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Monday, April 29, 2013

Light (Gone #6) by Michael Grant

It's been over a year since all the adults disappeared. Gone.

In the time since everyperson over the age of fourteen disap-peared from the town of Perdido Beach, California, countless battles have been fought: battles against hunger and lies and plague, and epic battles of good against evil. And now, the gaiaphage has been reborn as Diana's malicious mutant daughter, Gaia. Gaia is endlessly hungry for destruction. She yearns to conquer her Nemesis, Little Pete, and then bend the entire world to her warped will. As long-standing enemies become allies, secrets are revealed and unexpected sacrifices are made. Will their attempts to save themselves and one another matter in the end, or will the kids of Perdido Beach perish in this final power struggle?

Light, the sixth and final book in the New York Times bestselling Gone series by Michael Grant, creates a masterful, arresting conclusion to life in the FAYZ.

Released: April 2nd 2013                         Pages: 411
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books          Source: Library

When my library copy of this came in:

I've been with this series since 2009.  And I've loved every bit of it.  First, though, we need to talk about that cover.  Where did they find nice, clean clothes?  I doubt it's easy to find clean clothes in the FAYZ (though I really like Diana's top).  They also look a little too clean in general to have come out of the FAYZ.  Also, I have no picture here, but I'm pretty sure Edilio is on the back cover.  He should've just taken over the entire front cover because he is gorgeous.  Ahem. 

A tagline for the first book was This is the way the world ends.  Well, this is the way the FAYZ ends. And it's epic.  And tragic.  And creepy and scary and exciting and everything you'd expect from a Gone novel.  It has dark moments, and moments where the true heroism of the characters shines through. 

It takes a few chapters to works its way to full steam ahead, but once it gets going, it doesn't stop.  At this point, I was completely addicted to reading it, because I wanted so badly to know how they escaped.  If they even escaped at all.  And if they did, how they would recover, how they'd function in their world again. 

There are some truly marvelous character moments.  This book stretches everyone to their limit, and Michael Grant gave us some awesome moments of depth for many of the characters.  I love the evolution of Sam and Astrid's relationship.  Sam's ever-present guilt.  Dekka's undying, unrequited love.  Diana's acceptance of her mistakes.  Edilio's emergence as a calm, quiet, steady leader. 

One of my favorite moments is Caine's redemption. 

“Sam’s probably out there somewhere being his usual heroic self,” Caine said. “I can’t let that boy save the world all alone. I’d never live it down.”

Caine has been a nasty person for as long as we can remember.  And yet, there's something he does at the very end.  Something that affects everyone in the FAYZ.  A burden that he takes for all of the rest.  I think, more than anyone else, Caine was the true savior of the kids of the FAYZ.  He rescued them from a future they didn't deserve, and I respect him for that.

The ending is truly sad.  None of these kids will ever be the same again, and they know it.  They've seen too much ever to truly fit into their world again.  They'll always be haunted by it, and the beauty of this series is that I feel for them.  I've grown attached to all of these characters, despite their sheer numbers. 

This was an awesome finale to the series.  It didn't disappoint.  I'm sad to leave this series behind, and all its characters.  Maybe I'll have to do a reread.

Random thought: Diana and Loki should form an Awkard Mother's Day Club. Diana and Gaia, and Loki and Sleipnir could celebrate together and bask in all the awkwardness.

Similar Books: It has the kids-in-enclosed-space aspect of Lord of the Flies, Monument 14, Variant, and more.  It's reminiscent of The Marbury Lens in that it's gritty and sometimes you think "This author is just plain sick."  It has a Left Behind vibe to it (the YA version, at least...I've never read the adult version of the series).
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Friday, April 26, 2013

The Death Catchers by Jennifer Anne Kogler

On her fourteenth Halloween, Lizzy Mortimer sees her first death-specter.

Confused at first, Lizzy soon learns from her grandmother Bizzy that as Death Catchers, they must prevent fate from taking its course when an unjust death is planned-a mission that has been passed down from their ancestor, Morgan le Fay. Only, Lizzy doesn't expect one of her first cases to land her in the middle of a feud older than time between Morgan le Fay and her sister Vivienne le Mort. Vivienne hopes to hasten the end of the world by preventing Lizzy from saving King Arthur's last descendant-humanity's greatest hope for survival. It's up to Lizzy, as Morgan's earthly advocate, to outwit fate before it's too late.

With its unique spin on Arthurian legend, this fresh, smartly written story will stand out in the paranormal genre.

Released: August 16th 2011         Pages: 352
Publisher: Walker Childrens        Source: Library

First Look: ***** Arthurian legend?  I'm all in.  Not many YA/MG books feature it, so I was curious to see how this turned out.

Setting: ***** There wasn't anything particularly memorable about it.  I got a good sense of the small-town feeling the author was trying to convey.  Other than that, the setting doesn't play a huge role in the story, and it's a bit generic.

Characters: ***** Lizzy was likable enough.  Maybe a bit on the generic side, again, but I still cheered for her.  She had the typical unnoticed-girl-from-the-sidelines thing going on, but she was written in an honest and real way.

Bizzy annoyed me more than anything else.  I understand that she was supposed to be eccentric, but she came off as too eccentric to seem realistic.  I couldn't take her seriously.  I didn't really understand any of her motivations. 

Drake was an interesting love interest.  Again, a little on the generic side, this time with the Troy Bolton-style popular-athletic-guy-with-secret-artsy-passion thing.  Still, I liked him, and I could see why Lizzy was attracted to him.

Plot: ***** More of a 3.5 star plot.  It was interesting, but it just didn't grab me like I wanted it to.  Lizzy didn't actually do much in terms of being a Death Catcher--she only used the ability twice, as far as I can tell.  Also, Arthurian legend didn't play into it as much as I had hoped.  It was definitely there, but only one aspect of it.  Then again, I was kind of hoping that Bradley James-style Arthur would come waltzing in, which he did not.  I had no logical reason to expect that, but it might've been fun.

Uniqueness: ***** The part about the Death Catchers was unique, but the romance aspect was very generic and followed a much-overused storyline.

Writing: *****
This whole book was written as a letter from Lizzy to her teacher.  This worked sometimes, but not others.  Each chapter began with an explanation of a literary term, like metaphor, trope, etc.  They were supposed to fit with the chapter, but many times the connection felt like a stretch.  Also, most of the readers of this book have enough education to know what these words mean.  It felt a bit condescending, actually. 

Here's a line that made no sense: "I pressed my elbows against my chest..."  I tried that.  It doesn't work.  All I end up doing is slamming my upper arm into a place a girl would rather not be hit.

Likes: The Arthurian aspect was interesting, but I just wish we could've seen more of it.

Not-so-great: How are there 17th century gravestones in northern California?  Also, how are there gravestones with Arthurian legend names on them, and nobody notices?  How is Lizzy in high school and has never heard of any of these legends before?

Overall: It had some decent points: likable characters (for the most part, and if not a bit generic), a dash of Arthurian legend, and a unique premise.  The author felt the need to define literary terms that most readers would already know, though, and some parts were quite generic.  The plot didn't compel me like I hoped it would.  3.5 stars, but I'll round it up to 4.

Similar Books: It's a modern-world story with classic mythology like the Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series, connects modern teens with old legends like Endymion Spring and Dreaming Anastasia, and is a bit reminiscent in tone and humor of the Children of the Red King series.  It features a teenager with the ability to stop/prevent death like Thirteen Days to Midnight.

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

When Death Becomes Cheap

George R. R. Martin.  Joss Whedon.  Shakespeare.  Sean Bean.

All of these writers/directors have one thing in common: they are notorious for killing off beloved characters.

And we all know how it feels to have our favorites die.  It's not fun, and we might consider writing a rather angry letter to the author. 

This is probably the quote that George R. R. Martin has on a post-it on his computer monitor. 

And we also know how it feels to have our favorite characters "die", but they're not actually dead.  "Pulling an Aragorn", this is called. We think they are, but then they are either revived, or the author simply reveals that they were, in fact, not dead.  (By the way, spoilers abound in this post.  For a few different things.)

Though we're happy that our beloved character is alive, we're mad.  And more than a little cheated.  Because isn't that what a fake death is?  The author, who is pulling the strings of both the characters' lives and the readers' feelings, has all the power.  He/she "kills" the character, and causes pain for the readers.  Then the character comes back.  And so, in a sense, the readers have suffered for nothing. 

To clarify: this particular situation is not a "suffered for nothing" situation.  The fandom suffers, yes, when they aren't shipping mugs.  But they do it for John.
This is why I feel like death has become so cheap in fiction.  It's so easy, especially in sci-fi and fantasy, to find ways to bring the characters back.  Some people (like me, for example) get to the point where when a character dies, we don't even care.  We know that it's probably not a real death, so we don't get too worked up.  We only feel anything at all over it when we know the dead character will stay dead.

This sounds awful, but I actually prefer it when fictional death is final.  Yes, it isn't fun, but it doesn't make me feel cheated.  I don't feel like the author was just doing it for the reaction.  I don't feel like the death was played for the emotions, and then negated for...wait for it...more emotions.  Or simply the convenience of having that particular character around.  The death is cheap--it lacks any real depth. 

Joss Whedon is promising "death, death, and more death" in Avengers 2.  If he kills Loki, well, Loki's army might just have to mobilize.  Not that Loki hasn't already been "killed off" once.  Oh, I know it's tempting but PLEASE, DON'T DO IT!
The other thing with fakeout death is that it's no longer a surprise.  Especially in fantasy.  (If it ever was a surprise.)  Most readers of fantasy are, well, readers of fantasy.  Meaning we've read quite a bit of it, and it gets harder and harder to surprise us.  We know all too well how easy it is for magic to revive people, to create illusions of deaths that never happened, or whatever else an author can come up with.
The thing writers have to do is ensure that our characters' deaths are not gratuitous.  If they die, it had better be for a good reason.  If they come back, it had better be an incredibly good reason.  Otherwise:
I love how desk-flipping has become a completely acceptable thing in internet culture. 
To clarify: "good reason" does not mean the death has to be heroic, or even a "good death" (whatever that means).  One of the major characters in my book (a protagonist and close friend of my MC) dies, and it isn't heroic.  The death is the final straw for my MC.  He needed to reach a low point before he could make his redeeming decision.  George R. R. Martin kills off lots of characters for good reason without heroic deaths.  In fact, the more noble the character, it seems, the less honorable the death.  Ned Stark, probably the most honorable character of the whole series, got his head lopped off.  The infamous Red Wedding robbed us of both Lady Catelyn and Robb Stark, and neither really had a chance.  (And Grey Wind.  My thought process was "Seriously?  The direwolf, too?  That's just mean.")    
A well-placed death in a novel, providing it fits with the tone of the book, can be used to great effect, and is an excellent character development tool.  (I said it.  Death is a tool in fiction, everyone.  Especially if you're Markus Zusak.  So sue me.)  The Avengers, anyone?  The Avengers couldn't really start working together until the wake-up call and fangirl sobfest that was Agent Coulson's death.*  The team needed it.  And they also needed a way to establish the fact that people without superpowers can also be heroes.  Case in point: Coulson, and also that guy in Germany that stands up to Loki.  
'I Just Can't Wait To Be King' is Disney's rather evil version of foreshadowing.  Just...think about it.  I thought I'd throw that in, even though it isn't a fakeout death.
Your readers will know if you throw in a death just to make someone die.  They'll be able to tell the difference--trust me.  And if you have a fakeout death, it's often a good idea to foreshadow the fakeout a little bit.  Not enough to make it obvious, but enough so that when all is revealed, your reader will say "How did I not see that coming?" 
In short: fakeout deaths can feel really cheap, like you're cheating your readers and pulling their strings in a non-subtle way in order to force emotion of out them.  Fakeout deaths should be used with extreme caution, and only with very good reason.  Just like any fictional death.

 *Okay, okay, so maybe this wasn't a legitimate death either, as one quick look at Clark Gregg's Wikipedia page shows that Coulson is in that new S.H.I.E.L.D. show and apparently Not Dead, and the closer you look at it, the sketchier the death actually is.  See this awesome article: "Agent Coulson Isn't Dead, Yo".

PS: THERE IS A THOR 2 TRAILER.  Yes, I know!  It's exciting!  And LOKI!  (Yes, we've established by now that this is what I was watching for in the trailer.)  Can we all take a minute to look at his hair and say "Um...what happened?"  Are there no barbershops on Asgard, or is Loki trying to be Skrillex or something?  I'm sure Tumblr is probably imploding right now.  Here's some awesome fan reactions to the hair.  Anyone feel like discussing this trailer with me?  And I'd just like to point out that, while Asgard probably doesn't have magazines, they seem to have given Real Power some reading material in his cell.

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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Darker Still (Magic Most Foul #1) by Leanna Renee Hieber

I was obsessed.

It was as if he called to me, demanding I reach out and touch the brushstrokes of color swirled onto the canvas. It was the most exquisite portrait I'd ever seen--everything about Lord Denbury was unbelievable...utterly breathtaking and eerily lifelike.

There was a reason for that. Because despite what everyone said, Denbury never had committed suicide. He was alive. Trapped within his golden frame.

I've crossed over into his world within the painting, and I've seen what dreams haunt him. They haunt me too. He and I are inextricably linked--bound together to watch the darkness seeping through the gas-lit cobblestone streets of Manhattan. Unless I can free him soon, things will only get Darker Still.

Released: November 1st 2011          Pages: 317
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire            Source: Library

First Look: ***** This has been on my to-read list ever since it came out.  It looked a bit creepy.  And it had a purple cover.

Setting: ***** 
I got some sense of the Victorian society they lived in, but I wish I would've been more immersed in it.  It wasn't a setting I could sink myself into, imagine myself right in the center of it all.  It took me a few chapters to figure out that it wasn't happening in London, but New York.  Even though the back cover says Manhattan--I must've missed that.  I pretty much assume that every novel in this time period is set in London unless told otherwise (and I almost always assume correctly).  I wish the author would have clued me in sooner, especially since I was just in New York the day before starting this, so it should've been easy for me to pick up on the exact location.

Characters: *****  Natalie was likable, if not very three-dimensional.  I wanted her to succeed, but I never got to the point where I felt like I knew her, that she was a real person.  I was instantly interested when I found out she couldn't speak, as I've always wanted to see how an author would handle a character without this ability.  (If the back cover had said anything about this, I might have picked up this book sooner.)  I was actually a bit disappointed when she *spoiler--highlight to read* regained this ability. *end spoiler*  Not that I didn't want her to have this ability, but the resolution was too convenient and made her previous struggles with it seem false and cheap.

Lord Denbury was too perfect.  Edward Cullen Syndrome, everyone.  At first, it made sense, because he was this supernatural figure calling out from within a painting.  At that point it seemed logical for him to project an image of perfection.  Once we got to meet the real Denbury, though, he still showed no flaws.  No signs of human imperfection, which is utterly unrealistic and downright annoying.  Writing lesson: Flaws in characters are a billion times more interesting than strengths.  Flaws make the character come to life.  Anyone can have strengths, but what makes the story is the weaknesses.  This story would've been so much cooler if he'd shown some actual, say, creepiness.  If Natalie had reason to doubt him.  If it had been less Twilight and more Phantom of the Opera.

Finally, Mrs. Northe was not so much a person as an information dispenser.  That's all she ever did.  I wish she would've had more of an actual role in the story.

Plot: ***** It was highly formulaic.  Natalie would have a strange encounter with the painting.  She would enter the painting and drool over  meet with Denbury.  The antagonist would do something to freak them out.  Natalie would go to Mrs. Northe, who would explain everything and infodump for a chapter.  Rinse, lather, repeat.  This formula made the book quite predictable.

I get the impression that some of this story was supposed to be creepy, but I wasn't creeped out in the slightest.  Not even a twinge.  I'm not sure whether this is on my end, or the book's end.

And then there was the all-to-easy resolution of *spoiler--highlight to read* Natalie's inability to speak.  First, she couldn't, and then she just...could.  I have absolutely no experience with this subject, but it seems that she relearned more quickly than was realistic.  I felt like it was just getting to hard for her to write or sign things, and so...this happened.     

Uniqueness: *****
It had a bit of a Phantom of the Opera feel to it, except that Phantom is creepy and this, well, isn't.  It also had some overused cliches, like the all-other-girls-are-shallow thing and my-supernatural-boyfriend-is-perfect thing.

Writing: *****
Way too many words were spent on Denbury's perfection.  Do we need to spend paragraphs and paragraphs recounting his gorgeousness every single time he appears in the story?  It got very annoying, very fast.  At first it made sense, since Natalie was being supernaturally compelled towards him, but later it was redundant and unnecessary.

Other than that, I don't recall any other major complaints with the writing. 

Likes: Nothing not already mentioned above.

Not-so-great: Nothing not already mentioned.

Overall: This book had a cool premise, but it ended up being just okay.  I couldn't connect with Natalie, Denbury was way too perfect, and Mrs. Northe was nothing more than an infodump machine.  The plot wasn't as creepy and haunting as the back cover promised, and one major conflict of Natalie's was resolved in a too-convenient manner.  Dialogue with Denbury was often interrupted to elaborate on his perfection.  Overall, three stars.
Similar Books: It has a strange/otherworldy picture like Through Her Eyes, has a Victorian setting with added supernatural elements like Clockwork Angel, an attractive, seemingly perfect love interest who's not quite of this world like Immortal and Dreaming Anastasia, and feels a lot like Prophecy of the Sisters.
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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Virals (Virals #1) by Kathy Reichs

Tory Brennan, niece of acclaimed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan (of the Bones novels and hit TV show), is the leader of a ragtag band of teenage "sci-philes" who live on a secluded island off the coast of South Carolina. When the group rescues a dog caged for medical testing on a nearby island, they are exposed to an experimental strain of canine parvovirus that changes their lives forever.

As the friends discover their heightened senses and animal-quick reflexes, they must combine their scientific curiosity with their newfound physical gifts to solve a cold-case murder that has suddenly become very hot if they can stay alive long enough to catch the killer's scent.

Fortunately, they are now more than friends--they're a pack. They are Virals.

Released: November 1st 2010          Pages: 448
Publisher: Razorbill                         Source: Library

First Look: ***** I like teens-gain-mutant-powers-and-become-an-inseparable-team stories, so I thought this would be one of those.  Turns out, it isn't.  It's mostly about saving a puppy, avoiding a debutante party, and referencing Temperance Brennan over and over.  (Also, who wears a white shirt on a forest escapade?)

Setting: ***** Here's the area where I'm willing to praise this book.  I could tell that the author had put a lot of thought into the setting.  It was obvious that it was planned out, and I got a very nice sense of what kind of place it was.  I appreciate an author who doesn't throw in setting as an afterthought, like so many authors seem to do.

Characters: ***** Has the author even been near a teenager lately?  It doesn't seem like it.  Some of the attempts at "authentic teen dialogue" sounded awkward and forced.  Tory is what, fourteen?  She didn't act like it.  She acted more like an adult with degrees in forensic science and biology that was somehow still in high school.  I never got the sense that she was close to Ben, Shelton, and Hi.  All she ever did was order them to commit crimes.  Not to mention the fact that she was an obvious example of the average-looking-girl-that-everyone-ignores-suddenly-becomes-beautiful-to-popular-guy cliche.

And the boys themselves--I couldn't distinguish one from the other.  They didn't have distinct personalities.  I feel like I could have taken a line from any of them and give it to one of the others, and it would still make perfect sense. 

Also, why was Karsten their enemy and then suddenly their friend, but then *spoiler--highlight to read* was conveniently killed so he could no longer help them? *end spoiler* 

Plot: ***** This plot consisted of three things: committing crimes (such as breaking-and-entering), angst over a debutante party, and going on and on about how hot the school's hottest guy was.  Oh, and there was a little bit of a murder mystery as well.  It was well over 250 pages into the book before we finally got to see the effects of the parvovirus, which I had assumed, given the book's pitch, was the main point of everything.  Apparently not. 

Also, does nobody in this book understand how the American justice system works?  Breaking and entering is a punishable crime.  Even if you do it for a "good reason", and you gain incriminating evidence that somebody is a murderer from it, it's still a felony, and you're still going to be punished for it.  It doesn't take a Harvard law degree to know that.  So why did these kids get let off the hook for it?  Why did Shelton, Ben, and Hi never object when Tory did her nightly "Guys, I'm basically ordering you to go and commit a felony" routine?

Uniqueness: ***** Let's see...secretive research base?  Weird virus/drug thing?  Scary wolfish dogs?  Oh hello there, The Hounds of Baskerville.

Writing: ***** The voice was an obvious attempt at an "authentic teen narration style".  The problem when authors try too hard to be authentic is that it never, ever works.  It doesn't sound good.  It sounds immature and like some sort of robot spewing slang terms every so many words.  I couldn't get past the awkward teen voice.

And then there were the other awkward sentences, in general.  Plenty of run-ons and other examples of grammar that was just plain incorrect. 

Apparently, it's necessary for this character to insult basic societal necessities like industry and factories.  I remember at least one point where a factory was mentioned, to which Tory replied "what jerks" (in reference to the fact that the factory was on an island or something).  Excuse me?  Now everyone who puts up a factory is a jerk?  Yes, maybe they had to cut down some trees, but there was no mention of pollution, or dumping waste in wetlands, or otherwise harming the environment.  America 101: We need factories to make things.  Most of the things Tory had were made in a factory.  There is nothing inherently wrong about a factory.  (As you might have noticed, the author hit on a pet peeve of mine, and managed to make me angry every chapter or so over this same subject.)

Likes: Um...yep, I have nothing.

Not-so-great: Why would they need a special app in order for the whole group to communicate?  Have they never heard of group texting?

Possibly my biggest pet peeve of this book: the author assumed everyone knows who Temperance Brennan is.  Well, I don't.  Something to do with Bones?  That's the extent of my knowledge, but the author kept on slamming me over the head with references and I just thought "Stop talking about Temperance already!  I don't care!" Is this the same syndrome Cassandra Clare has, the stop-milking-that-cow-already thing?

Overall: Pro Tip: If you don't have a good idea of how teens speak, interact, and behave, please just do us all a favor and DON'T WRITE A YA BOOK.  Anyway, this book was more teen drama and murder mystery than sci-fi adventure.  The main character didn't act at all like a teenager.  I don't know or care who Temperance Brennan is.  The main character's friends weren't at all distinguishable from one another.  It's a generous 1.5 stars, so I suppose I'll have to round up.  Two stars.

Similar Books: Everything about this book screams Maximum Ride!  It had the teens-banded-together feel of Variant, the I'm-not-quite-human aspect of Mila 2.0, and slammed you over the head with an environmental message every so often, like Hoot.  And it really, really made me think of The Hounds of Baskerville.

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire #3) by George R. R. Martin

Of the five contenders for power, one is dead, another in disfavor, and still the wars rage as violently as ever, as alliances are made and broken. Joffrey, of House Lannister, sits on the Iron Throne, the uneasy ruler of the land of the Seven Kingdoms. His most bitter rival, Lord Stannis, stands defeated and disgraced, the victim of the jealous sorceress who holds him in her evil thrall. But young Robb, of House Stark, still rules the North from the fortress of Riverrun. Robb plots against his despised Lannister enemies, even as they hold his sister hostage at King’s Landing, the seat of the Iron Throne. Meanwhile, making her way across a blood-drenched continent is the exiled queen, Daenerys, mistress of the only three dragons still left in the world. . . .

But as opposing forces maneuver for the final titanic showdown, an army of barbaric wildlings arrives from the outermost line of civilization. In their vanguard is a horde of mythical Others—a supernatural army of the living dead whose animated corpses are unstoppable. As the future of the land hangs in the balance, no one will rest until the Seven Kingdoms have exploded in a veritable storm of swords. . .

Released: January 1st 2000          Pages: 1177
Publisher: Bantam                       Source: Library

First, I love the title of this book.  The paperback cover is mediocre (the Spanish one is awesome, though), but the title is fabulous.  Also, 1177 pages is a lot of words, which means it took me forever to read this.  That doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it, just that it had 1177 pages of small, cramped words. 

It's about time Joffrey got what was coming to him.  I feel kind of bad saying that about a 12-13 year old kid, but then I think about how incredibly bratty and terrible he is, and Ned Stark...and then I'm completely cool with what happened.

This is not an easy book to read.  Not only is it long, it's also fiercely complicated.  There are at least half a dozen different point of views that George R. R. Martin switches around to during the story.  It's like braiding--you only actively use one strand at a time, but you still hold the others, and they're still an integral part of the braid.  A Song of Ice and Fire is a story-braid with a zillion strands. 

It's also difficult sometimes to get over the content of this book.  People die in this book.  That isn't a spoiler--George R. R. Martin is famous for his use of the "anyone can die" trope.  No character, no matter how loved and central to the story, is safe.  The question with character death becomes not "if", like with so many other books, but "when", "who", and "how".  (I read somewhere that this series is like Twitter.  There are 140 characters and bad things are always happening.)

And then THE RED WEDDING.  This Red Wedding bingo accurately describes my feelings.  Denial + pain + anger + no, no, no, no, no! + shock + Come on, the direwolf too? = Red Wedding feels.  You know how this series works?  The good guys/girls die, and the evil, selfish, and cruel people prosper from the deaths and live on and increase the number of evil people.  I now understand that eCard that floats around the internet and says "I hope your wedding ends better than Edmure Tully's."  What is it with weddings in this series?  And I will now never be able to have red in my wedding colors.

Speaking of weddings...I loved Tyrion already, but his treatment of his...situation...with Sansa increased my respect for him exponentially.  He could've been a jerk about it, but he was sensitive to Sansa's feelings instead. 

Also noteworthy, though, is this series' treatment of women.  I'm not the first to bring up this complaint.  There are many good, strong female characters that get time in the spotlight--Catelyn Stark, Arya Stark, DAENERYS TARGARYEN, to name a few.  But this positive aspect is horribly outweighed by the fact that the author is apparently incapable of bringing a female character into a scene without making some reference to female body parts/intimacy.  Not only is it annoying to read (especially if the reader is female, like me), but also completely unnecessary, immature, and downright degrading.  I refuse to believe that this is how real men think all of the time.  (If I'm wrong about that, I think I'll go become a nun.)

And finally...what happened to Rickon Stark?  Did he just disappear off the face of the earth, or what? 

Other than my one major complaint, I enjoyed this.  Er, appreciated it, becomes sometimes it becomes hard to enjoy when your favorite characters start dying.  But my major favorites are still alive, so... *crosses fingers*

I leave you with this GIF of Jon Snow being skeptically majestic, much like Thorin Oakenshield.

Similar Books: Eragon, the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Possibly Dragons of Autum Twilight? aGoT is much more political than Eragon, and much less quest-y than LotR. Its only similarities to DoAT are that they're both high fantasy and they both have this gigantic epic tome feel to them.  It has a similar premise and feel to Falling Kingdomsand kind of The False Prince, though TFP is a million times tamer (and smaller).  It also reminds me of the Seven Realms series.  (Why is seven the magic number of kingdoms/realms?) 
Side Note: I've been MIA this past week.  For good reason, though--I spent a few days in New York City (did you see people with sousaphones on the Today show?  That was us.), then had a section speech meet, and then piles of make-up work.  Here are some various thoughts:
1. I saw Phantom of the Opera on Broadway.  It was incredibly awesome.  I felt like this the whole time:
2. '21 Guns' by Green Day is a great song. 
3. A fan of A Song of Ice and Fire is apparently incapable of going past the HBO headquarters in NYC without saying "Brace yourselves...HBO is coming."
4. Ferris Bueller's Day Off is a terribly overrated movie, and I didn't like it at all. 
5. Times Square is like being at Buffalo Wild Wings, in that there are screens everywhere.  Except in NYC they're a hundred times bigger.
6. War Horse, the movie.  Great movie, but they killed Tom Hiddleston!  And Benedict Cumberbatch and Hiddleston were in the same movie, which is kind of cool.
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Sunday, April 7, 2013

How Not To Pitch Your Novel

Many writers want advice on how to write a compelling query letter, or how to pitch their book so that it stands out.  While I'm not exactly an overflowing fountain of query advice, sometimes I find it easier to work with what NOT to do.  And so, here is a list of how not to pitch your novel:
  • "It's the next Twilight/Hunger Games/Harry Potter/Game of Thrones/whatever.For starters, it is not Hunger Games.  It is The Hunger Games.  And it's not Game of Thrones--it's A Game of Thrones.  (There is a bit more leeway here with aGoT, because Game of Thrones (minus the A) is the name of the show, but if you're pitching a book, use the A.  It's not that hard.)  Even aside from getting the titles correct, though, it still sounds dumb.  How are you going to guarantee that your book will sell as well as any of these?  You have no grounds on which to say that, other than that you think your book is awesome.  Of course you do.  Agents and publishers don't care what you think of your book. 
  • "It's A Game of Thrones (or anything else) for girls."  No, no, no.  Stop being sexist.  Guess what--I found this great book, and it's a perfect version of A Game of Thrones for girls.  I mean, I'm a girl, and I love it.  Know what it's called?  A GAME OF THRONES.  Seriously, stop genderizing your books.  Girls can and do enjoy things like aGoT.  We can also like The Avengers and Percy Jackson and the Olympians and The Lord of the Rings and other things that tend to be labeled for male audiences.  Adding some romance doesn't make it more feminine, just as adding more violence doesn't make a book more masculine.  The story is what it is, and if you call it "for girls" or "for boys", you come off as sexist. 
  • "It's the Bible meets Battle Royale meets Amelia Bedelia."  Wait...what?  It's good sometimes to compare your book to similar works (as long as they aren't too similar).  Going for something like "it's like Eragon meets The Hunger Games" or "Iron Man meets Sherlock", but don't go too far out.  The works mentioned in the last two examples at least have some things in common, even though they are pretty dissimilar.  If you start getting all over the place like my first example, though, nobody is going to know what to think of your book.  This isn't a good thing, in this case.
  • "It's my first novel." Don't say this.  Maybe it is your first novel, but agents don't need to know. You want your novel to be judged on its merit alone.  You don't want anyone's predetermined notions of a first-time author getting in the way.
  • "It's like The Hunger Games (or whatever else)" when really, it isn't.  Let's stick with THG as an example, because people describe nearly everything as "like THG" these days, it seems.  Books like Matched, Under the Never Sky, or even Incarceron.  Before you describe your book as "like THG", read it.  Matched is marketed as similar to THG, but it isn't.  THG is full of violence and social commentary, where Matched is just a love story in a kind-of-dystopian-but-not-really society, Under the Never Sky is an extended journey sequence through another kind-of-dystopia-but-not-really, and Incarceron blends elements of steampunk, medieval fantasy, and sci-fi.  These books don't actually have that much in common with THG.
  • "If you like ___, then you'll like my book."  Again, here's another comparison.  This time, though, the problem is not in the comparison itself.  It's in the way it's worded.  It's saying I will like the book.  This might just be a personal thing I have, but I hate it when someone tells me how I'll feel about something.   Note: this isn't the same as saying "my book will appeal to fans of x and y".
  • "My novel provides a unique perspective on society through its gorgeous prose."  Stop complimenting yourself.  Don't call your prose "gorgeous".  Again, agents don't care what you think about your book, because of course you're going to like it.  Learn the difference between describing the book and praising the book.  Describing the book sounds more like "it's a post-apocalyptic struggle for power" or "a mysterious love story", where praise sounds more like "a compelling sci-fi" or "thorough characterization".
  • "It's unlike anything you've read before."  Um, how do you know?  How do you know what this agent has read?  Unless you have stalked this person and know the title of everything they've ever read, you have no basis on which to say it's unlike anything else, no matter how unique your book is.
  • Begin the query letter with "Yo Adrian" or "to whom it may concern", etc.   Okay, "Yo Adrian" might be acceptable if and only if a) the agent's name is Adrian and b) said agent is a huge fan of Sylvester Stallone.  Otherwise, find the agent's name.  And use "dear", or nothing at all.  Make it formal.
  • "My beta readers think my book is awesome, as do my best friends, my mother, and my dog."  The agent doesn't care what these people think.  These people like you, so of course they're going to like the book.  That doesn't mean it's publishable.
There it is.  This is nowhere near being a complete list.  Anyone else have anything to add?

(And yes, this is slightly reminiscent of a 2011 post but not really.)
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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Query Letter Sendoff Feels

I just sent out my first query letters the other day.  My first ones ever.  This means that my book has escaped its little bubble of isolation on my laptop, and is now the world...where people can reject it all they want. 

Some of you probably know the feeling.  On the outside, you're like this:

But on the inside, you're more like:

Or this:  
I'm not really sure what this has to do with querying, but for some reason I feel like it fits.
And you're wondering, what are my book's chances?  There are a lot of other books out there.  How do I know mine will get anywhere?
You really, really want to hear back from that agent.  It's like this picture, below.  Ron is obviously the writer and Harry is the average human being.

Because why are we doing this anyway?  Writing?  What?  Fabricating things that aren't real onto nonphysical pages with nonphysical ink on a screen...and then emailing that nonreal thing over a nonreal wire to somebody that, for all you know, isn't even real to begin with? 
No, it's Sparta.
But then you're all "Is it madness?  IS IT?  But Annie, just because it's happening in your head doesn't mean it isn't real!  Dumbledore said it, so it must be true."  And I agree with you.  Writing is a nonreal and real thing.  It's both.  It's reality inside not-reality inside reality.  It's realityception.
Of course, there's always the possibility that I'll become as popular as Suzanne Collins or somebody like that.  Because, obviously, my book is awesome.  What else?  So then, the query process should be more "Chill out, everyone.  I got this."

Unfortunately for us, publishing is competitive.  My imaginary calculations have shown that I have a marginally higher chance of selling more copies than Harry Potter than I do of claiming the Iron Throne.  (Except that your chance of selling more copies than HP constantly decreases because more books are published, but your chances of claiming the Iron Throne increase because George R. R. Martin likes to kill off all his characters all the time.  Red Wedding, anyone?)  Publishing may be coming, but first, rejection is coming.  Brace yourselves...rejection letters are coming.  When you play the game of queries, you win or you...don't win.  I don't think any of us will die.

But you'll keep at it anyway, because, let's face it, you really want to get published.  And so the games begin.
What kind of scary thing did I just volunteer for?

I've done it, though!  I've gotten the book out the door, and that's the first step.  Many writers never reach this point, so I'm ahead of some people.  I've accomplished the book and the query, at least. 

Sending your much-loved book out into the world is a bit scary.  It's like you were hogging it all to yourself, and suddenly now others have access to it. 

All of you wonderful followers (and random non-followers...who should follow because it makes me happy) should wear your pajamas inside out or carry your rabbit's foot or four-leaf clover or whatever good luck charm you have, because I'm told there's also an element of luck in this.  It's true--not only do you have to have a good book, but you also have to find the agent who just so happens to like your good book. 

Ultimately, I'm hoping I can at least get a partial request or something.  It'd be nice if someone was:
Except they'd be about a million times less creepy about it. 
If not, well...


Until I hear back, though, I'll be sitting here, waiting.


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