybe not.  Either way, then, here's my public testament to Loki's Army.  Because we all know that he's coming back in Avengers 2 with an army of fangirls.  Obviously.

(Anybody who has been paying attention to my posts lately--are you really surprised that I posted this?  It was coming.  It was inevitable.) 

Here's some extra stuff for Loki fans: 1. This fabulous Loki/Thor (but mostly Loki) music video set to Florence + The Machine's 'Breath of Life', which is an amazing, awesome song.  2. This fan-made trailer of the movie Thor, but from Loki's perspective.  Watch as Thor actually becomes the villain.  I am not responsible for the overload of feels that may come from these videos.

 I leave you with this GIF of Loki.  Loki everywhere.  And no, I'm not sorry about the amount of Loki love that goes on around here.


*Is anybody shipping Darcy/Steve Rogers?  As of right now, I ship it.  Marvel, make this happen.  (And if you have to ask what "shipping" means in this context, you'll never know.)
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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Prophecy, My Favorite Band Does Not Exist, and Necromancing the Stone Mini-Reviews

Prophecy (The Dragon King Chronicles #1) by Ellen Oh
The greatest warrior in all of the Seven Kingdoms... is a girl with yellow eyes.

Kira’s the only female in the king’s army, and the prince’s bodyguard. She’s a demon slayer and an outcast, hated by nearly everyone in her home city of Hansong. And, she’s their only hope...

Murdered kings and discovered traitors point to a demon invasion, sending Kira on the run with the young prince. He may be the savior predicted in the Dragon King Prophecy, but the missing treasure of myth may be the true key. With only the guidance of the cryptic prophecy, Kira must battle demon soldiers, evil shaman, and the Demon Lord himself to find what was once lost and raise a prince into a king.

Intrigue and mystery, ancient lore and action-packed fantasy come together in this heart-stopping first book in a trilogy.

Released: January 2nd 2013          Pages: 320
Publisher: HarperTeen                  Source: Library

I love how the tagline acts like having yellow eyes is something that would not make someone a terrifying warrior.  After reading the Pendragon series, anything with yellow eyes is terrifying.  Anything.   I think it's the ellipses that make the tagline a bit weird.  It's like that brilliance from My Immortal: "It was.............DUMBLEDORE!"*

Moving on.  This book has been described as Eon: Dragoneye Reborn meets Graceling.  Well, Eon is one of my absolute favorites and I enjoyed Graceling, so of course I had to get this.

The setting of this book was cool.  I tend to enjoy Asian-inspired fantasy novels, even though I've only read a few of them.  It makes for a unique twist on the standard high fantasy setting.  I also quite enjoyed the plot--though it moved way too fast, it was compelling.

My problem was with the characters.  I could never connect to them.  I felt like something about the way this was written kept me at a distance from them.  The narration gave us hardly anything about Kira's emotions.  I probably would've loved this book if I could have connected with the characters.

Similar Books: It has a similar setting (and other various similarities) to Eon: Dragoneye Reborn.  It also has the Asian-ness of Silver Pheonix, and reads a lot like Graceling.

My Favorite Band Does Not Exist by Robert T. Jeschonek

Sixteen-year-old genius Idea Deity believes that he exists only in the pages of a novel written by a malevolent, omnipotent author . . . and that he will die in chapter 64. Meanwhile, an older teen named Reacher Mirage sings lead vocals for the undercover rock band Youforia . . . a band that exists in Idea’s world only as an Internet hoax that Idea himself perpetuated. Then there’s beautiful and mysterious Eunice Truant, who links their destinies. When Idea and Reacher plunge into the reality of Fireskull’s Revenant, the twisted epic fantasy novel they’ve both been reading, chapter 64 bears down on them like a speeding freight train on an unstoppable collision course. Being trapped in a bad book can be a nightmare. Just ask Idea Deity.

Released: July 11th 2011          Pages: 336
Publisher: Clarion Books         Source: Library

Being trapped in a bad book can be a nightmare.  Just ask An--wait.  That's not my name on the inside cover?  Oh.  (And I'm still not convinced the back cover won't murder me.  I need to get this out of the house.)

So, again with the "being trapped in a bad book" thing.  Was Fireskull's Revenant, the novel "inside" of My Favorite Band Does Not Exist (I know, it's all very Inception), supposed to be a bad book?  I'd feel much better if the answer was yes, because I didn't enjoy reading about those parts.

I didn't particularly enjoy the rest of it, either.  The idea was awesome--a hugely popular band that's actually an internet hoax, a teenager with a disorder that makes them believe they are a fictional character, etc.  I loved the ways the stories intertwined, but that's about all I liked.

The rest of it was just...bizarre.  I have a high tolerance for weirdness in books, but there's weirdness, and then there's...random weirdness.  This weirdness made no sense and was jarring.  So many lines popped up like this: "Eurydice pulled a dodo bird burger out of the bag and tossed it on the bed beside him."  This was me:
Lines like this were incredibly disorienting.  I understand that this was an alternate reality, but this came out of nowhere and I spent five minutes being confused.  And also, the writing was awkward and repeated itself over and over.

Similar Books: It has the same ideas of disjointed reality as The Marbury Lens or Every Day, to a lesser extent.  It also reminds me of The Obsidian Blade.

Necromancing The Stone (Necromancer #2) by Lish McBride

With the defeat of the evil Douglas behind him, Sam LaCroix is getting used to his new life. Okay, so he hadn’t exactly planned on being a powerful necromancer with a seat on the local magical council and a capricious werewolf sort-of-girlfriend, but things are going fine, right?

Well . . . not really. He’s pretty tired of getting beat up by everyone and their mother, for one thing, and he can’t help but feel that his new house hates him. His best friend is a werebear, someone is threatening his sister, and while Sam realizes that he himself has a lot of power at his fingertips, he’s not exactly sure how to use it. Which, he has to admit, is a bit disconcerting.

But when everything starts falling apart, he decides it’s time to step up and take control. His attempts to do so just bring up more questions, though, the most important of which is more than a little alarming: Is Douglas really dead?

Released: September 18th 2012                Pages: 344
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company          Source: Library

My only major problem with this book was all the characters.  There were a lot of characters, and many of them I didn't remember from when I read the first book a year ago.  The author didn't really remind us who some of them were, which might have been nice.  And many of the names were very similar and got me confused.  Do we really need a Brid and a Bridget? 

Other than that, I enjoyed this book.  I like our main cast of characters--Sam, Ramon, and the others.  Who really interests me, though, is James.  He was a very well-developed character, and I'm eager to see how he changes in the next book.  And I felt bad for him.

This is a very mini review, because I don't have much else to say.  I enjoyed this.  It doesn't creep me out like it seems to do for other people, but I still like it.

Similar Books: It's got the same quirky paranormal feel as Infinity (which also involves the undead), or Thirteen Days to Midnight (though it's nowhere near as dark).  It also shares some elements with Raven's Gate.
Side Note: There's a massive shipping war (because March means everything that can go in brackets does go in brackets.  Even ships.) going on over at 3 Chic Geeks.  I'm telling you this because you NEED to vote for Eowyn/Faramir (who are currently getting crushed by 10th Doctor/Rose, which is not cool with me) and Clintasha, who is behind Romione right now.  Seriously, people?  Romione over Clintasha?  NO.  Not that most of my favorites haven't already been voted out (and Jon/Dany wasn't even an option!). 
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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Read? While We're Still Alive?

Every so often, I'll hear a writer say something along the lines of "Well, I spend all my spare time writing.  I have no time to read."

Whenever I hear this, this is my reaction:

Do these writers not realize how absurd they sound?  What they are actually saying is this: "I care about putting down words for people to read, but I don't care about reading them myself." 

I would be willing to bet a large amount of money that before you started writing for fun, you had already spent many hours reading for fun.  (And if you're a writer who doesn't enjoy reading, just leave.  Please, save yourself and the rest of us the trouble.  Just go.)  You probably starting writing because of your love for reading.  It makes no sense to give that up. 

It's like that scene from How To Train Your Dragon, where they're standing around the dragon book.
Tuffnut: Wait, you mean, read?
Ruffnut: While we're still alive?
Snotlout: Why read words when you can just kill the stuff the words tell you stuff about?

In this scene, Snotlout (Yes: there is a person named Snotlout.  And David Tennant voices his dad,  Spitelout.) imparts a bit of wisdom on us without even realizing it.  Don't tell him; he'd be mortified.  Say his line out loud.  Sounds dumb, right? 

This is what happens to writers who never read.  While they probably won't come out sounding like morons, their writing will suffer.  You will keep releasing words from your system, but you won't be putting any back in.  And while words are not like a waterfall--if you cut off the river, water will stop falling over the edge--your writerly brain still needs word input. 

Think about it: how much sense does it make to be a painter who never looks at paintings?  A musician or composer who never listens to music?  An architect who never admires a building? 

Reading has so, so many benefits to the writer.  It shows examples of how to make something work.  It can give examples of what not to do.  Subconsciously, you'll pick up new styles of ways of putting together a sentence.  The benefits are endless, and in the end, the only drawback is that you'll have less time for writing.  But would you rather have more writing time with a literature-empty mind, or a little less time with a mind brimming with words and sentences and stories?  There really is no question.

Reading also gives you a sense of what's out there, in terms of other books.  The market is saturated with picture books about children being raised by giant squid, or teenage guys who turn into a moose every half moon?  You may want to head another direction.

And besides, it's been scientifically proven that reading makes you more awesome.*

*This fact can be verified by my personal experiences and a large sample of statistical data that exists in my imagination.

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Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 13, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs... for now.

Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.

Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.

Released: January 10th 2012          Pages: 313
Publisher: Dutton Books                 Source: Library
First Look: ***** I was very, very wary of this one.  For starters, contemporary romance is not my thing.  Never has been, and probably never will be.  No, I'm that girl who would much rather watch Lord of the Rings than The Notebook.  And yet, I had heard so much about this book.  It seemed that every single person on Goodreads was singing their praises of this at the top of their lungs.  Which made me even more wary, but also made me curious.  Basically, I read this because I wanted to know what the big deal was, a curiosity that has gotten me into trouble in the past (Twilight, Across the Universe).  Besides, I already knew who was going to die, and I figured that would lessen my reading experience.  In that, I was so, so wrong.  More on this later.

Setting: *****
The setting played a bit of a role, but not much.  In this kind of book, that's perfectly alright.  John Green's descriptions of Amsterdam were lovely, and I felt like I was there.  And it made Imagine Dragons songs run through my head, which gave me mixed feelings when I finished this.  The night I finished it, I had been planning on going to an Imagine Dragons concert, but tickets sold out too fast.  But I digress.

Characters: ***** I thought knowing who died would make this book less impactful for me, but I was wrong.  Instead, I felt myself falling in love with this character, knowing they would die.  And I hated the knowing, but at the same time it made me treasure every word this character spoke, because I had no idea how much time they had left. 

First, let's talk about Hazel.  It's easier to talk about Hazel.  I liked her at first, but I wasn't truly loving her until this happened:

"Keep your s*** together," I whispered to my lungs.

For some reason this sentence endeared me to her more than anything else.  It shows a grim determination, a resilience.  I admire that.  I also could really connect to her love for books.  I know this exact feeling: "Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. And then there are books like An Imperial Affliction, which you can't tell people about, books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like betrayal.”   

And then there's Augustus.  Oh my gosh, Augustus.  One of the most adorable fictional boyfriends to ever grace this planet.  He was one of those characters where at the end of the book I thought "It was an honor to read about you, Augustus". 

*spoiler--highlight to read*When he died, I was heartbroken.  I literally spent fifteen minutes with my face shoved into a pillow, trying to convince myself to get over it.  I knew all along he was going to die, but that only made it harder.  I was falling in love with him, but my mind was screaming "Don't do it, Annie!  This won't end well!".  But I did love him, and the death was no less heartbreaking.  If anything, it was worse, because I knew it and yet it managed to take me by surprise.  I spent a long time trying to convince myself that I had heard wrong somehow, but I hadn't.  *end of spoiler* 

Both these characters were so incredibly real.  There was a brutal yet beautiful honesty to this book, and nowhere did that come through better than with the characters.

Plot: ***** Whhhhyyyyy?  John Green, why must you tear your readers apart this way?  WHY DID IT HAVE TO HAPPEN LIKE THAT?

Ahem.  While this book was slower than what I usually read, action-wise, I was glued to every word.  The beginning and middle were lovely, and Augustus and Hazel had a beautiful, tragic relationship.  I loved how much Hazel wanted to meet her favorite author, and how central that was to the plot. 

Augustus and Hazel's relationship was an excellent example of a situation where insta-love is, actually, appropriate.  It was a healthy relationship, and realistically awkward for people that have never met each other.  It fit the book, because both characters realized that they didn't have much time left, so insta-love was the only love they could have.  As much as I rant about how much I hate insta-love, it occasionally works.

It's been a long time since the ending of a book turned me from a rational human being into an incoherent slushpile of feelings.  *coughInheritanceTheSoldiersofHallaMonstersofMen*  This is noteworthy because, though it does happen, it does not happen often.

I'm not sure what it is about this book.  About the ending.  Something about it hits me way too close to home.  I can't describe the feeling, though I've been trying.  It's like John Green has slapped you in the face and yelled at you until you burst into tears, then hands you a tissue and a vat of ice cream.  It's a love-hate thing.  And no matter how hard I try to figure out what on Earth makes this book affect me so much, I can't do it.  I suppose, maybe, this book is utterly terrifying for teenagers.  It could happen to anyone, and whether consciously or not, you realize it.  It makes you aware of the ticking clock, and how at any second, the second hand could speed up.

Also, I feel like I'm obligated to do this: THE FEEEEEELS.

Uniqueness: ***** I don't read much of this genre, so I can't really speak for its uniqueness.  But I'll give it five stars because it certainly affected me in a unique way.

Writing: *****
What can I say that hasn't already been said?  John Green's writing makes you feel.  It's eloquent in a simple way.  Instead of me sitting here ranting, here are some examples:

“I believe the universe wants to be noticed. I think the universe is inprobably biased toward the consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed. And who am I, living in the middle of history, to tell the universe that it--or my observation of it--is temporary?” 

“I'm in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we're all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we'll ever have, and I am in love with you.” 

“But it is the nature of stars to cross, and never was Shakespeare more wrong than when he has Cassius note, ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves.” 

Likes: Why is John Green so awesome?  Not only does he write fabulous books, but he also makes awesome history videos and other random videos.  Also, he made a Starkid reference on live TV.  Did you catch that?  Starkid reference.  TV.  When THE Joe Moses was in the audience.

Not-so-great: Why does this The Price of Dawn book not exist in real life?  I want it to.  I would read it!  (I looked it up on Goodreads.  Just in case.)

Overall: I was cautious of this book and fully expected for it to not live up to its massive hype.  I was incredibly wrong, and I'm glad of it.  John Green has painted a beautiful and heartbreaking picture of teenagers whose lives are numbered, and love in the face of that tradegy.  Highly recommended.  PSA: If you start reading this and you don't like it, you probably won't care. But if you start reading this book and you're liking it, prepare yourself. Seriously. Brace yourselves...pain is coming. I am not joking. 

There is a perfect description of how it feels to read this book right here.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Mila 2.0 (Mila 2.0 #1) by Debra Driza

No one suspects what she's made of.

Mila 2.0 is the first book in an electrifying sci-fi thriller series about a teenage girl who discovers that she is an experiment in artificial intelligence.

Mila was never meant to learn the truth about her identity. She was a girl living with her mother in a small Minnesota town. She was supposed to forget her past —that she was built in a secret computer science lab and programmed to do things real people would never do.

Now she has no choice but to run—from the dangerous operatives who want her terminated because she knows too much and from a mysterious group that wants to capture her alive and unlock her advanced technology. However, what Mila’s becoming is beyond anyone’s imagination, including her own, and it just might save her life.

Mila 2.0 is Debra Driza’s bold debut and the first book in a Bourne Identity-style trilogy that combines heart-pounding action with a riveting exploration of what it really means to be human. Fans of I Am Number Four will love Mila for who she is and what she longs to be—and a cliffhanger ending will leave them breathlessly awaiting the sequel.

Released: March 12th 2013          Pages: 480
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (HarperTeen)         Source: ARC won through Goodreads first reads giveaway
First Look: ***** All I really needed to hear about this one was "girl android".  Thank you to Goodreads First Reads and Harperteen for sending me a copy.

Setting: *****
Much of this was set in Clearwater, Minnesota, which is indeed a real place.  I've never been there, so I can't nitpick anything about that specific town.  (Trust me--I enjoy nitpicking when it comes to books set in Minnesota.  I live here, so I had way too much fun pointing out Maggie Stiefvater's mistakes in The Wolves of Mercy Falls.)  My brief Google Maps stalking (can you stalk a town?  Is that a thing?) tells me that Clearwater does have the Dairy Queen that the characters went to quite often, so the author seems to know what she's talking about. 

My issue, though, is this and other authors' attitudes towards small towns, in Minnesota and everywhere else.  Everyone always hates living in the small town, and everybody can't wait to leave it when they graduate.  Why do authors have this impression?  I live in a small( 20,000 people small?) town in Minnesota.  And I like it, actually.  I don't have a pressing desire to get out and go to the city.  I don't believe my friends hate living here, either.  It annoys me that every single character hates their small town and wants to leave. 

Characters: *****
I will give the author some points for writing a love interest who is actually likable and decent and isn't either a jerk or a stalker.  He wasn't overly developed, but at least he and Mila had the beginnings of a healthy relationship.  Or as healthy as insta-love can be, anyway.

At the beginning, Mila bothered me.  Why did she hang around with Kaylee, who I absolutely hated?  Kaylee obviously wasn't a good friend, but Mila stuck around her.  I never got much emotion from Mila, and never got a good sense of her personality.  She seemed quiet and maybe a bit shy in the first part of the book, and daring for the rest. 

Kaylee and the others were not realistic at all.  No one says "Mila, that is so uncool."  That is a stereotypical "snotty popular girl" thing to say.  Kaylee was just one big walking stereotype, and I hated it.  It was absolutely ridiculous.  How do stereotypes like these pass for characterization?  Why do people just accept them?

Plot: ***** Again with the stereotypes.  The beginning was so cliché that for awhile I wanted to throw this book across the room.  The first hundred pages or so were maddening.  Quiet girl moves to dinky little Nowheresville, is "friends" with snotty girl, falls in love with the new popular hot guy...this book is hitting on every ingredient to the beginning of a bad paranormal romance.  You could separate this beginning and slap it onto countless other books and there would be absolutely no difference. 

 After the action finally started happening, the book got better and stopped making me angry, for the most part.  While the ending, especially had a lot of action, it all felt over-the-top.  I don't see why all those "trials" were necessary, and to me it didn't really make sense.

Uniqueness: *****The whole girl/robot thing was unique, but I can't forgive its stereotypical beginning. (see above)

Writing: *****
INFODUMP.  This book had one of the most blatantly obvious infodumps I've ever read.  We're going to tell her about her robot-ness through an iPod?  An iPod?  Really?  Was there really no better way to do that?  If I recall correctly, there were several other patches of undisguised infodump (just an FYI: disguised infodump is still infodump, and it's never okay). 
As for the rest of it, I didn't have any opinions about the writing.  It was just...there.  Neither annoying nor anything that particularly wowed me.

Likes: I could really connect with the horseback riding scene at the beginning.

Not-so-great: I wish the author would've delved more into the "What does it mean to be human?" question that the back cover mentions.  Mila hardly thought about it.  She spent more time thinking about why her mom lied to her than whether she was human or not.

Overall: The majority of this book ended up being just okay, for me.  The characters and plot were just "meh" after the first hundred pages or so.  And yet, this book doesn't get three stars, because I can't forgive it for its incredibly maddening stereotypical beginning.  I can't justify giving this book three stars when it started out making me mad.  I don't plan on reading the rest of the series. 

Similar Books: It deals with the I'm-part-machine (or I'm-not-quite-human-maybe) thing kind of like in The House of the Scorpion (okay, he's a clone, but still) and like Incarceron does, to a small extent.  It also reminds me of Unearthly for some reason.
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Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Poison Throne (The Moorehawke Trilogy #1) by Celine Kiernan

A friend.  A father.  A kingdom.  Which would you sacrifice?

Wynter returns from a five-year exile in the bleak Northlands to find her beloved homeland in turmoil. King Jonathan's civilised, multicultural realm is no more; the gibbets and cages have returned. Days of laughter, friendly ghosts and gossipy cats remain only in Wynter's memory - the present confronts her with power play, dark torture chambers, violent ghosts, and cats (those still alive) too scared to talk to humans. The Inquisition is a real and present danger.

Crown Prince Alberon is missing. There are murmurings of a 'Bloody Machine' of untold destructive power. And as Wynter and her friends, Prince Razi and the mysterious Christopher Garron, seek to restore stability to the fragile kingdom, risking death at every turn, Wynter is forced to make a terrible choice.

Set in a fantastical medieval Europe, this is the first book in a compelling trilogy of court intrigue, adventure and romance. It draws the reader in from the very first sentence and doesn't loosen its grip until the last.

Released: September 8th 2008       Pages: 512
Publisher: Orbit                             Source: Library

First Look: ***** I picked this up because it's a lesser-known high fantasy, and historically I've done well with those.  I'd just like to point out, though, that the main character, Wynter, is presumably the girl featured on the cover.  Wynter is described as being fifteen years old, with red hair.  That girl in the picture does not look fifteen to me, and she's not a redhead.  How hard is it to find a model that looks at least acceptably similar to the MC?

Setting: ***** What is this "historical fantasy" you speak of?  People keep shelving this as historical fantasy but it doesn't seem all that historical to me.  They mentioned real places at times, but to me it felt no more historical than the Ranger's Apprentice books, which pretty much use real places with made-up names.

My main problem, though, was that there was absolutely nothing memorable about it.  Could I feel the tension across the kingdom?  No, not really.  Apparently this place was starting to get uneasy but I never got that impression.

Characters: ***** I am incredibly divided about this.  On one hand, I didn't like Wynter.  I couldn't, because there wasn't anything to like.  She didn't do anything.  She was the main character, but she was a bystander.  She was content to let Christopher and Razi do everything as long as they placated her with a brotherly pat on the head (literally) every chapter or so.  I felt some emotion from her, but there was no depth, no personality.  At times she acted like she was a middle-aged woman, and at other times she acted like a six-year-old.  I couldn't stand her father--he made way too many sexist comments.  All geared towards his own daughter.  Seriously, Lorcan: man up and stop with the "Where is our breakfast, woman?" lines.  (That is not an exact quote because I couldn't find it, but trust me, the real quote is no less rude.) 

On the other hand, Christopher and Razi!  I loved them!  Each one was interesting, separately, but their relationship dynamic was awesome (I will admit that for awhile I totally thought they were "together").  Both of them had distinct personalities and complex motivations.  If I would've written this story, I would've ignored Wynter completely and made this into a dual POV between Chris and Razi.  I could tell there was a huge amount of backstory between them, and this book only scratched the surface.   

Plot: *****
I felt like this book was about a hundred pages too long and, like with the characters, focusing on all the wrong things.  So much of this plot was compelling--Razi's abrupt ascension to crown prince, Chris's story, the going-insane-but-maybe-not king, brewing rebellions...  And yet, the vast majority of "conflict" in this book was Wynter running around being depressed because "Lorcan's sick!  He's gonna die!  Just kidding, he's better!  No, he's not!  Yes he is!  No he's not!"  Each of the emotional Wynter/Lorcan scenes were drawn out longer than they needed to be, as in: "Look, everyone!  There's emotion here.  This is sad.  Are you sad yet?  BE SAD!"

Also, I don't understand what is going on with Alberon.  Apparently he loved the king and the king loved him, and he was generally well-liked throughout the kingdom.  Why was he suddenly disinherited?  It felt so random, to me, because I had no idea why it happened.  It made no sense.

Uniqueness: *****
It contained enough familiar elements to make fans of this genre feel right at home, but it also had enough of its own unique twists to stand out.

Writing: *****
Again, I'm divided.  There were some lines that I read twice just for the sheer poetic pleasure of them.  It had some truly beautiful moments, and right now I'm regretting returning my library copy, because now I wish I could share some of these lines with you.

On the other hand, there were some glaringly obvious typos.  One paragraph had more than one missed quotation mark and at least one misplaced punctuation mark, if I remember correctly.  It was bad.  I had to get out my pencil and fix them. 

Likes: Nothing not already mentioned.

Not-so-great: This book needs to come with a warning on it.  The back cover mentions the "Bloody Machine".  The king and Lorcan talk about it over and over, about how horrible it is and how it should've been destroyed but apparently wasn't.  It is highly dangerous and presumably puts the entire kingdom at risk.  When it was first mentioned, I was curious. 

But the book never, ever says what it actually is.  I kept waiting, and waiting, and whenever Lorcan mentioned it I hoped that this would finally be the time someone would finally tell me what it was.  But that never happened.  This was me, the entire time:*
You NEVER FIND OUT what the machine is.  It's so incredibly frustrating.  The author is needlessly drawing her readers out and promising an interesting reveal, but it's a false promise. 
Also, why does everyone have names like Wynter and Razi and Alberon, and then there's...Christopher?

Overall: This is an incredibly lengthy review.  Good grief.  Anyway, I don't know what to say about this book.  Christopher and Razi were awesome characters with interesting stories, but the MC, Wynter, was quite boring.  There were plot elements that were quite compelling, but others were drawn out and overdone.  It did have some truly lovely moments, all in all, but overall I have to give it three stars because my opinion is divided in half.  Also, it's super frustrating because you NEVER GET TO FIND OUT WHAT THE STUPID MACHINE IS.  Recommended?  I'm not even sure.  Make of this review what you will.

Similar Books: It had the court politics of Falling Kingdoms and Grave Mercy, and had a similar feel to Brightly Woven and The Cry of the Icemark (both of which feature main characters like Wynter Moorehawke).
*Can we all please just take a moment and look at his face right after he shouts?  It's like "RAGE...I am a monster after all."  It's like he's a bit afraid of the way he just lost control.  And then people wonder why he has so many fans.  This is why.  It's these tiny things that truly make the character. 

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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Synopsizing (Or, The Art of Writing A Synopsis Without Dying Too Much)

If you're an author pursuing publication, there's a good chance you'll have to write a synopsis of your novel at some point or other. 

What is a synopsis, you ask?

Synopsis: (n) a terrible beast from the darkest depths of Tartarus that causes a writer to forget everything that happened in their book. 

A synopsis is, quite simply, a highly condensed version of your novel.  It tells what happens on the most basic level of your novel, without any embellishment.  It's a way of giving agents, editors, etc. an overview of your novel without actually reading the novel.  It's longer than a blurb than you'd see on the back of a book.  It ranges from around 500 words to a few pages, depending on the requirements of whoever is making you write a synopsis.

Because you probably would never do it unless someone made you. 

I realize that for some writers, a synopsis is an excellent planning tool, and it's probably actually easier to write before you write your novel.  But for now, we'll talk about synopsizing after the novel is done.  I call it synopsizing because I think it sounds cool.

To write a synopsis, you'll simply sit down and open up a blank document.  And then your brain will promptly forget everything that happens in your novel and you'll be like "Uh...what does my main character do first?"  It's true.  Something about the synopsis makes you lose track of that 75,000-word beast that you spent countless hours on.  So then you'll have to check your novel again, remind yourself of the plot, and then keep moving forward.

The first sentence of your synopsis should introduce your main character, and tell a little about him/her.  I wouldn't recommend starting with any sort of teaser, or clever first line.  Just state your character's name and what they want.

The first sentence of my synopsis is "Sixteen-year-old Davi spends his life on the outskirts of society in the kingdom of Acrimor, stealing dragon eggs." Which, I suppose, would never win any awards, but it serves multiple purposes. It sets up the setting, introduces my MC, and tells what he does, hints at his story goals (which are then stated in the next sentence), and even tells a little about his personality ("outskirts of society" suggests that he is not an extrovert). Your first sentence should do the same. Set up the story. It should be compelling, but don't go overboard, either.

From there, it's easy enough, in theory. You proceed to write what happened in your novel. Everything has to be condensed, though. Many things you'll have to skip over entirely. You probably won't have room for even your subplots--just stick to the main plot. Only mention characters that are essential to the main plot.

About midway through writing your synopsis, you'll probably think of an excuse to walk away and do something better.    
"Is it madness?  IS IT?" 

And sometime later, after you've done whatever you convinced yourself was more important than this, you'll come back to the synopsis.  You'll keep plugging away at writing whatever is in your story.

If you're having trouble, my best advice is to write everything that happens in your book.  Yes, I realize that I just got done telling you NOT to write anything and keep it to the minimum, but sometimes that's hard.  What I ended up doing was write everything, and then start cutting things.  My first draft of the synopsis was 750ish words, and I took out everything that was unnecessary until it was down to 500 words.

The huge trick to writing a synopsis is that you're summing up AN ENTIRE NOVEL in just a few words.  There is absolutely no space for unneeded words.  Every single word has to pull its weight.  Actually, every word has to pull more than its weight.  Say you have a 75,000-word novel.  You're cramming it into a 500-word synopsis.  In a way, then, each word has to pull the weight of 150 words.  Which can kind of feel like this:
There's actually no CGI here.  (And no, that wasn't sarcasm.)
But wait.  There's more.  We must go deeper.  Not only does your synopsis have to tell your story with each word pulling the weight of 150 words--it also has to tell the emotional side of your story.  How do your characters grow, emotion-wise?  How do these feelings change throughout the novel?

Because, when you think about it, this emotional growth is the crux of your story.  Without it, you have an episode of MacGyver: there's a plot and lots of cool stuff happens, but in the end MacGyver is just the same old MacGyver.  He never changes, and there's no character arc throughout the story.  MacGyver is not so much a character as a vehicle through which plot twists and daring escapes are possible.  And as enjoyable as an episode might be, we want more from a novel.  So when you're writing about the latest event in your story, be sure to include your characters' reactions, motivations, and/or feelings. 

At this point, you might be thinking "How am I ever supposed to fit all that into 500ish words?"  I know.  It's hard.  You can do it, but it'll probably take several rough drafts and much frustration.  I shall now illustrate some common emotions that come from writing a synopsis:

Denial: "I don't want to do this.  Nope."

False security: "IcandothisIcandothisIcando--LOL, no."
Skepticism: "People actually do this?"
Accept fate: "It is over.  It is done."

The key to finishing your synopsis is to reveal the ending.  I know you have a really cool twist that comes at the end and you don't want to spoil it.  A synopsis is not the place to worry about spoilers.  You want editors to know about that cool reveal, because it'll get them more interested in the book.  Don't hide anything. 

When you're a published author, a synopsis is often how you sell your book before it's written.  You hand it over, saying, "This is what I want to write.  Te gusta?"  I KNOW.  It doesn't go away, even when you're published.  It's just going to keep coming back. 
If you've never written a synopsis before, a logical question to this post would be "Is it really that bad?"  Well, I'll let you decide that one for yourself.  It's definitely challenging in a different way than writing a novel.  I didn't really enjoy it all that much, though it does give some new perspective on your novel.

As in any situation involving GIFs, these GIFs are a dramatization.  Probably.  Maybe.
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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Prodigy (Legend #2) by Marie Lu

June and Day arrive in Vegas just as the unthinkable happens: the Elector Primo dies, and his son Anden takes his place. With the Republic edging closer to chaos, the two join a group of Patriot rebels eager to help Day rescue his brother and offer passage to the Colonies. They have only one request—June and Day must assassinate the new Elector.

It’s their chance to change the nation, to give voice to a people silenced for too long.

But as June realizes this Elector is nothing like his father, she’s haunted by the choice ahead. What if Anden is a new beginning? What if revolution must be more than loss and vengeance, anger and blood—what if the Patriots are wrong?

In this highly-anticipated sequel, Lu delivers a breathtaking thriller with high stakes and cinematic action.

Released: January 29th 2013          Pages: 374
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile           Source: Library

This book's cover is gorgeous.  I love the color scheme, and basically just everything about it.  (S.H.I.E.L.D. logo, anyone?)  It fits the novel's mood so perfectly.

Upon opening this book, I found myself confronted with something awesome: half the text is in blue.  I don't know why I love this so much.  But how do I get my book printed in colors?  You'd think it would be hard to read, but it actually isn't.

When I read Legend, I didn't care for June as much as Day.  I liked her well enough, but for me, Day was who kept me really invested in the story.  In Prodigy, though, I think there's a lot of growth in June.  Her loyalties are constantly tested, and she reacts in a real, human way. 

Day, though, has been my favorite all along.  I love how his backstory shapes him, as a character.  His voice comes through so well in his point of view chapters.  (Another awesome part of this book, by the way.  A split POV that actually differentiates between the two characters' voices.)  The way he cares about his family and June makes him quite endearing. 

My only complaint is that the plot is on the generic side.  "Let's go take down the dystopian government!"  Because we've never heard that one before.  Still, what it may lack in uniqueness it makes up for in terms of awesome characters.

And now, the part I've been not wanting to talk about, yet is at the heart of my feelings about this book: THE ENDING.  That ending turned me into a mess of feels.  I can't even...  How can you do this to us, Marie Lu?

It's like that moment in Pokémon: The First Movie when Ash turns to stone.  And then Pikachu starts crying.  It's not even possible to handle a crying Pikachu.  Just like I can't even handle the ending of this book right now.

I respect Day so, so much for the choice he made.  It's horribly sad, but my respect for him has now gone through the roof.  Marie Lu, I'm waiting on the finale now.  I want him to be happy again!

Overall, I very much enjoyed this.  It lacks a little originality, but the characters are fabulous.  And the ending... *sob*  I really, really, really need the third book.  Why must I wait until 2014?

Similar Books: It has the revolutionary dystopian feel of The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Always War.
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