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Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Map of Time (Trilogía Victoriana #1) by Félix J. Palma

Set in Victorian London with characters real and imagined, The Map of Time boasts a triple play of intertwined plots in which a skeptical H.G. Wells is called upon to investigate purported incidents of time travel and to save lives and literary classics, including Dracula and The Time Machine, from being wiped from existence.

What happens if we change history? The author explores this question in the novel, weaving an historical fantasy as imaginative as it is exciting—a story full of love and adventure that transports readers to a haunting setting in Victorian London for their own taste of time travel.

Released: June 2011             Pages: 613
Publisher: Atria Books         Source: Library

First Look: ***** This book had it all, based on my first look: time travel, steampunk elements, and a cool cover.  Unfortunately, it didn't follow up.

Setting: *****  Here we in Victorian London again.  Not that I have any issue with that, but was there only one city during this time period?  I'm running about of things to say about these settings, because when they seem well-researched, there's not much I can say. 

Characters: ***** The novel is divided into three parts, each featuring a slightly different set of characters.  The first portion featured Andrew, who I couldn't like.  He was impulsive and had no thought for how his actions might affect others.  His storyline centered around his love for Marie, a prostitute.  The relationship (a very one-sided relationship) progressed to the point where Andrew was sleeping with Marie each night while her husband waited outside.  Even ignoring the fact that she's a prostitute, I hated Andrew for it.  Marie is already married.  Andrew had every intention of stealing her away so they could get married.  Um, excuse me?  Leave her alone.  And after *spoiler--highlight to read* Marie died, *end spoiler* all Andrew did for eight years was wallow in self-pity, which doesn't help me like him. 

The second portion of the book featured Claire and Tom.  Claire was okay, but I couldn't stand Tom, either.  The series of events leading up to this is twisty and complex, so I won't explain it all, but in short, this is what happened: Claire goes to "the past" and sees Tom, whom she falls in love with.  Back in the present, Tom and Claire meet again, and Tom convinces Claire to sleep with him because she thinks he's a time traveler, and he lies to her and tells her they've already done it, and not doing so would disrupt the fabric of time.  Which is, of course, a total lie.  I can't stand a person who cons and cheats like this.  It's not okay.  I felt bad for Claire. 

The third portion mostly featured H.G. Wells, whom I neither liked nor disliked. 

 Plot: ***** The plot was complex, and the three parts were loosely intertwined.  The plot did, indeed, have all the ingredients to be compelling in all its intricacies and twists.  When a twist did happen, it was interesting.  So what happened?

The problem was that this book is about three hundred pages too long.  There were so many things that just weren't necessary to the story.  For example, why did we need to spend at least two chapters on the meeting and interaction between H.G. Wells and the Elephant Man?  It added nothing to the story, bored me, and wasn't needed. 

So much of this story could have been trimmed.  If that had been the case, it would have been a tighter, more compelling book.  But instead, I was bored through most of it.  If I wasn't the type of person who had to finish books no matter what, I would have stopped reading.

 Uniqueness: ****
This book's version of "time travel" was interesting, and at times, even unexpected. 

Writing: ***** The author knows how to write pretty prose. I'll give him that. There were a few turns of phrase that were quite lovely, and caught my attention.

Unfortunately, this writing style that I would've otherwise loved dragged the novel out way too long.  I talked about this before, in the plot section: in places, there was just too much, and it made me bored. 

The other thing that annoyed me was the narrator's asides to the readers of the novel.  This could have been used to add impact to the story, but instead it was used to apologize for over-describing things, repetition, and other annoying aspects of the narration.  How about, instead of apologizing for these things, fix them?  Would that have been so bad?

 Likes: This book makes me want to read The Time Machine.

Not-so-great: It's probably a bad idea to refer to someone as a "time lord" unless you're deliberately trying to make a reference, and I don't think that was the case here.

Overall: This book had all the potential to be full of complex plot twists and cool time travel.  Unfortunately, it was dragged out about three hundred pages too long.  The narrator used his omniscient power to apologize for flaws in the narration instead of fixing these problems.  Two of the three main characters I absolutely hated.  It had a few redeeming qualities, but not many.  Two stars.

Similar Books: It featured time travel in Victorian London like The Reluctant Assassin, and had a  steampunk feel like The Girl in the Steel Corset and even Clockwork Angel.
Friendly reminder for all my readers: Google Reader is going away July 1st.  If you want to keep following my blog, be sure to switch to Feedly or another similar service (it's super easy to switch), or to follow by email, which you can do by typing your email address into the box on the left sidebar, near the top of the blog.  Full post on this switch here.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Loki's Wolves (The Blackwell Pages #1) by K.L. Armstrong and M.A. Marr

In Viking times, Norse myths predicted the end of the world, an event called Ragnarok, that only the gods can stop. When this apocalypse happens, the gods must battle the monsters--wolves the size of the sun, serpents that span the seabeds, all bent on destroying the world.

The gods died a long time ago.

Matt Thorsen knows every Norse myth, saga, and god as if it was family history--because it is family history. Most people in the modern-day town of Blackwell, South Dakota, in fact, are direct descendants of either Thor or Loki, including Matt's classmates Fen and Laurie Brekke.

However, knowing the legends and completely believing them are two different things. When the rune readers reveal that Ragnarok is coming and kids--led by Matt--will stand in for the gods in the final battle, he can hardly believe it. Matt, Laurie, and Fen's lives will never be the same as they race to put together an unstoppable team to prevent the end of the world.

Released: May 7th 2013          Pages: 358
Publisher: Atom                      Source: Library
First Look: ****At this point, I'm interested pretty much as soon as I read the word "Loki".  And Norse mythology.  I was hoping this would be a sort of Percy Jackson for Norse mythology.  And that's exactly what I got.

 Setting: ***** I love when middle grade books add a sense of humor in the way they add mythological characters into modern settings.  For example, the trolls being part of the noses on Mount Rushmore.  It may not be entirely believable, but it makes readers willing to accept it, because it's fun.  Rick Riordan does this same thing, and to great effect. 

I got a good sense of the tension that exists in Blackwell between the different families.  Setting is more than just the physical appearance of a place--it's the people who inhabit it.  The authors did a good job making it come to life.

 Characters: *****  I could absolutely see the Thor in Matt.  He's a good, strong kid at the core, despite being inclined to getting into trouble for solving problems physically.  (Chris Hemsworth's Thor, anyone?)  He has a seemingly idea life, but he's pressured by his family to be like his brothers.  ("I remember a shadow.  Living in the shade of your greatness."  Sorry.  I had to.)

Fen was my favorite.  He was so, so a descendant of Loki.  I could see it in basically everything he did.  Out of all of the main characters, he had the most to lose.  I loved his devotion to Laurie.  I also liked his initial personality clash with Matt--and the way their relationship developed throughout the book. 

Laurie was likable, but a little more bland.  I'm interested in characters we didn't get to know so well, like the twins.  They didn't come into the story until near the end, so I'm eager to see how they play into the next books.

Plot: ***** The plot was fun, engaging, and fast-paced.  There was a nice balance between action-filled scenes and slower, quieter scenes.  Having a plot that moves too fast is a common problem in middle grade novels like this, even upper MG, but this book's plot moved at a plot fast enough to keep my interest, but with enough quieter moments to create depth.    

Uniqueness: ****
Comparisons between this book and the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series are inevitable.  They do have a lot in common--both series involve younger teens descended from mythological gods/goddesses with the fate of the world in their hands.  Both series remain lighthearted (though this series doesn't take the jokes and wisecracking anywhere near the Percy Jackson level).  Both series involve teens running around to save the world completely unsupervised, which strikes me as a bit unrealistic, but we'll give it a break because otherwise it wouldn't be any fun.  The two series are very similar, but still not in a way that makes you think that The Blackwell Pages is trying to copy the Percy Jackson books.  (Copy, no.  Use PJ's success to their advantage?  Probably.)

Writing: ****
I wish the different POVs--Matt, Fen, and Laurie--had been a little more distinctive.  Other than that, I had no issues with the writing, and I've left this review go so long now that it's getting hard for me to remember the details of how the narration was, anyway,

"Thor smash," Reyna interjected.
"That's the Hulk, not Thor," Matt started to explain.
Thank you.  It's about time someone brought Marvel into this.  When Baldwin went to grab a movie for the group to watch, I seriously thought he was going to pull out Thor.  That would have made me  happy. 

Also, the pictures.  I love when YA and MG books have pictures.  We aren't too old for it!  More books should have pictures.  I can't tell what I enjoyed more--the fact that the book had pictures, or mentally giving each picture an out-of-context caption. 

 Not-so-great: I have to wait a year for the next book?

Overall: This book was a lot of fun.  It's basically Percy Jackson, but with Norse mythology.  It has a good balance of action and slower moments.  The characters are interesting and real, and I could connect with them.  This book would appeal to middle grade readers, but will also reach the YA audience.  And it has pictures, which makes it even cooler.

Similar Books: Fans of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series will enjoy this (or vice versa), and also Rick Riordan's other spinoff series, The Heroes of Olympus.  It involves teens dealing with mythological creatures in the modern world, like the two series previously mentioned and also the series Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel.
Friendly reminder for all my readers: Google Reader is going away July 1st.  If you want to keep following my blog, be sure to switch to Feedly or another similar service (it's super easy to switch), or to follow by email, which you can do by typing your email address into the box on the left sidebar, near the top of the blog.  Full post on this switch here.

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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Touched by Cyn Balog

Nick Cross always listens to the voice in his head. Because if he doesn't? Things can go really, really wrong. Like the day he decided to go off script and saved a girl from being run over . . . and let another one drown. Trying to change the future doesn't work.

But this summer at the Jersey Shore, something's about to happen that Nick never could have predicted. He meets a girl named Taryn and finds out about the Book of Touch. Now the path that he thought he was on begins to shift . . . and there's no way to stop things from happening. Or is there?

In a life where there are no surprises, nothing has prepared Nick for what he's about to discover--or the choice he will be forced to make. . . .

Released: August 14th 2012         Pages: 320
Publisher: Delacorte Press           Source: Library

First Look: ***** That cover. It is fabulous.  It might seriously be my favorite cover ever.  I love the creepy abandoned-looking theme park (there's a shadowy roller coaster on the back cover), magical tendrils of something-or-other, an offbeat font, and a cool color scheme.  When I first saw it, I didn't even care what the book was about.  I had to read it no matter what.

 Setting: ***** The setting didn't play a big role in the novel.  The narration and descriptions gave me an adequate idea of the placed I needed to be acquainted with in order to move along in the story.  There's not much else to say about it.

Characters: ***** The thing that kept me from connecting with Nick, the main character, was his obnoxious and frankly appalling objectification of girls.  I would have liked him well enough if all his references to girls standing around him hadn't been only directed at their physical appearance.  Seriously--is a girl's body the only thing you can notice about her, Nick?  He actually, at one point, referred to looking for girls as something along the lines of "checking out the fresh meat".  Excuse me?  I have a name for guys who talk like this.  I call them: SINGLE.

All of the other characters were pretty bland.  Again, we didn't learn much about Taryn other than that she was good-looking.  I only got any depth from Nick, but half the time I was too annoyed with him to notice.

Plot: ***** The idea of someone knowing the future, and being able to follow the "lines" to see events to come, and watching those ideas adjust as choices are made, is pretty interesting.  For the most part, it was carried out well.  The introduction of the "Touches" into the plot was interesting.  The explanations made as much sense as they needed to, without detracting from the story.

I loved the ending.  It's hard to explain without spoiling it, so I won't try.  I respect the sacrifice Nick's grandmother made, though, and the whole thing was a clever and satisfying way to wrap up the plot.   

Uniqueness: ***** 
The premise is a unique take on the ability to see the future.  However, the book has several disappointing clichés, mainly the loner that nobody likes inexplicably gaining the attention of the beautiful girl that everyone loves, for no particular reason.

Writing: ***** 
The narration itself, for the most part, does its job--telling the story--without being intrusive to the reader.  I can't bring myself to give it four stars, though, because of Nick's obnoxious and borderline sexist attitude toward girls that shows through in his first-person narration.  I've already talked about this, so I won't repeat myself.  It made me honestly angry, though.  And it came from a female writer, too, which I fail to understand.

Likes: Nothing not already mentioned above.

Not-so-great: At one point, Nick referred to his mother as a "MILF".  I wasn't familiar with this acronym, so I looked it up.  And...I'm a little bit creeped out.  Did I miss the part when Nick became a Lannister?  (And there's no need for you to look this acronym up.  Trust me.)

Overall: Touched, for me, was another of those awesome cover, so-so story books.  I had problems liking the main character because it seemed like every comment he made about a girl was directed toward her physical appearance, and nothing else.  The plot was interesting, and I liked the ending, but I had too many problems with Nick's attitude to give this four stars. 
Similar Books: It has heavy similarities to Thirteen Days to Midnight--it involves a boy with some sort of paranormal ability, a little romance, and they both have similar tones.   It also reminded me a little of Auracle and even Infinity.
Friendly reminder for all my readers: Google Reader is going away July 1st.  If you want to keep following my blog, be sure to switch to Feedly or another similar service (it's super easy to switch), or to follow by email, which you can do by typing your email address into the box on the left sidebar, near the top of the blog.  Full post on this switch here.

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

12 Unusual Questions To Help With Character Creation and Development

There are many methods out there to help writers build characters.  Some involve what I like to call a Giant Form of Doom, and 100 things list, or other tools.  (For everything I've written on characters in the past, click here.)  While these tools are extremely helpful and are great ways to work on characterization, sometimes we just can't get into our character's head.  Sometimes, all it takes is a little push.  Maybe you're having trouble filling out a massive form, but one question could set you on the right track. 

For these situations, here is a list of questions you typically won't find on a standard character worksheet.  They can give a lot of insight into a character (and anyway, they're just fun).

I'll be using my two main characters from my work-in-progress novel, Mason and Everett, as examples.
  1. Which Hogwarts house would they be sorted into?  Did the Sorting Hat choose it right away, or was it more complicated?  Did the character have any input?  There a fairly decent quiz you can take as your character here, to determine house placement.  My character Everett is an obvious Gryffindor--he values honor, courage, and loyalty.  Mason is a bit tougher; I could see him in either Slytherin or Gryffindor.  Probably Slytherin, as he can be manipulative at times.
  2. If they committed a crime, what would it be?  For this, you aren't allowed to say "But my character would never commit a crime!"  No.  We must go deeper.  For example, Everett would never, in a million years, break a law.  He's the kind of person that feels massively uncomfortable jaywalking.  If he were to commit a crime, though, it would be trespassing, as he has a borderline-weird love for high places, and I could see him doing something dumb like climbing a huge hill and realizing, too late, that he's on someone's private property.
  3. Which Avenger is their favorite?  Don't laugh.  You can tell quite a bit about a person by their answer to this question.  (I'm not sure what to make of the fact that my reflex response to this question is "Tom Hiddleston".)  Everett is a huge Captain America fan (they're both Lawful Good), while Mason is more fond of Iron Man's trademark flashiness and wit.
  4. Star Wars or Star Trek?  Another timeless question.  Each has a different style, and sometimes the fandoms don't get along.  Both my characters are probably Star Wars guys. 
  5. If this character was in the Hunger Games, what would their strategy be?  Mason find the biggest group of tributes still allied with each other, and join them.  When the time was right, he'd turn on everyone at once.  Everett would take the Katniss approach and hide in a hole somewhere until the games were over.
  6. Your character is home alone with nothing else to do, so it's movie/TV show marathon time.  What do they watch?  I am a firm believer in the idea that what a person likes to watch/read/listen to says a lot about themselves, so what better way to get to know a character by what they'd watch?  If he was sure nobody would find out, Everett would have a Nicholas Sparks movie marathon, ending with The Notebook as a grand finale.  He might even throw Titanic into the mix.  Mason would go for action movies--maybe a James Bond marathon.
  7. Who is their celebrity crush?  Think about it--someone's celebrity crush can say a lot about them.  For example, some girls are attracted to Ryan Gosling's charm, or Benedict Cumberbatch's Britishness and jaguar-hiding-in-a-cello voice.  And then there's Tom Hiddleston.  I won't even go there.  Mason, for example, would like Jennifer Lawrence's ability to say the most honest things in the funniest way possible (and the fact that she has absolutely no "verbal filter").  Everett would be more fond of someone along the lines of Emma Watson.
  8. What about fictional character crush?  It's the same as having a celebrity crush, but...fictional.  Everett's would be Captain America someone like Daenerys Targaryen.  Strong, though with a sweet side she keeps mostly hidden (okay, he'd be totally intimidated by her, but...). 
  9. What music album best describes them?  Each different album has a slightly different feel to it, from a combination of the musical style, lyrics, and emotions that come across through the songs.  Mason, for example, could be represented by the emotional ambiguity and the haunted-by-the-past themes of Imagine Dragons' Night Visions.   
  10. What starter Pokémon do they choose?  What's their playing style?  Don't laugh at me.  Picking a starter Pokémon is serious business.  Mason would go right for the Charmander, a fiery little cutie that can also become kind of dangerous.  He'd train his Pokémon in small spurts, just enough to keep him moving along in the game.  Everett would probably go for the Bulbasaur, because he'd feel bad that less people picked it.  He'd spend hours training right at the start.
  11. Which house from A Song of Ice and Fire would they be part of?  I know a character can't control which house they're born into, but each family seems to have its own personality and values.  Everett, for example, would be a Stark, because he values honor, loyalty, and doing the right thing (incidentally, the things that tend to get the Starks killed all the time).  Mason could probably hold his own as a Targaryen--an outsider, but coming to reclaim what is "rightfully his".
  12. If they could travel to any period in time, future or past, where would it be?  This is less a personality question and more a personal preference question.  Still, it's fun to speculate.  Would your character rather go to the future, or the past?  Are they more curious about what is to come, or about reliving history?  Mason would go far, far into the future, just out of sheer curiosity.  Everett would go try to hitch a ride with a WWII fighter pilot or something.
Are there any offbeat questions you use to bring your characters to life

Friendly reminder for all my readers: Google Reader is going away July 1st.  If you want to keep following my blog, be sure to switch to Feedly or another similar service (it's super easy to switch), or to follow by email, which you can do by typing your email address into the box on the left sidebar, near the top of the blog.  Full post on this switch here.
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Monday, June 17, 2013

What You Should Do To Make Sure You Keep Following Once Google Reader Is Gone

I'm a latecomer to the Google-Reader-is-going-away thing.  If you don't know, Google Reader is going away July first.  I have never used Google Reader, so at first I didn't think anything of it.  But I was doing a little research to see what I could do to help my current followers out, and I was a bit like this:

The more I read, though, the less horrible it seems.  There are many options that you can use instead of Google Reader.  If any of you even do use it, which I don't know. 

The best option to make sure you stay updated with this blog (and others as well) is following by email.  All you have to do is type your email address into the box on the left sidebar.  (I even moved it so it's more obvious.)  It's above the search box, and it says "follow by email".  You'll get a message asking you to confirm your subscription.  Once you've done that, you'll get instant updates whenever I post something, right in your inbox.  So it's basically a more efficient way to internet-stalk me.  Okay, not really. 

Another popular option is to use a reader like Feedly or Bloglovin'.  Just to try it out, I downloaded Feedly.  In less than thirty seconds, I had downloaded it onto Chrome, and entered my Google password, and all my subscriptions (via the Blogger dashboard and GFC) had been switched.  It's ridiculously easy.  There are also things you can do like organize blog updates by category and so on, but I haven't tried it much. 

There doesn't seem to be a consensus on what will happen to Google Friend Connect once Google Reader is gone.  This is most concerning for me, since I use it almost completely to follow blogs.  If I find out more information, I'll let you know.  Otherwise, you might want to follow me by email, just to be on the safe side. 

To recap, or for those of you who took one look and said TL;DR: Google Reader is going away.  You can follow by email in the box on the left, or you can use a service like Feedly, which you can set up with no trouble and very little time.

I leave you with this GIF of Loki playing table tennis.  Because...I wanted to.

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Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Curse of the Wendigo (The Monstrumologist #2) by Rick Yancey

While attempting to disprove that Homo vampiris, the vampire, could exist, Dr. Warthrop is asked by his former fiancé to rescue her husband from the Wendigo, a creature that starves even as it gorges itself on human flesh, and which has snatched him in the Canadian wilderness. Although Warthrop also considers the Wendigo to be fictitious, he relents and rescues her husband from death and starvation, and then sees the man transform into a Wendigo.

Can the doctor and Will Henry hunt down the ultimate predator, who, like the legendary vampire, is neither living nor dead, whose hunger for human flesh is never satisfied?

This second book in The Monstrumologist series explores the line between myth and reality, love and hate, genius and madness.

Released: October 12th 2010          Pages: 444
Publisher: Simon & Schuster          Source: Library

I tried to find a GIF that would adequately express the things I felt upon finishing this book.  This is as close as I came:

Okay, so I wasn't screaming.  Captain Jack here looks like he's screaming because of something unexpected that just happened.  My expression was probably more one of quiet horror.  And some anger at Rick Yancey.  As in "Congratulations, author.  You've just made sure I won't be able to sleep tonight.  Way to go." 

Rick Yancey has this awesome--and kind of terrifying--ability to describe something completely horrific and disgusting, but make it poetic.  I'm sitting there, reading along, when I come across some lines that make me think this: "This is beautiful--wait, he's talking about entrails."  This writing style magnifies whatever scary things happen, in a weird way.  And there is no lack of scary things happening.  It's not the haunted house type of scary, where things jump out at you.  It's more of a "How could anyone ever dream up a creature like this?"

Even if it is a bit disturbing, the writing style is still lovely.  At times, the word choice is simply gorgeous, and Will Henry's first-person narration keeps readers involved and engaged, as well as in-tune with what's he's feeling.  This second book leaves Will Henry with quite a few things to feel, and that comes across nicely. 

Will Henry and the doctor's character development is, if anything, more complex than the first book.  As it should be.  When a series progresses, it needs to keep upping the stakes.  This tends to be the downfall of movies like Iron Man 2, which, if anything, lowered the stakes of the previous movie.  It's also a major part of why Iron Man 3 was success--now Pepper, the woman he loves, is also at risk, which raised the stakes much, much higher.   That one-upping is happening with the Monstrumologist series, as well.  So far, at least.  Like with the last book, I love the dynamic between Will Henry and the doctor, and am looking forward to seeing that relationship progress. 

I enjoyed this book, even if I was a little freaked out at the end.  It's full of action, and has awesome writing, no matter what the author is describing.  Will Henry is a likable, sweet character, and I could connect with him.  I'm really liking this Frankenstein-esque series so far, and I'll be reading the next book for sure.

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
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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Invisibility by Andrea Cremer and David Levithan

Stephen has been invisible for practically his whole life — because of a curse his grandfather, a powerful cursecaster, bestowed on Stephen’s mother before Stephen was born. So when Elizabeth moves to Stephen’s NYC apartment building from Minnesota, no one is more surprised than he is that she can see him. A budding romance ensues, and when Stephen confides in Elizabeth about his predicament, the two of them decide to dive headfirst into the secret world of cursecasters and spellseekers to figure out a way to break the curse. But things don’t go as planned, especially when Stephen’s grandfather arrives in town, taking his anger out on everyone he sees. In the end, Elizabeth and Stephen must decide how big of a sacrifice they’re willing to make for Stephen to become visible — because the answer could mean the difference between life and death. At least for Elizabeth.

Released: May 7th 2013          Pages: 358
Publisher: Philomel                 Source: Library

First Look: ****A few months ago, I read one of David Levithan's other books, Every Day, and loved it.  This one had a similar premise, so I thought I'd give it a try.

Setting: ***** 
This was one realistic novel where the setting actually played a role in the story, which was nice.  I appreciated that aspect, as I feel setting is underused in realistic novels.  There was a nice contrast between Stephen's familiarity with New York City, and Elizabeth's unfamiliarity. 

Characters: ***** 
Stephen was a fascinating character.  The authors did a fabulous job painting a picture of a life where no one sees you.  I love that concept, and the pain that it gave Stephen was real and raw.  It's an interesting what-if question, and though we'll never have a real-life situation like it, it's fun to imagine the possibilities.  Stephen himself was easy to connect with, despite the fact that I've never been invisible.  He takes a desire that many people have had--who hasn't ever wanted to be invisible for a day?--and shows another side of it, a darker side.

So many other reviewers have said this, but I'm going to say it again.  Laurie.  If Stephen was the darker, raw character, Laurie showed the lighter side.  He'd endured his own bit of trauma, but he still stayed upbeat and supportive, not to mention funny.  He came across as a strong character, as well as a strong person.

The weak link was Elizabeth.  Maybe it was that her troubles paled in comparison to Stephen's; I don't know.  My connection with her while reading was nowhere near as strong as with Stephen.  I couldn't bring myself to sympathize as much with her character.

 Plot: ***** I enjoyed the beginning.   There was an obvious example of insta-love, which I think is half justified.  It makes sense for Stephen to fall in love, since no person other than Elizabeth has seen him.  I'm not so sure if Elizabeth's sudden love was justified.

Anyway, the beginning.  The first part of the novel was sweet, philosophical, and intriguing.  It spent more time developing the relationship between Elizabeth and Stephen than anything else, and I was okay with that.  I loved the questions that were raised by Stephen's invisibility, and how they affected the storyline. 

I started having problems when the cursecaster and spellseeker aspects were introduced.  The first half of the book focused inward, to the characters, but the second half focused outward, and I didn't like the shift.  The addition of cursecasters, etc. felt forced, like someone felt they couldn't leave the story alone with no explanation.  It turned the story from quiet, philosophical love story to urban fantasy adventure.  This, for me, was the novel's main weakness. 

 Uniqueness: ****
Again, the beginning was fresh and interesting, but the second half fell into a more overused storyline.

Writing: *****
I enjoyed Stephen's point of view chapters.  The writing style was lovely, and really allowed for me to connect with the character.  There was some moments where I stopped and read a sentence again because I liked it so much.  I'm not sure whose point of view this is from, but here's a lovely one:

“People say that time slips through our fingers like sand. What they don't acknowledge is that some of the sand sticks to the skin. These are memories that will remain, memories of the time when there was still time left.”   

My problem was that Elizabeth's point of view sounded too much like Stephen's.  I say it this way, and not the other way around, because I think the more poetic style fit Stephen.  It sounded like him.  Elizabeth is more cynical, though, and the style didn't fit her as well.  I wish there could have been more distinction between the two.

 Likes: I love the ending.  I really do.  I'm one of those readers that don't feel cheated when all the loose ends aren't tied up.  If done well, I love an open-ended ending.

 Not-so-great: The cursecaster/spellseeker aspects ruined it a bit for me.  I honestly would have been just fine if Stephen's invisibility wasn't explained at all.  Sometimes, it's okay for authors to present a what-if situation like this and explore it without trying to force an explanation.

Also, if cursed people are everywhere, and as common as Elizabeth was finding them, then how does the general public still not know about any of this?

Overall: Invisibility starts out as a lovely novel.  Some of the writing is quite poetic, and Stephen's character is fascinating.  Elizabeth is weaker, both as a character and in terms of point of view chapters.  At the beginning, this book has definite echoes of Levithan's Every Day and its philosophical questions.  Unfortunately, the book takes a turn for the paranormal, and for me, this was its downfall.  Still, I liked the beginning enough to give it four stars as a whole.

Similar Books: It is a love story that asks a surreal what-if question and explores the possibilities, like in Every Day, or, to a lesser extent, The Everafter.   Stephen and Elizabeth's relationship reminds me of Sam and Grace's in Shiver

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Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Reluctant Assassin (W.A.R.P. #1) by Eoin Colfer

Riley, a teen orphan boy living in Victorian London, has had the misfortune of being apprenticed to Albert Garrick, an illusionist who has fallen on difficult times and now uses his unique conjuring skills to gain access to victims' dwellings. On one such escapade, Garrick brings his reluctant apprentice along and urges him to commit his first killing. Riley is saved from having to commit the grisly act when the intended victim turns out to be a scientist from the future, part of the FBI's Witness Anonymous Relocation Program (WARP) Riley is unwittingly transported via wormhole to modern day London, followed closely by Garrick.

In modern London, Riley is helped by Chevron Savano, a seventeen-year-old FBI agent sent to London as punishment after a disastrous undercover, anti-terrorist operation in Los Angeles. Together Riley and Chevie must evade Garrick, who has been fundamentally altered by his trip through the wormhole. Garrick is now not only evil, but he also possesses all of the scientist's knowledge. He is determined to track Riley down and use the timekey in Chevie's possession to make his way back to Victorian London where he can literally change the world.

Released: April 11th 2013           Pages: 341
Publisher: Disney Hyperion        Source: Library

First Look: ***** I wanted this book because it said Eoin Colfer on the cover. That's basically it. I've loved everything I've read of his in the past. I don't have my Goodreads pre-review anymore, but I'm pretty sure it included the phrase "come to me, my precious".

This cover so perfectly captures the essence of these characters.  Garrick is the looming-over-everyone creepy guy, Chevie is all let's-take-these-bad-guys-down, and Riley is a little clueless and "Can we go get a drink?  What, I'm under the drinking age in this time period?"

 Setting: *****  I don't know why so many authors choose to set their time-travel books in late-1800s England, but I'm okay with it.  I liked the juxtaposition of Chevie and her modern ways, and the agency's tools, onto the historical setting.

And that's pretty much all I have for this category.

 Characters: ***** I liked the friendship between Chevie and Riley.  It's starting to become a big sister/little brother relationship, and sibling relationships are an underutilized source of strong bonds in YA fiction.  Individually, though, neither of the characters gave me a solid sense of their personality.  I got the idea that Chevie was outwardly tough and sure of herself, but what was underneath that exterior?  More depth would've helped me like her more. 

We got a little more depth with Riley.  We got to see some of the effects of his parents' death, and a lifetime of Garrick's lies to him.  Of the two, he was my favorite.  (I seem to be fond of spunky younger-teen boys in books.  For some reason, they give so much opportunity for a character that's just plain fun, maybe even more so than any other age group.  *coughJaroncough*  I talked a little more about this concept in this review.  And now I feel like I need a qualifier stating that no, you shouldn't take this in a creepy way.)

 Plot: ***** I like time travel books.  They tend to have fun, exciting plots, and this was no exception.  It took a little while for me to really get into it, but after I did, I enjoyed it. 

My only problem was that, at times, it went too fast.  This was also partly a writing problem.  Still, the pacing seemed off, and if the action had been slowed down, there would have been more opportunity for so much depth, rather than just a surface-level time travel thriller.

 Uniqueness: *****  
It uses common concepts like time travel and secret agencies, but combines them in a fun, new way.  The high-tech rapid-fire action will be familiar to Eoin Colfer fans.

Writing: ***** 
The narration disoriented me on a fairly regular basis.  There weren't really any set point of view sections, where it was clearly defined who was narrating.  Instead, the narration would hop around in various people's heads.  This can work, sometimes, but in this book it confused me.  The transitions between whose thoughts we were hearing were either rough or nonexistent. 

The acronym W.A.R.P. makes me think of this scene, from the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. promo:
Interviewer: What does S.H.I.E.L.D. stand for, Agent Ward?
Agent Ward: Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division.
Interviewer: And what does that mean to you?
Agent Ward: It means somebody really wanted our initials to spell "shield".

 Not-so-great: Did...did Eoin Colfer just refer to Gimli as a Hobbit?

Overall: I enjoyed this, for the most part.  It had a cool concept, an action-packed plot, and characters that were decently likable.  I don't think it was quite up to par with other Eoin Colfer books I've read, however.  I wish it would've had more depth.  The narration was disorienting and at times even confusing.  Still, I'll be reading the second book.  My rating is more in the 3.5 range, but I round up.

Similar Books: It features modern teens traveling through time like TimeRiders  The Missing series, or The Doomsday BoxIt will also appeal to fans of Artemis Fowl because, well, Eoin Colfer.  

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Friday, June 7, 2013

Icarus, Superpowers, And Flight: My New Novel

I've been a bit absent on the what's-Annie-writing front lately.  If you've been following for awhile (if that's you, hello and you are awesome), you might remember me discussing my finalization of the revision of my previous novel, Secrets of the Legend Chaser, as well as my synopsis-writing and querying experiences.

The time between then and now has been spent planning my next novel.  And, okay, finishing up schoolwork for the year and such.  Because it doesn't take me that long to plan a novel. 

Anyway, though, I wish I could give you a title, but I don't even have a working title yet.  It's saved as "Ev and Mason" on my computer, Ev and Mason being my two point of view characters.  I've never written a book in first person before, and I've never worked with two separate point of views.  We'll see how this goes. 

This book is about Everett Flinch, who cannot fall.  Well, he can fall, but he always lands on his feet, and the impact never injures him.  He has this because he's a descendant of Icarus, who was real, and who survived.

Because I am absolutely bringing Greek mythology into this.  Rick Riordan had better watch out.

The book isn't just about Everett, though.  It's also about Mason Ardale, who doesn't have any kind of power.  But he knows of Ev's power, and he wants it.  He's with an organization that tried, years before the story opens, to replicate Ev's ability.  Their test subject was Mason.  The experiment failed. 

So far, I'm playing with this idea, and I'm loving it.  You see all these movies, read all these books about people who, for some reason or other, gain a superpower.  What you don't see is what happens when it fails.  When they don't get the power.  For example, what if, in Captain America: The First Avenger, the super-soldier serum hadn't worked?  What if it had just left Steve Rogers the same old Steve, no extra muscles and confidence added?  What does it do to that person?  How do they live with that?  That's an idea I wanted to work with, for Mason's characterization.     

That particular organization that I mentioned before is trying again.  To do it, they need Everett.  And in order to get to Everett, they took his brother.   And Mason is now in the picture, and he's working against Everett.  To get to Ev's brother, though, they might need to work together.

You can probably tell I don't have an "official" blurb written.  I'm kind of rambling about plot by now, but you get the idea.  It's an urban fantasy-ish, sci-fi-ish sort of story, with two POV characters with conflicting goals. 

It's been in my head since about midway through the first draft of my previous novel.  It's hovered around ever since, constantly evolving.  For awhile it was going to be a steampunk novel.  Then it spent awhile in my head as a quieter, more literary magical realism piece.  But before long my characters were like this:

And so the story shifted around a few more times.  For awhile it was getting very Captain America, but it's settled more into an urban fantasy/sci-fi.  But at the same time the genres were changing, the characters were fighting for front position.  First there was Everett, and Mason didn't exist for almost a year after the initial idea.  And then, suddenly, there he was.

And I'm thinking, "What?  What just happened here?  Where did you come from?"

He entered into the story like BAM, THIS IS MY BOOK NOW.  He was wanting the entire book to himself, and Everett's way too laid-back to fight him.  I had to lay down the law and say no.  Fine, dual POV.  I can handle this.  Probably.  My two POV characters pushed back and forth at each other for awhile, but the dual POV was still what we were going with.

(For all of you non-writers: characters have minds of their own and can control things in the story.  It sounds bizarre, but it's absolutely true.  I explained this more in this post.)

I'm still not 100% sure where this story will take me, but I'm excited to learn.  I'm thrilled to be in the first-drafting mode again.  Hopefully I'll finish this faster than my previous novel. 

Well, I'm off to get my characters under control and mess up their lives and manipulate their emotions and all that fun stuff.  

[insert Loki horse joke here]
 What are you writing right now, my lovely blog readers?   

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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Sorcerer of the North (Ranger's Apprentice #5) by John Flanagan

Several years have passed since the apprentice and his master, Will and Halt, first met, and Will is finally a full-fledged Ranger with his own fief to look after. The fief seems sleepy--boring, even--until Lord Syron, master of a castle far in the north, is struck down by a mysterious illness. Joined by his friend Alyss, Will is suddenly thrown headfirst into an extraordinary adventure, investigating fears of sorcery and trying to determine who is loyal to Lord Syron. As Will battles growing hysteria, traitors, and most of all, time, Alyss is taken hostage, and Will is forced to make a desperate choice between his mission and his friend.

Perfect for fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone, Christopher Paolini’s Eragon series, and George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire series.

Released: November 4th 2008          Pages: 295
Publisher: Puffin Books                   Source: Library

First of all, we need to talk about that last paragraph in the blurb.  The part about the recommendations.  Let's not compare Ranger's Apprentice to aSoIaF.  Yes, they have many similarities, but there's one major issue with this recommendation.  I would give a Ranger's Apprentice book to a twelve-year-old (maybe younger, even), providing they could read at that level.  I wouldn't give aSoIaF to twelve-year old.  Nope, nope, nope.  I could never have that on my conscience.  Seriously...there are a few things in aSoIaF that even I wish I'd never read about.*  And I'm seventeen. 
Moving on.  For me, this series has been and continues to be something I'm staying with for the long haul.  Each book has its own faults, and the series seemed to be going downhill with books two and three, but it seems to be going back up.  The Sorcerer of the North is probably my favorite thus far. 

I love the developing relationships between various characters.  I haven't decided yet whether I like the Will/Alyss romance.  (Fine.  I was shipping him with Cassandra.  Oh, come on, I can't be the only one.)  I love the dynamic between Will and Halt--their camaraderie, their constant testing of one another. 

Will continues to be the lovable sort of idiot Eragon is.  Both characters are sharp, intelligent people, but are sometimes so thickheaded they can't see the obvious truths right in front of them.  And yet, both are still likable.  Will makes an adorable traveling musician, for some reason.

My one question: where is Gilan?  Gilan established himself as one of my favorite characters from this series right from the start, and I haven't seen him in a few books. 

By the way, I feel like this book should come with a warning.  HALF A BOOK ALERT.  The end of this book is a cliffhanger, so the next book is just a continuation of this same storyline.  And I want to know what happens! 

Overall, I enjoyed this more than any other book in the series so far.  The characters and their relationships are constantly developing and growing.  The cliffhanger at the end makes me need the next book right now.

Similar Books: It's for an older audience than Rowan of Rin, but a younger audience than Eragon or A Game of Thrones, though they all share many common elements.  It's much less complex and intense than the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  It also reminds me a little of the Darkest Age trilogy.
*(spoilers) That one scene in A Storm of Swords, where Jaime and Cersei are...on a religious full view of the corpse of their son...I kind of want to forget that.  I kind of just want to forget every scene that involves Jaime and Cersei.
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Sunday, June 2, 2013

Advent (Advent Trilogy #1) by James Treadwell

A drowning, a magician's curse, and a centuries-old secret.

1537. A man hurries through city streets in a gathering snowstorm, clutching a box in one hand. He is Johann Faust, the greatest magician of his age. The box he carries contains a mirror safeguarding a portion of his soul and a small ring containing all the magic in the world. Together, they comprise something unimaginably dangerous.

London, the present day. Fifteen-year-old Gavin Stokes is boarding a train to the countryside to live with his aunt. His school and his parents can't cope with him and the things he sees, things they tell him don't really exist. At Pendurra, Gavin finds people who are like him, who see things too. They all make the same strange claim: magic exists, it's leaking back into our world, and it's bringing something terrible with it.

First in an astonishingly imaginative fantasy trilogy,
Advent describes how magic was lost to humanity, and how a fifteen-year-old boy discovers that its return is his inheritance. It begins in a world recognizably our own, and ends an extraordinarily long way from where it started--somewhere much bigger, stranger, and richer.

Released: February 2nd 2012              Pages: 448
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton         Source: Library

First Look: ****Initially, I was attracted to the cool cover.  The premise involving the Faust legend intrigued me as well.

Setting: ***** Pendurra was oddly backwards.  It was supposed to be, a little, I presume, but it seemed too much so.  I mean, didn't they have a gas station, at least, or anyplace like that where Gavin could have gone for help?  It seemed like the whole village was very out of touch with the modern world.  This would make sense, in context, but the author never really let me know for sure, so now I'm left wondering. 

Characters: ***** Gavin didn't act fifteen.  If I wasn't told his age, I would have put him more around twelve.  His decisions, his language, everything--he came off as immature.  A major factor in this, for me, was his swearing.  It didn't seem like the say-it-without-thinking that would be typical of a fifteen-year-old boy accustomed to swearing.  It seemed more like a twelve-year-old's version of experimenting with swear words and throwing them around awkwardly.  (I go to a public high school--I can tell who is used to swearing all the time, and who isn't.)

He also made some pretty dumb decisions.  The most obvious one was staying in Pendurra, and not getting help.  His aunt didn't show up as planned for days, and no one could find her.  The most logical thing to do in that situation is call the police.  Not dither around and bond creepily (we'll talk about that in a minute) with twelve-year-olds.  Also, disturbing, unsafe things are happening all over the place.  And Gavin stayed.  A sane person with any amount of common sense would have gotten out of that place as fast as possible.

Marina had an eight-year-old's mind inside a twelve-year-old body.  I got the vague sense that she was young for her age, but this seemed excessive.  She was completely clueless about the world around her, and it was frustrating.  It wasn't realistic.  And then Gavin made a few remarks that almost made it sound like he was romantically interested in her.  Um, what?  A fifteen-year-old boy with more-than-friend feelings toward a twelve-year-old girl is downright creepy, and is firmly in get-professional-help territory.

 Plot: ***** The first half was so slow; I couldn't bring myself to stay interested. The second half was so weird and convoluted that most of the time I had no idea what was going on.   After about page 200, it was just strange after strange after strange, and none of it was ever explained.  The introduction of mythical(?) creatures and beings was jarring.  I could have accepted it if there had been a reason or motivation behind it, but there wasn't.  The author gave me nothing to hold on to.

The occasional Faust chapters didn't make much sense, either.  They weren't connected enough for me to discern any kind of storyline, or any reasoning as to why the chapters were place where they were.  

And I know I've mentioned this before, but...why didn't Gavin just go back to his parents?  They may have hated him, but at least they weren't trying to kill him!

 Uniqueness: ***** Let's take a look at this: simple-looking ring, has magic properties, is both a gift and a burden, lost to mankind for many centuries until it was reclaimed by a young seemingly-nobody...  Um, Tolkien published this same story in 1954, except that I liked it a thousand times more.

Writing: ***** 
The writing, in places, was actually quite lovely.  (Here's my obligatory nice comment.)  It was offset, though, by the fact that it took forever for anything to happen.  It seemed to me that this wasn't so much a plot-pacing issue as a narration-pacing issue.  There's a difference.  Though the plot was also quite slow, the narration didn't help.  Sentences and paragraphs were quite long, which made for the feeling of slower reading. 

Also, there were some run-on sentences, for no good reason.  These are just flat-out incorrect.

 Likes: ...

Not-so-great: I think we all know what I didn't like. 

Overall: This is a strange and convoluted story.  The main character acted five years younger than his age, and wasn't likable or developed.  At about page 200 it got bizarre and didn't make much sense.  Before that, hardly anything happened.  I didn't like this book, and I don't recommend it.

Similar Books: It involves the Faust legend in the modern world like Endymion Spring, the same type of magic and mythology as The Raven Boys, and reminds me a little of Prophecy of the Sisters.

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