blog about reviews writing

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Amusement 3.0

Here at The Epic, The Awesome, and The Random, we have a long-tradition that happens every 30th of May.
Well, we=just me.  And long standing=this is the second time I've done it.  Details.
Anyway, I have a tradition of posting amusing pictures on this day.  Because a) I can and b) hopefully it will amuse someone.  (I'll warn you--it's very fandom-oriented.  If that makes any sense.)
I have to believe this conversation happened.  Otherwise, the picture makes no sense.
I have a weird hope that someday, someone will say the original quote back to Tom Hardy and he'll just look at them with a straight face and say "That quote is the bane of my existence."
I'm irrationally entertained by pictures of dinosaurs with modern things.
This can never be unseen.  And Thor is basically a Disney princess.
The two best things to come of The Hobbit movie: 1. Memes about Thorin being majestic.  2. Thranduil: Middle Earth's most embarrassing father.
I'm also more amused than I should be by taking song lyrics and medieval-izing them.
I shouldn't be laughing.  But hey, this fandom is insane anyway.
"I am Loki, of Asgard, and I am burdened with the glorious props department!" 
 And...there it is.
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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Things People Need To Stop Saying To Writers

There are things that we, as writers, are sick and tired of hearing.  Every time we hear them, we want to fly into a rage, or perform a facepalm of epic proportions.  Or both. 


Okay, so I have a little pent-up frustration here.  I'm going to go ahead and post anyway because a) I want to b) the First Amendment says I can.

For each situation, I'll give an "Acceptable Writer Response" (AWR).*  It's the response that writers will often feel thing giving when people say these things.  Often, it's just a case of throwing their own logic right back at them.

*Disclaimer: If you want to keep your friends, then don't actually use the AWR.  You've been warned.

1. When are you going to find something real to occupy yourself with?
So, let's say you like to read books.  Guess what?  Somebody wrote those books.  Somebody along the lines made money off the sale of that book.  Somewhere along the line, then, the author got royalties from that book, related to the transfer of the book from the publisher to your hands.  This money is real.

Also, to a writer, their fictional worlds and character are real.  We make them real by writing about them.  They are as real to us as any other person.  If you don't understand that, you never will. 

Acceptable Writer Response: When are you going to ask me a real question?   

2. You're still working on that book?
To clarify: "How's that book going?"=acceptable question.  Insinuating that this book has taken an absurd amount of time to write=not acceptable.  Writing a book takes a long time.  It takes longer for some people than others.  I can't stand it when people are surprised that I haven't finished my book in two months.

AWR: You're still asking me that question?

3. Writing isn't a real job.
Oh, yeah?  What about all those authors that, I don't know, MAKE THEIR LIVING off writing?  Many authors sell enough books to support themselves.  I don't know how you can call that "not a real job".

AWR: By that logic, neither is directing a movie or recording an album.

4. Oh, I'm a writer, too.  I wrote a short story once.
Here is how I define a writer: someone who writes for personal enjoyment or for a writing-related profession on a regular basis.  See also: not the person who asks this question.

AWR: I played baseball once.  Am I a baseball player?

5. I'm sure I could write a wonderful book, if I actually had the time to sit down and do it.
I actually wrote an entire article about this awful phenomena.  You can read it right here.  In short: no, not everyone has it in them to write a book.  Writing a book is harder than non-writers think it is.

Also, this is a bit offensive.  Oh, yeah, you could just do that thing I've spent hundreds of hours working on, if only you just had some extra free time?  That's all it takes, and you could do it too?  No.

AWR: *Just walk away.  Don't honor this with a response.*

6. To be successful as a writer, you have to be, like, J.K. Rowling or Stephen King or something.
Yeah, okay.  And what they probably said to Rowling was "You have to be Hemingway", and they told Hemingway "You have to be Dickens", and they told Dickens he had to be Shakespeare. 

AWR: I'm actually a clone of [insert successful author name here].  So yeah, actually, I am already successful.

7. Put me in it!
Have you never read a book, or what?  Have you ever considered the amount of trauma a fictional character goes through?  If their life was happy, there would be no story and nobody would want to read about the character.  So no, you don't really want to be a fictional character.

AWR: Yeah, want to be a Confederate foot soldier in my gritty Civil War novel?
Or, alternately: Get in line.

8. Why aren't you published yet?
Contrary to popular belief, you can't become a published author by simply churning out a book and mailing it to a publisher.  It's a lengthy, often difficult process.  Not every writer gets published.  Not every writer even wants to be published.

AWR: Trick question.  I actually write under the pseudonym George R. R. Martin/James Patterson/Danielle Steel.

9. When you're published, I'll be first on the list for an autographed copy, right?
Published authors don't, actually, have unlimited access to free copies of their book.  In many cases, they have to buy copies like everyone else.  Besides, if you really wanted to support that author, you'd go out and buy a copy.  Then maybe the author would be a little more willing to sign it.

AWR: Well, if you keep saying things on this list,

10. I had an idea for a book once.  It's about X and Y who *launches into fully detailed description of plot*
Pro tip: Just because we write doesn't mean we want to hear your plot ideas.  Trust me.  For one, just because we're writers doesn't mean we automatically want to hear every single plot idea you've ever had.  We have more ideas than we can handle on our own.

AWR: *launch into more detailed synopsis of current story (ensure this takes at least 15 minutes)*

11. Oooh, so you'll be the next Shakespeare!"
I hate how people are always calling something "the next Harry Potter" or "the next Hunger Games" or anything on those lines.  You can't be "the next", because it's already happened, and the same thing won't happen twice. 

AWR: No, I won't be the "next Shakespeare", even if I did believe in reincarnation.

12. You write fiction novels? defines novel as a "fictitious prose narrative of considerable length and complexity, portraying characters and usually presenting a sequential organization of action and scenes". Did you hear that? Fictitious. There is no such thing as a novel that isn't fiction. Saying "fiction novel" is like saying CIA agency. It's redundant.
13.  I wrote a book.  Will you read it?
Just because we write books doesn't mean we're in the business of editing for free.  Or even reading random people's unpublished novels at all, for that matter.

AWR: Um, are you willing to edit my 250,000-word beast in return?

14. Where do you get your ideas?
For the writer, ideas just happen.  There's no explanation.  They just come.  They are a way of life, and we can't control them.

AWR: Oh, I don't know.  I eat an omelet.**

17. What's your book about?
This might sound like an innocent question, and it is.  But don't be surprised if you don't get a straight answer.  The problem is, whatever we say will sound weird.  If I say I'm writing a young adult high fantasy, people will either think I'm dumbing down my writing because it's YA (anyone who thinks that needs to have their head dunked in a cold tank of water.  Just sayin'.), or won't even know what high fantasy is.  If I say I'm writing about a boy with forgiveness and trust issues who runs amok (unsupervised!  Gasp!) around a made-up kingdom with a less-than-six-months-old dragon, a street thief, and an unemployed farm girl and steals dragon eggs, people will think there's something wrong with me.

AWR: [insert the most absurd, weird, obscure combination of experimental genres you can think of]

18. I write fanfiction too!
I have 99 million problems with fanfiction and this is definitely one of them.  There is more that you can write than fanfiction.  Writing fanfiction and writing an original novel are two very different things.  With fanfiction, the characters are already there and developed, and all you need to do is build on what already exists.  With a novel, you have to start from scratch, which is harder than it sounds.

AWR: No. 

19. I have a great idea for a book.  You could write it and we could both share the profits.
Um, it doesn't work like that.  Besides, wouldn't there be an awfully unfair division of labor?  The writer is doing all the work in this situation, and thus deserves all the credit.

AWR: Yeah, sure.  Just make sure the sharing works out to me getting everything.

Let's be honest.  Nothing makes writers angrier than hearing one of these things.  So, non-writers, let's eliminate them from everyone's vocabulary forever, shall we?

Has anyone ever said one of these things to you?  How did you respond?  How did you want to respond?

**For those of you who don't know: once, an interviewer asked Robert Downey Jr. how he prepares for an acting role.  His response, in the typical Tony Stark RDJ style was "Oh, I don't know.  I eat an omelet."

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Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Monstrumologist (The Monstrumologist #1) by Rick Yancey

These are the secrets I have kept. This is the trust I never betrayed. But he is dead now and has been for more than forty years, the one who gave me his trust, the one for whom I kept these secrets. The one who saved me . . . and the one who cursed me.

So starts the diary of Will Henry, orphaned assistant to Dr. Pellinore Warthorpe, a man with a most unusual specialty: monstrumology, the study of monsters. In his time with the doctor, Will has met many a mysterious late-night visitor, and seen things he never imagined were real. But when a grave robber comes calling in the middle of the night with a gruesome find, he brings with him their most deadly case yet.

A gothic tour de force that explores the darkest heart of man and monster and asks the question: When does man become the very thing he hunts?

Released: September 22nd 2009         Pages: 447
Publisher: Simon & Schuster             Source: Library
First Look: ****This interested me because the premise reminded me of Frankenstein.  Since I quite enjoyed Frankenstein, I decided to give this a go.  Besides, I'd heard good things about it.

Setting: ***** 
Let's hear it for Victorian novels set in America!  Yay!  It's something you don't see as much of.  Most YA Victorian novels seem to be set in England, specifically London.  Teenagers right now seem to have something of a fascination with London.  Or maybe I'm getting this impression because many of both my real life and Goodreads friends are Whovians...and Sherlockians...and Harry Potter Fans...and Directioners (I squirm just typing that word...bleh).  All of which revolve around London.

Anyway, I liked the feel of the setting, especially with the time period.

 Characters: ***** I applaud Rick Yancey for writing about a main character who isn't a teenager (he's twelve).  Most YA authors tend to shy away from that, but not in this book.  I wouldn't give this book to a twelve-year-old, anyway.  Nope.  Will Henry was still likable, though, and I loved the fact that he was younger.

His relationship dynamic with the monstrumologist had complexity to it, and it looks like there's even some backstory we don't know about yet.  Will seems to respect the monstrumologist, obeys him diligently, and strives to please him.  And yet he says that he never loved the monstrumologist.  There's more here than meets the eye, and I'm curious to see how this develops in the next book.

Plot: ***** Though perhaps a little slow at the start, this version of the man vs. monster storyline has its share of twists.  You think there's nothing else around the corner, but...there's something hiding there.  You think this certain character is a creeper, but harmless, and then you're proved wrong.

There was a decent level of emotion behind it, too.  All throughout, Will Henry had to reconcile his present experiences with his past, and try to deal with his backstory.  (He's a tough little twelve-year-old.) 

Uniqueness: ****
It was a unique mix of history, paranormal, and horror.

Writing: ****
The writing stayed true to the time period (I adore the type of old-fashioned language used) and in some places was quite lovely.  It provided adequate detail to provide me with a clear picture over the story. 

And, okay, sometimes maybe the detail was too much.  Here is a fact about this book: it is creepy and disgusting.  There are many squirm-worthy moments (and I'm not the type of person who feels faint at the sight of blood, either).  Something nasty would happen and it would be described in all its gruesome detail and I'd be sitting here making this face:
Kind of like that.  (But honestly, sometimes it was more like the face Pepper Potts makes when pulling on the wires inside the cavity where Tony Stark's arc reactor goes in Iron Man.  Imagine that face, but it was being recreated in an exaggerated way by Jennifer Lawrence.  That's probably the face I made more often.)
So, then, this book isn't for people who can't stand that kind of thing.  (The gruesome details, not my awkward faces.)

 Likes: Nothing not already mentioned above.

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

Overall: If you can take a hefty dose of creepy, nasty, and just plain ew, and you enjoyed Frankenstein, then I'd recommend this.  It had strong, complex characters.  The writing was time-period authentic, and quite lovely.  It's got its fair share of action and plot twists of all types.  I enjoyed it, and I'll be reading the sequel!
Similar Books: It has a huge amount in common with Frankenstein--similar characters, setting, ideas, and writing style.  It's also reminiscent of This Dark Endeavor and has supernatural creatures in an old-fashioned setting like the Matt Cruse books.  For some reason, it reminded me of The Drowned Cities, though I'm not sure why.

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Last Dragonslayer (The Last Dragonslayer #1) by Jasper Fforde

In the good old days, magic was indispensable—it could both save a kingdom and clear a clogged drain. But now magic is fading: drain cleaner is cheaper than a spell, and magic carpets are used for pizza delivery. Fifteen-year-old foundling Jennifer Strange runs Kazam, an employment agency for magicians—but it’s hard to stay in business when magic is drying up. And then the visions start, predicting the death of the world’s last dragon at the hands of an unnamed Dragonslayer. If the visions are true, everything will change for Kazam—and for Jennifer. Because something is coming. Something known as . . . Big Magic.

Released: November 4th 2010                   Pages: 296
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books       Source: Library

First Look: *****  You might have noticed how I sometimes begin reviews by writing about how a particular book is "not typically my thing". Well, this isn't that book, because...dragons. Dragons are totally my thing (several of my favorite books and movies involve them, and I even wrote a book about them), which is why I picked this up.

Setting: *****  I loved the juxtaposition of magic unto our modern world.  Everything is pretty much the same, except with magic.  The governments and countries are a little different, but overall it's a modern world familiar to readers.  It's a quirky setting (in a good way), and full of surprises.

The magic systems had defined rules, which is always a must for any fantasy book.  While it might have been interesting to see the author go more in-depth on this, I got a good sense of how the system worked.

 Characters: ***** I liked Jennifer, for the most part.  Her steadfast organization of her odd little business endeared me to her, and the way she immediately took Tiger under her wing.  She acted and reacted like a real person.  Her conflict as to whether or not to slay the dragon gave some amount of depth to her, but I wish I could've seen more.

The side characters, like Tiger (not a large striped cat, but a person), the assorted wizards, the dragon, and even the Quarkbeast made for a memorable cast of side characters, as well.

 Plot: ***** It took awhile for it to pick up.  The initial portions of the book lacked a strong, focused plot.  There were hints of a conflict looming over the characters' heads, but for a long while they were mostly brushed off. 

Once the conflict directly included Jennifer, it got much more interesting.  Again, her indecision--to kill or not to kill the dragon--was a question even I couldn't answer, and I kept reading to see how she'd decide.
 Uniqueness: ***** It uses familiar aspects of fantasy novels--the dragon and the slayer, the unwanted inherited power, the magicians and wizards.  It incorporates them, though, in a unique, modern, and quirky style.

Writing: ****It did, as I like to call it, "the writer's job".  It told the story without being obtrusive.  The narration was simply a means to get the story across, and in that respect, the author did a nice job.

The only thing I can remember that bugged me was the fact that I never got a real description of the Quarkbeast.  It was hard to figure out what, exactly, he was supposed to look like, and the author never really clued me in.

 Likes: The dragon.

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

Overall: This is a delightfully quirky book.  It's short, but it's full of dragons and wizards and kings and prophecies and the ordinary people caught in between.  But it's not high fantasy, either--it's set in a modern world with cars, telephones, etc., which makes for a refreshing read.  I liked Jennifer, and the rest of the characters were memorable.  The plot was a little distant at the beginning, but it improved as the book went on.  Jennifer's internal conflict was done nicely.  Overall, four stars.

Similar Books: It's lighthearted and quirky fantasy like The Last Dragon or even the Septimus Heap booksIt would appeal to the same age group as the Ranger's Apprentice series.  It involves magic in the modern world like the Children of the Red King (Charlie Bone) series. 
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Sunday, May 19, 2013

How To Pick The Best Title For Your Book

Notice that the title of this post isn't "how to title your book".  It's easy to give your book a title.  You're not just out to get a title, though.  You're out to give your book the most eye-catching, awesome title it can have.  You want your title to scream "This book is fabulous!"
I am Loki, of Asgard, and I am burdened with glorious...wait, my realm is a blue screen?
In most situations, your title is one of the first two things that readers see of your book.  It's basically your first chance to catch their attention.  The other thing is the cover, which, if you're traditionally published, you have no control over.  But (in most cases--I'll discuss this later) you can control your title, so you want to take advantage over this prime selling tool. 

There is no tried-and-true formula for titling your book.  In fact, there's no formula at all.  There's no specific way to go about it.  That being said, here are some things that'll help.

Look at the titles of other books in your genre.  What trends do you notice?  What titles do you like/dislike?  Don't stick to just bestsellers or books you like.  Consider a wide variety.  What works?  What makes you skeptical of a book?  How many words in the title, what types of words (nouns, verbs, mixed), etc.  Take note of all these factors.  It's essential to have a running list of possible titles for you book.  Don't be too quick to dispatch ideas.  Write everything down, and eliminate options later.

Your book's title should match the genre.  For example, could 27 Dresses be the title of a fantasy book?  It might make sense in the context of the story, but it sounds like a chick flick.  On that same note, something like The Countdown (and I have no idea if that's real or not...I made it up) could very well be a heartwarming romance, but just based on the title, it sounds like a thriller. 

Let's face it--I will never be mature enough to not find the Harry Potter Puppet Pals funny.
Look at titles you like, regardless of genre.  Again, what works?  What about it pops out?  Again, make a list of titles you want.  Or just make a Goodreads shelf; that's what I did.  Keep note of trends within the list of titles you like.

List words/phrases that could possibly serve as titles or pieces of titles.  Don't censor yourself--write down every single thought, feeling, image, color, adjective, verb, noun, name, word that comes to your head.  Make lists.  Organize by type of words.  Again, don't let yourself eliminate anything yet. 

Now start combining.  Use your lists and start putting things together.  See if you can find anything you like.  You might hit on a combination that's just right.  (Okay, so you'll also come up with a bunch of useless combinations like maybe Moon Moon, but it'll still be worth it overall.)

Here are some common title categories that many books fall under:
1. Character's name.  (Eragon, Artemis Fowl, Mila 2.0) This works better for fantasy books, or for books with characters with more unusual names.  If the name is too ordinary, it'll sound more like a biography. 
2. Description of the character.  (The Last Dragonslayer, Ship Breaker, The Raven Boys, The Book Thief)  Each of the example titles describes a main character (or characters) without actually naming them.  This works best if your character has a cool title or position.
3. Use a line from the book.  My favorite examples come from Patrick Ness's Chaos Walking trilogy.  The title of the series comes from this line: “The Noise is a man unfiltered, and without a filter, a man is just chaos walking.”   The title of the third book, Monsters of Men, comes from this line: “War makes monsters out of men.”   Other examples of this use of lines are A Game of Thrones, The Dead and the Gone,and This Dark Endeavor.
4. Something quirky/offbeat.  (My Favorite Band Does Not Exist, Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports, I Am the Messenger)  Each of these provokes curiosity, and makes the reader wonder what it means, or what the book is even about.
5. Literary reference.  John Green's The Fault in Our Stars takes its title from the Shakespeare line "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves."  The book Of Mice and Men takes its title from a Robert Burns poem, from the line "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft a-gley [often go awry]".  Another notable kind-of example is the book Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, which is a play on an Elton John song lyric: "Hold me closer, tiny dancer".
6. Description of object/location.  (The Night Circus, The Marbury Lens, The Two Towers) This seems rather obvious, and it's very common.  It works best if there's a cool way you can describe it that's catchy and thought-provoking.
7. Description of situation.  (The Return of the King, A Clash of Kings, Falling Kingdoms)  Again, this is a common one, but it can be used to great effect.
8. Poetic-sounding line with relevance to the book.  (Through Her Eyes, This World We Live In, Here Lies Arthur, Under the Never Sky)  Be careful with this one--it's hard not to sound cheesy.  Still, if you can come up with a neat-sounding phrase that fits your book, more power to you.
9. One-word title.  (Divergent, Prodigy, Passenger, Airborn, Frenzy) This is trendy right now, and can be combined with many of these other common title categories.  It could describe a character, a situation, etc.  Sometimes these titles use a word that only applies to the book, like Sapphique, Brisingr, or Mockingjay.

You also need to know of some common title pitfalls, and how to avoid them.  (Okay, so a few of these things are my opinion, but still.)
1. Title has no connection to the story, or connection is sketchy at best.  (Grave Mercy, Auracle)  If it's hard for readers to figure out how your title fits with your book, it's best to pick a new title.  The two should make sense together.
2. Title uses overused words.  Let's face it--some words have been used so much in book titles that they fail to grab our attention.  Words like haunted, hunted, fire, forever, shadow, chosen, etc. are used over, and over, and over.  Try to be more original.
3. Title sounds too much like other titles.  I did a quick Goodreads search, and found that on the first two results pages alone, there were 15 books titled either Haunted or The Haunted.  Seriously?  People can't be any more original?  (And that didn't even include all the zillion books called The Haunting).  Now, titles aren't copyrighted, so there's really not much stopping you from using the same title as another book.  Books can and do have the same titles.  If the book is well-known at all, though, you're going to look like a plagiarist if you use its title. 
4. Title uses random things that annoy me. There are some titles that just bother me.  The biggest of these is the Verb-ing Something title.  Like Catching Jordan, Forging the Sword, Dreaming Anastasia.  I have nothing against those books, but the -ing title just always sounds tacky to me.  I'm not too big on -ed titles either, like Matched, Hunted (STOP USING THIS TITLE!), Haunted (THIS ONE TOO!), Sabotaged, etc. 
5. Series inconsistency. If your first two books have one-word titles, don't suddenly change this pattern mid-series.  If your series follows a pattern, STICK TO IT!  (Sorry, but the all-caps needed to come out for that one.)  If your series titles don't follow a clear pattern, you can deviate all you want, but as soon as you establish the pattern it needs to stay there.  I love the Dreamhouse Kings series dearly, but let's look at the titles: House of Dark Shadows, Watcher in the Woods, Gatekeepers, Timescape, Whirlwind, Frenzy.  What's with the longer titles for the first two books, but from the third book on it switches to one-word titles?  An example of a series that sticks to a pattern is the Gone series: Gone, Hunger, Lies, Plague, Fear, Light.  Also, the Heir Chronicles: The Warrior Heir, The Wizard Heir, The Dragon Heir.  Your titles don't necessarily need to sound quite that alike, but don't pair up long titles like The Knife of Never Letting Go with something like Fire, either.
6. Title is hard for new readers to pronounce.  I'm looking at you, Brisingr.  I know how to say it, because I've read all the books and the pronunciation guides at the back.  A new reader, though, is probably going to have to work a little harder to say it.  Make sure your title is reasonable for people to pronounce, or they'll substitute your word in their head with some other random gibberish.

And now for the part that needs to be said, yet will negate everything I just got done writing.  Sometimes authors don't have control over their final publication title.  It's possible that you'll spend all this time coming up with a cool title, and your publisher will do this:

I don't think this happens often, that publishers change the titles of novels, but it does happen.  Still, I wouldn't worry too much about it yet.  I'd worry about actually getting published first.

A well thought-out title can grab a prospective reader's attention in an instant.  There's really no right or wrong way to pick a title.  You'll probably just know when you find a title that works.  Hopefully these methods will help you get to that point.

PS: At first, I was going to go through and link to every one of the books mentioned, in case the title caught your attention and you wanted to find out more.  Then I decided, "Ain't nobody got time for that.  My readers are on the internet.  They have Google."  So if you can't find a certain book for some reason, let me know.
PPS: There's a thing online where you can enter your title, and it will use statistics to predict that title's chances of becoming a bestseller.  It's not a perfect science by any means, but it's fun.  Also, you can use it to pit two titles against one another.
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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Oblivion (The Gatekeepers #5) by Anthony Horowitz

The final, thrilling conclusion to #1 New York Times bestselling author Anthony Horowitz's masterful series!

Matt. Pedro. Scott. Jamie. Scar. Five Gatekeepers have finally found one another. And only the five of them can fight the evil force that is on the rise, threatening the destruction of the world.

In the penultimate volume of The Gatekeepers series, a massive storm arose that signaled the beginning of the end. Now the five Gatekeepers must battle the evil power the storm has unleashed - and strive to stop the world from ending.

Released: November 1st 2012          Pages: 590
Publisher: Scholastic                        Source: Library

This review has to begin with a recap of my thoughts on this series back in 2008.  Trust me, it's important to the rest of this review.  In middle school, I read Raven's Gate.  I loved it--I thought it was creepy.  I went right ahead with Evil Star, which felt totally different but better than its prequel, and also PEDRO (I may or may not have had a huge crush on Pedro in middle school.  True story.  But come on, guys--isn't he adorable?).  Nightrise was up to par, and Necropolis equally awesome. 

And then I hit a wall.  The fifth and final book--at the time, I didn't even know a title--wasn't out.  So I waited.  And waited.  And waited.  I waited for four years until the 2012 release (and then some since my library took forever to get it). 

It makes me wonder.  Why were the first four published in succession ('05, '06, '07, '08), but there was a lull until 2012?  This article says a tiny bit, but not much.  It always makes me suspicious when this kind of thing happens with any series.

Honestly, I wish the book could have come out in 2009, or even 2010.  I would have enjoyed it so much more back then.  Now, though, the book drags a few problems with it, and some of them are on my end.  The first problem is that, well, I haven't read this series since '08.  This distance never does good things for my enjoyment of a series finale. 

The second problem is that my tastes have changed.  I'm less likely to give a good rating now than I was three or even two years ago.  If I had read this a few years ago, there's a good chance I would have loved it like the rest of the series.

It's also quite possible that, no matter when I had read any of these books, Oblivion just isn't on the same level as the first four.  Three/four-ish years can be a long time for any author to take a break from a series.  Maybe that's an explanation. 

There was also a bit of genre shift, and that threw me.  The first books were all very paranormal/urban fantasy.  At the end of the fourth book, though, the characters are thrown ten years into the future.  Suddenly, the story becomes more of a dystopia than anything else.  That bothered me, and I never could get used to it. 

POV shifts are quite common in this series, and it's normal to see the story from any of the Five's POV, plus some other side characters.  Oblivion introduced us to Holly, which was fine, except her narration was all in first person.  Now, I've only read one series that successfully switched off from first person to third.  Just one.  And in Oblivion, it didn't really work.  There were so many third person chapters that the random first person here and there was distracting and annoying.  Also, I wanted to hear more from Jamie's side of things, but every time his storyline was featured, Holly was narrating.  I'm not even sure what Holly's purpose in the story was--she didn't do anything except tag along with Jamie.

And yet, this book still managed to keep itself out of two- and three-stardom.  Though it took a long, long time to get there, the climax was exciting and intense.  I saw the beginnings of a cool dynamic between the five Gatekeepers (though more would have been awesome).  I loved the relationship between Matt and Richard, and how it developed since the first book.  The reappearance of the past versions of some of the Five was a nice touch, and brought things full circle.

Overall, my likes and dislikes balance out, making this an okay book.  Again, I'm not sure if my tastes have changed and this series isn't as good as I remember, or if there's a serious drop in awesomeness between the fourth book and this one.  Either way, three stars.

Similar Books: It features an ensemble of teens saving the world from an ancient power like The Lost Hero, has some paranormal elements that remind me of The Light, and it feels a bit like the Pendragon series.
Side Note: I've just spent the last half hour fangirling over this Lorie Line version of 'Think of Me', as well as Kyle Landry's version of the Game of Thrones theme.  I have decided that there should be a version of The Phantom of the Opera with Tom Hiddleston as the Phantom (if he can sing, which I'm not sure of) and Benedict Cumberbatch as Raul.  Emilia Clarke as Christine?  Maybe?  I'm begging movie directors all around the world--MAKE IT HAPPEN.  PLEASE.
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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

It's the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune--and remarkable power--to whoever can unlock them.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday's riddles are based in the pop culture he loved--that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday's icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes's oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt--among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life--and love--in the real world he's always been so desperate to escape.

A world at stake.
A quest for the ultimate prize.
Are you ready?

Released:  August 16th 2011            Pages: 374
Publisher: Random House NY         Source: Library

First Look: ****I've seen this one floating around on Goodreads for awhile, but for some reason I've completely ignored it until recently.  I'm not sure why.  Once I really read the synopsis, though, I knew I had to get myself a copy. 

Setting: ***** 
One GIF:

It's like watching Inception.  Like seeing Phantom of the Opera on Broadway.  The visuals, the experience--brain overload.  Your brain is all like "WHAT.  I can't even handle all these sensations."  Or at least, that was my experience with Inception and Phantom.  The visuals are so incredibly cool that you brain goes all asdfjkl;.  (Don't deny it--asdfjkl; is a real feeling.)

Everything about this setting is cool.  I felt like I was immersed in this world the entire time, and I loved the feeling of it.  Everything, from the dystopic "reality" to the in-game worlds were fully realized, planned, and described.  I enjoyed sitting back and simply taking it all in.  It was unique and fresh, and I wish more settings gave me the same sense of "This is so COOL!"

 Characters: ***** I liked Wade.  He has an awkward, geeky charm to him.  His actions and emotions were portrayed in a way that made him realistic.  Maybe a bit scary at times--after all, he did spend weeks without ever leaving his apartment, without ever speaking to anyone.  Playing a video game.  That's the dream of every basement World of Warcraft player, right?  Except Wade actually pulled it off.  That takes a huge amount of introversion.  In this book, though, in the storyline, it worked.

I liked others, too.  Aech was also likable and realistic, and I liked the bond between him and Wade (as well as the real-life friendship, once they meet).  Art3mis was a love interest that, for once, you could actually see why the main character was attracted to her.  So many YA love interests have no purpose apart from to be the love interest, but Art3mis had her own personality and motivations just like everyone else.  She was probably my favorite character.

 Plot: ***** I love books that involve a game or competition.  It adds a whole new element to the plot.  Done well, it can really add to the intensity of a book.  And this was done well.  I was kept interested the whole time (mostly). 

My only problem was that every single in-game "challenge" that Wade encountered, he was able to complete with no problem.  (For those of you who haven't read it--as part of his quest to find the in-game fortune, Wade had to complete a few "missions", like winning a video game inside of the massive video game.)  I understand that Wade knew basically everything there is to know about 1980s pop culture, but is it realistic that he would be a master at every single game that came up?  He knew the lines to every movie he needed to know?  It might have been more interesting if he'd had to work a little harder at some of this, because after the first time around I knew there wasn't much of a chance he'd fail.

Uniqueness: ***** 
Finally, here is a dystopian/futuristic novel with a cool twist.

Writing: ****
The writing was well done, and didn't distract me from the story at all.  My only problem, though, was the amount of infodump that went on.  The story moved quite slow towards the beginning, because of it. I'd heard about this book's 50-page infodump, and the reviewers didn't lie.  Some of it was interesting, yes, but it dragged a little. 

Likes: I don't want to give any spoilers, but I'll just say this--Wade's reaction to seeing Art3mis in real life, with all her imperfections, made me respect him even more.

In thirty years, can someone make a book like this with 2000s or 2010s pop/fandom culture?  Someone will be saved by knowing the significance of "Moffat! *shakes fist*", quoting The Avengers flawlessly, or being able to recite every line from The Reichenbach Fall without sobbing uncontrollably, or something.  Maybe I'll do this.
Also, I'm watching Iron Man as I type this.  I just thought that was worth noting.

 Not-so-great: Nothing not already mentioned above, so I leave you with this GIF of Hiddlesworth playing a video game.  It's kind of related, since this book is about video games.
I love how Chris is all intense about it and Tom is just "I played a video game once maybe".

 Overall: How to describe this book?  Geek.  Geeky.  Geekfest.  The geek is strong with this one.  It'll also make people who love the 80s happy, because this book is basically one big tribute to both geeks and the 80s.  It's exciting, with likable characters.  It has an awesomely planned and described setting.  It had some infodump problems, but overall, I very much enjoyed this.   And I'm not even a gamer, and have never lived in the 80s.

Similar Books: This book had a very similar premise to Epic (except that Ready Player One was everything I wished Epic had been), dealt with virtual reality like The Reality Bug, took place only a few decades in the future like Unwind, and felt a bit like A Confusion of Princes, though I'm not sure why.  The writing style, maybe.

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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

City of Masks (Stravaganza #1) by Mary Hoffman

In modern-day London, Lucien Mulholland undergoes chemotherapy treatments, but when he falls asleep clutching a mysterious book his father has given him, he is transported - or "stravagated" - to an enchanting 16th-century Venice-like city called Bellezza, in the country Talia. Lucien can return only if he can get hold of the book again. In this colorful other world, rich with court intrigues and magic, he feels vibrantly alive, as opposed to his pain-ridden days back in England; his hair has grown back and he eats with relish. Bellezza is also where, as "Luciano," he meets lovely 15-year-old Arianna and Rodolfo, who created the book that acts as Lucien's "stravagation" talisman. Rodolfo explains that a stravagante is "a wanderer between worlds," and also the history of this magical travel. Now the secret brotherhood dedicated to keeping the two worlds separate is being challenged by a faction with evil intent. Soon "Luciano" is caught up in their power struggle and learns there is a cost when one cannot stravagate properly.

Released: January 1st 2002         Pages: 344
Publisher: Bloomsbury               Source: Library

First Look: ***** I actually was about to read this about six months ago, but it didn't work out.   I put in a library request, and it came in.  I went to pick it up and I was super pumped to start reading this and...they mixed it up, and somehow the library sent me another book with the exact same title.  And so my reading of this was put off for a few months.  But I loved the concept, so I finally went and got a copy.

Setting: ***** ALTERNATE REALITY VENICEThat's the concept that caught my attention initially.  I've never been to Venice but it sounds like a cool place and that's where The Thief Lord takes place (I adore that book).  The execution was alright, but definitely not as cool as I was hoping for.  I wanted details to make the setting sparkle and come to life, but I ended the book with only a vague impression of what the city was like. 

Characters: ***** Lucien was pretty much a flat character.  I never got any sense at all of his personality.  I still can't tell whether he's even introverted or extroverted.  I wish I would've gotten to know him better.  And anyway, he hardly did anything.  He was a passenger for most of the story.

Arianna had the unique problem of starting out interesting, but going flat as the story progressed.  Her desire to become a mandolier at the beginning gave her dimension and made her easy to connect with, but she gave up that dream awfully fast.  After that, she hardly did anything, as well. 

Plot: ***** The storyline itself had plenty of potential to be compelling.  Attempted assassinations, a city government about to be overthrown, girls disguised as boys (I'm rather partial to girl disguised as boy stories), etc.  Unfortunately, it moved quite slowly and was hard to get into, probably because I didn't care about any of the characters.

Some of the story's rules didn't make sense, or were too convenient.  For example, why could Lucien stravagate (travel between his home and Belleza, alternate reality Venice) during his night and end up in Belleza during the day, and return with little to no time passed, but as soon as daytime hit in London time in both worlds matched exactly?  That sentence didn't even make sense, but then again, neither did this rule. 

*highlight to read spoiler*  Did Lucien not care at all when he died in the real world?  What was up with that?  He didn't seem to mind at all.  He was just "Oh, I died over in London.  Guess I'm stuck in an alternate dimension where I have no family, only brand new friends that I barely know, not much knowledge of 16th century customs, and will never access the internet again.  NBD."  He just shrugged it all off.  WHY ARE YOU NOT FREAKING OUT?  Why are you not depressed, Lucien?  Mad?  Annoyed, at least?  Any emotion other than apathy?  Please? *end spoiler*

Uniqueness: ***** As much as I didn't like the rest of it, the concept was a fresh twist on time travel/alternate realities, with a time period and location not seen so often in YA books.

Writing: *****
My main problem was that the writing showed hardly any emotion.  There was nothing to bring the characters' emotions to life.  Sometimes, there wasn't even anything to clue me in on their feelings.  Also, there was some pretty jarring head-hopping going on that made me confused at times.

Likes: Unique setting!

Not-so-great: I read the entire book, skipping nothing, and I still have no idea what's happening on that cover.  What are they even sitting on?  I kind of feel like they're on that door-raft from the end of Titanic.  Is that guy hugging that other guy, or pushing him off, or wrestling?  Is that girl shielding her face from shrapnel or something, or is she swooning over this display of manly(?) semi-conflict, or did this impromptu wresting match wake her up from a nap?  Why is Kit Harington floating above all this?  (Because does that not look like Kit Harington?)  Why is that one dude glowing?  I can see his halo halo halo I'm sorry I'll stop now

Also: "...there was an alchemical accident--an explosion affecting time and space." Wait, what? That's it? That's all you're ever going to tell me about this seemingly catastrophic, important event? On its own, that explanation seems dodgy on purpose and doesn't even make sense.

Overall: This book had a cool concept, especially as I'm fond of alternate reality and time travel books.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to connect with the characters, or even like them, for that matter.  This made it hard to like anything else about the book.  The writing was jarring at times, and I felt no emotion from the characters.  Two stars.

Similar Books: It has the modern-boy-goes-to-past-world aspect like in The Book of Names, has some roots in alchemy like The Alchemyst, and kind of reminds me of Old Magic, though it's been so long since I read that one; I hardly remember it.

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Sunday, May 5, 2013

The 15 Stages of the Book Series

A series of books can be exponentially cooler than a standalone.  After all, three times, five times, or even ten times the fun, right? 
Or they can be three times more waiting, sadness (when the author, say, kills off your OTP*), and other extraneous emotions.
There's a cycle that, it seems, every awesome book series goes through.  A pattern. 
Stage 1: This looks good.  I think I'll read it.

Stage 2: You're hooked.  You may not know it yet, but you are.  The book is awesome, and it's almost like it knows it.  It knows it has you under its power.

Stage 3: This book.  I like it.  ANOTHER!
Stage 4: Now you have to wait for the next book.  And wait and wait and wait and wait.  But you're willing to do it quietly--for now.

Stage 5: Let people know how fabulous this series is.  Tell the mere mortals what they are missing.
Stage 6: Release of the sequel.  It's everything you hoped it could be, and more.  Back into the fray!
Stage 7: Start shipping characters.  You're well into this series now, and the rule of fandom life is as follows: when in doubt, ship it*.  You're committed anyway; you might as well make the most of it.

Stage 8: Finish sequel.  See the release date for the next installment.  Ask yourself, "Why?  Why me?"
Stage 9: Your sentence is to wait another zillion years for the next book.  Accept sentence peacefully.  For now, anyway.**

Stage 10: Lose all semblance of "waiting peacefully".  Become desperate for the next book.  Symptoms of this include reading any and all fan theories, sending angry letters to the author, ranting on your blog/Goodreads, looking at fanart, exclaiming "THE FEELS!", and more.
Stage 11: Repeat steps 6-10 as many times as necessary.
Stage 12: Finally, release of the finale.  It is so epic, you can't even take it. 
Stage 13: Now what do I do with my life?
Stage 14: Attempt to fill the void.  Most likely, you will fail.  But it's worth a shot.

Stage 15: Despite all the character deaths and emotions and waiting and general feels, it was all worth it.
*OTP stands for One True Pairing.  It is the ship that you ship above all other ships.  If you don't even know what I'm referring to by "ship" in this context, congratulations on being a non-fandom person.  Your life will probably be better in some ways for this, but worse in others.

**Is this a Titanic plothole?  North Atlantic seawater is freezing, and when Jack is fully immersed at the end, he gets hypothermia pretty quickly, which makes sense.  But why does he not have a problem standing in this water up to his knees?  He stood there quite awhile.  Shouldn't he have nerve damage or something?
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