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Thursday, August 29, 2013

On Creating An "Authenic Teen Voice" (Or Any "Authentic Voice", For That Matter)

One of the keys to writing a compelling novel is to write with an authentic voice.  If your voice is "authentic", all this means is that it sounds real.  It doesn't read like an author is telling a story--it reads like the character herself is telling the story.  It feels natural and organic.

So many authors, though, try almost too hard to create an "authentic voice", especially an "authentic teen voice".  Many adult authors, especially, feel the need to capture a voice that is, at the core, a teenager voice.  One that everyone would instantly recognize as a teenager voice. 

This is necessary, to an extent.  You can't write a modern teenager's voice that sounds believable if you're using slang that's been out of use since the '80s.  You can't create an authentic, real-feeling 13-19-year-old if you assume they think just like the 40-some-year-old author. 

Some authors take this way too far, though.  They try too hard.  The voice often comes out sounding forced, exaggerated, and unrealistic.  These unrealistic voices tend to be either overly sarcastic, or they just reinforce an unrealistic stereotype.  And they have no authenticity. 

For a minute, I'd like to reiterate the point about over-sarcastic teen characters.  I've talked about this before, but I'll say it again.  The number of teens in books who are constantly being sarcastic and snarky is much, much higher than in real life.  Look, I made pie charts (click to enlarge):          

And the reality (estimated using non-mathematical methods called "guessing" and "this looks about right"): 

In my experience, most teens don't act like this.  Yes, some do, but most don't.  This is an unfortunate teen stereotype that fiction only serves to reinforce.  And while I'm on the topic of teen stereotypes, let's talk about the typical high school stereotypes for a minute.  You've got the popular girls, the jocks, the nerds, the goths, theater geeks, etc.  Sometimes authors sound like they learned about modern high school dynamics through High School Musical.  The characters act like they came right out of HSM's stereotype molds.  I could rant forever about how unrealistic these stereotypes are, but I won't. 

For a movie that is supposedly about breaking down stereotypes, HSM actually does the opposite--it reinforces these clichés.  For one, it presents characters that conform to these stereotypes, which is the first thing that makes me go "Nope nope nope!".  It presents a set of seemingly stereotypical characters who have an "inner secret" that is just so opposite their predetermined social group that it comes off as unrealistic, and is actually played for laughs.  The fact that Troy, a "jock", likes to sing is taken seriously, but then we have the nerd who likes hip-hop dancing, the skater who plays the cello, etc., and they are not meant to be taken seriously.  It's meant to get snickers from the audience, and that bothers me.  Playing it as comic relief only suggests that this is absurd, that this is not and should not be taken seriously. 

And besides, nobody fits into the movie stereotypes of high school students.  High schools do have cliques, and there is a hierarchy.  In my experience, though, there's nobody who is that cut-and-dry.  There are always unexpected friendships between people who, at first glance, would never appear to operate in the same social circles.  A vast and overwhelming majority of teenagers can't fit themselves into any one stereotypical group, even if they wanted to.  I play tennis.  Am I a jock?  I'm in many AP and honors courses.  Am I a nerd?  I'm in band and speech.  Does that make me a performing arts geek?  At least, at my school, and I imagine in most other schools, it's completely okay for the football quarterback to also be in the school musical.  There are brilliant "emo kids" who get excellent grades.  Things like this happen all the time and none of us in high school really think much of it, because most of us get the point that people are more complex and nuanced than stereotypes make us out to be.

And besides, random things like this happen in HSM.  Random "Gotta go frolic across a golf course lawn randomly and sing a random song" things.  Zefron, what are you doing?  Headmaster Zefron, are you alright?

(If you don't believe me about HSM being ridiculous, look at some GIFs.  For some reason, putting it in GIFs makes it even more absurd.  Like this.)

But I'm digressing from my main point.  And my main point is that so many authors seem to try too hard to create an authentic voice. 

There is no one single "authentic teen voice".  In fact, there's no one "authentic [any character type] voice".  No single "authentic boy voice", "authentic girl voice", "authentic adult voice".

Every character is different.  There is one authentic voice for Katniss Everdeen.  For Eragon.  For Hazel Grace.  For Percy Jackson and Ender Wiggin and Tyrion Lannister anyone else who has ever had a point-of-view chapter, ever. 

There's just you, and your character.  You don't need to try so hard to be authentic.  All you need to do is write a voice that is authentic to your character, and to you.  If you can manage that, then you will have the authentic voice.

So can we stop trying so hard to find the one, the only "authentic voice"?  Because it's not out there.  It doesn't exist.  The only authentic voice you can ever find comes from you, and your own characters. 

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Monday, August 26, 2013

Project Cain by Geoffrey Girard

Fifteen-year-old Jeff Jacobson had never heard of Jeffrey Dahmer, the infamous serial killer who brutally murdered seventeen people more than twenty years ago. But Jeff’s life changes forever when the man he’d thought was his father hands him a government file telling him he was constructed in a laboratory only seven years ago, part of a top-secret government cloning experiment called ‘Project CAIN’.

There, he was created entirely from Jeffrey Dahmer’s DNA. There are others like Jeff—those genetically engineered directly from the most notorious murderers of all time: The Son of Sam, The Boston Strangler, Ted Bundy . . . even other Jeffrey Dahmer clones. Some raised, like Jeff, in caring family environments; others within homes that mimicked the horrific early lives of the men they were created from.

When the most dangerous boys are set free by the geneticist who created them, the summer of killing begins. Worse, these same teens now hold a secret weapon even more dangerous than the terrible evil they carry within. Only Jeff can help track the clones down before it’s too late. But will he catch the ‘monsters’ before becoming one himself?

Released: September 3rd 2013      Pages: 368
Publisher: Simon & Schuster       Source: ARC received through Goodreads First Reads giveaway

First Look: ***** Before I get started, I'd like to point out that I didn't know anything at all about the author drama surrounding this book until after I read it.  For the record, I would've given it the same rating either way.  (I'll discuss the drama a little later.)  Anyway, I love this book's cover.  It bugs me a little that his right hand isn't reflected correctly in the water, but overall I like it.  The image is significant to the themes of the novel.  From the first moment this book showed up in the mail, that guy on the cover looked familiar.  I feel like if he looked up he might be like this:
I really want to see the cover model's face, because I feel like he'd look exactly like Jonathan Crane.  Oh my goodness the theories that spring from this.  THE THEORIES.  A young Jonathan Crane* on the cover of a novel about serial killers. 

 Setting: *****  
The setting didn't play a big role in the novel, so I don't have much to say about it.  I would've liked to have a clearer idea of where the characters were at any given moment.  They drove around quite a bit to a few different states, but the author never really said where they were going.  Also, it seemed like they drove from one place to another faster than would be possible in real life.

Characters: ***** This aspect was, in fact, the part of the novel I enjoyed most.  While I wish I could've gotten to know Jeffrey better (through some actual showing instead of telling; more on this later), I could see that he was complex.  He acted realistically, always fearing what he might do, being the clone of a notorious serial killer.  I grew to like him.  I have a feeling that if this book had been written better, he would have been a fantastic and well-developed character.  He was dynamic, and even relatable. 

Castillo was the weaker character, in my opinion.  He seemed unpredictable, in that one minute he'd act like he cared about Jeffrey, and the next he'd act like Jeffrey was just some obnoxious kid trailing him around. 

What I really wanted to see was some more interaction between Jeffrey and the other Dahmer clones.  I have a feeling that this would have had some excellent conflict.

 Plot: ***** I have mixed feelings about the plot.  I didn't really dislike it, but I have nothing specific to complement, either.  My issues are specific, but I can't pinpoint a good reason why I didn't outright dislike it. 

My main issue is with the focus of the plot.  It seemed like it would shift suddenly between two objectives.  First, they wanted to catch the murderous kids on the loose.  Then, out of nowhere, there was a secret weapon that they had to find.  The "secret weapon", though, was introduced briefly, in a way that I didn't place too much importance on it, but it became vital in the past few chapters.  If you're going to make something a big deal in the climax, you can't just pull it out of close to nothing towards the end of the book.  It needs to be woven into the entire book along with everything else.

 Uniqueness: ****
Although there are many other books dealing with clones, this one puts a unique spin on it.  I love the premise of this book--take the DNA of famous serial killers, make clones, and see what happens.  It's not something I would approve of in real life, but it's a great idea for a novel.  (Actually, though, what were those scientists thinking?  Who in their right mind would think this is a smart idea?)

Writing: ***** 
And now we come to what I liked least, by far, about this novel.  It was 368 pages of solid telling.  And no, I'm not exaggerating at all.  There was no showing whatsoever in this novel.  (See this post for an explanation of showing vs. telling.  In short: showing=good, telling=bad.)

So, apparently, the author of Project Cain is under the impression that using no showing and all telling throughout an entire novel is an innovative way of writing a novel targeted towards more reluctant readers.  He considers this use of constant and incessant telling an example of "devices, voice and structure I simply didn’t see being used in most other current YA novels".  (This quote came from here.)

Um.  There is one very good reason why most current YA novels don't read like a textbook.  It's that people don't like to read telling.  People want showing.  Showing is engaging and enjoyable.  Telling, not so much.  And it didn't work for me in Project Cain any more than it has in any other novel I've read.

The use of the word "like" also bothered me.  The narration (first person, from Jeffrey's point of view) would, like, say "like" in casual narration.  And that, like, grated on my, like, nerves.  Just because, like, many teenagers say it, like, all the time doesn't mean you have to use it in your narration.  There's, like, a fine line between making narration sound realistic and being too realistic.

 Likes: Nothing not already mentioned above.

Not-so-great: 1. Yet another wild author-responding-poorly-to-uncomplimentary-review appears!  I'm not going to take the time to rant about my full views on this subject, because 1. you probably don't want to hear it and 2. it makes me so mad, it might not fit into this review anyway.  If you want to know more about what happened, go here.  I will say, though, that I don't like the idea of authors directly interacting with book bloggers, whether the review is positive or not.  There needs to be a healthy amount of space between bloggers and authors, otherwise the reviews can't be honest, because we'll all be afraid of authors with lawyers watching over our shoulders all the time.  An author once commented on my review of his book, and even though it was a four star review, it still made me a little uncomfortable.

2. Did anyone else feel a bit of eye strain and the beginning of a headache after watching this book's trailer?  So many yellow eyeballs do not thank me for watching that.

3. Am I the only one becomes suspicious when an author's name is similar to the main character's name?  I understand that Geoffrey Girard was using the name of an actual person, Jeffrey Dahmer, to name his main character.  Still, though, whenever I see this kind of similarity, I can't help but think that the main character is just a thinly disguised version of the author.  This might or might not be true, but it bothers me.  It would be like me, whose name is Anne, writing about an Ann.  It would be weird. 

 Overall:  This is how the author described this novel:  "If there were a party of good YA books about serial killers, Project Cain would indeed be the creepy one standing outside the window. But it’s not to join them.  It’s to douse their house in gasoline, and just maybe strike a match…" (quote source)  Good grief.  I don't even know how to respond to that.  In my opinion, Project Cain was an entire novel narrated entirely by telling, which was not enjoyable.  Some aspects I liked, like the main character, Jeffrey, and all his complexities.  Otherwise, though, I didn't enjoy this much.  The plot was unfocused, and, again, THE TELLING. 
Similar Books:  It reminds me of The House of the Scorpion in that the main character is a clone, and is a little like Unwind in the same regard (though Unwind doesn't technically involve cloning).  It involves top-secret, sketchy science experiments like Virals or Mila 2.0.
*This is totally random, but does anyone else know the Imagine Dragons song 'Bleeding Out'?  There's that line "With the darkness fed/I will be your scarecrow".  That line never made sense to me, but now whenever I hear it, I think of Jonathan Crane/the Scarecrow.  And suddenly it makes so much sense.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Sentences You Need To Stop Using

The more I read, the more I see the same sentences and phrases, over and over again.  They're annoying, unoriginal, and often meaningless or impossible.  Therefore, we should stop using them in our writing (unless you're turning the cliché on its head somehow).  This is by no means an exhaustive list, and there are many, many examples I've missed.  It's not really as much a list of clichés as a list of overused and/or illogical sentences that make me roll my eyes. 
  • "I let out a breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding."  I see this all the time in books, but think about it: have you ever had that experience in real life?  Think hard.  You haven't, have you?  It doesn't happen.  So why do fictional people do it?
  • Anything beginning with "Finally..."  Here is my favorite use of the world finally: (full quote here)
And he says, "Viola-?"
And I pull myself towards him-
And I kiss him.
And it feels like, finally.

(Patrick Ness, Monsters of Men)

This is a beautiful use of that word.  Unfortunately, most of the time it's used at the beginning of a sentence, and it's usually used for no reason.  Finally implies that you've been waiting a long time for something, or that something has lead up to this point.  Writers tend to use it to imply that an amount of time has passed, which is poor word choice.
  • "I looked in the mirror and saw [insert description of features]."  I wrote an entire post about the character-looking-in-mirror cliché once.  There's something you should know about it: it's stupid.  Don't do it.
  • Anything including the phrase "mere slip of a girl".  This is often used to describe small, slender girls.  Not only is it overused, but it also doesn't really make sense, when you think about it.  What is a "mere slip"?  What does that even mean?  And why do we never see "mere slip of a boy" to describe small boys?
  • Variations of "there wasn't anything special about me" or "I was just a normal teenager".  Let me tell you something about normal.  IT DOES NOT EXIST.  There are two wonderful monologues about this, and I highly recommend watching both of them.  It'll take about three minutes total, and trust me, it's well worth it.  They're right here and here (pardon the language).  Can we get a big ol' Celebrate Me Week "I am special!"?  (I highly doubt anyone will know where that's coming from.  If you do, you're cool.)
  • "The last thing I saw was darkness."  I've seen this sentence over and over, almost always at the end of a chapter, right before a character passes out.  My first problem with it is that it's overused, and it's becoming a cliché.  My second problem is that, I'd imagine (I've never passed out, so feel free to correct me about this), most people don't see darkness before they pass out.  They probably see what's right in front of them, or maybe some black spots.  As far as I know, there isn't a dark stage in between consciousness and passing you.  You just...pass out.
  • "His eyes were flecked with gold."  I've never actually looked at someone's eyes and noticed gold flecks.  I know it happens, but it's much more common in fiction than in real life.  Plus, it's annoying.  Why does every fictional love interest have to have eyes flecked with gold? 
  • Anything involving "his sculpted abs/chest/biceps".  Why does every muscular guy have "sculpted" muscles?  Is there only one word that we can use to describe muscles, or what?  I'd like to see some more originality in this area.
  • "I blinked my eyes."  Um, good.  Just curious...what else could you blink? 

  • "After X happened, my world would never be the same."  News flash: fiction is full of characters getting their worlds turned inside out.  It's the whole point of fiction.  Every character is somehow jarred out of their ordinary lives into a plot of some sort.  Not only is this sentence a cliché, it's also unnecessary.  This should be evident from your plot; if you need to say this, there's a major plot problem.
  • "When I saw him, my stomach did a flip."  Can I make another Angus reference here?  Okay, I'd like to keep this blog G-rated, so I won't.  But those of you who have seen the movie know exactly what I'm talking about.  If your stomach is doing a flip, this is serious cause for concern.  This is completely unnatural, and you should probably get that checked out by your doctor.
  • "As you already know..."  If you're using this phrase, there's a 99.9% chance you're infodumping.  I wrote an entire post about this; it's right here.  The one thing you should know about infodumping is that you shouldn't do it.  Nobody likes it.
  • Sentences beginning with obviously.  If something is obvious, why are you even writing it?  If it isn't obvious to the reader, make it obvious.  But don't add the adverb, because it's unnecessary.
  • "My heart skipped a beat."  Are you writing a novel or a Taylor Swift song?  Writers often use this to convey shock, or fear, or both.  Actually, if your heart is skipping beats, that is major cause for concern.  Like before, you should probably get a doctor to check that out for you.  Heart rates increase, yes, but my understanding is that they don't just "skip".
  • Anything.  That.  Is.  Written.  Like.  This.  For.  Emphasis.  Just.  No.  Can.  We.  Please.  Not.

What sentences annoy you?  How do you convey the same ideas in a new way?

Side note: There is a trailer for The Book Thief movie.  MY FEELS.  I'm really excited to see how this turns out, as its one of my all-time favorites.  At the same time, I don't want Hollywood to mess it up like certain other favorite books of mine.  Also, I'm a bit concerned because Death, as the narrator, isn't mentioned at all in the trailer, and he is one of the main points of the book.  And the last few seconds make it look like it actually has a happy ending!  If it has a happy ending, I'm going to be mad.  It's not supposed to have a happy ending.
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Monday, August 19, 2013

Aquifer by Jonathan Friesen

Only he can bring what they need to survive...

In 2250, water is scarce, and those who control it control everything. And they’ll do anything to maintain their power – deceiving, dividing families, banning love... even killing those who oppose them.

But above all, they seek to control knowledge and communication – ensuring the truth that will bring their downfall will never be known. But one person verges on discovering it all.

Sixteen-year-old Luca becomes the Deliverer, the only one allowed to contact the people called ‘Water Rats,’ who mine the essential water deep underground and bring it to the ‘Toppers’ who desperately need it above.

But when he meets a Water Rat who captures his heart and leads him to secrets – secrets about a vast conspiracy, and about himself – the net around him tightens. Luca and those around him must uncover and share the truth needed to overthrow tyranny – even as they fight for their lives.

Released: August 6th 2013     Pages: 303
Publisher: Zondervan             Source: ARC received through Zondervan's Z Street Team

First Look: *****  This looked interesting enough.  There's plenty of Christian fantasy (especially high fantasy) out there, because I think biblical messages and symbols translate well to a high fantasy setting.  I'd never read any Christian sci-fi or dystopian before this book, so that aspect intrigued me.

Setting: *****  It had much in common with other dystopian settings--highly controlled society, lack of water, children educated by government, etc.  (I find it interesting how these themes are repeated over and over.  We seem to fear them, as a society.)  And yet, it had its own unique personality.  I could tell that the people had their own unique culture, and the aspect of the Deliverer (a single person in charge of ensuring that the water doesn't get 'turned off'), and how that shaped the society.

Characters: ****
I liked Luca, the main character, well enough.  He was curious, inquisitive, and genuinely wanted to do the right thing.  On the other hand, he seemed to get over things way too easily.  For example, when he found out the truth about the Water Rats, the shock wore off much sooner than was realistic. 

Though I didn't outright love any of the characters, the others were decent.  Tayla, Luca's love interest, seemed a little generic, though in fairness, we didn't get much time to get to know her well.

What I appreciated was how human Luca was.  Meaning, he wasn't overly righteous or heroic to the point of being unrealistic, like in some Christian fiction I've read.  It's amazing how many Christian books shy away from giving their characters flaws, just because the book is Christian.

 Plot: ***** I really enjoyed the first half.  There was a mystery that needed solving, a secret stash of books, a fugitive to hide, and a missing father.  I wanted to know what would happen next.  The second half, though, starting once Luca and company went underground to the city of the Water Rats, got a little weird and hard to follow.  I kept up fine, but it felt rushed, especially the ending.  I found myself wanting more exploration of the plot and various aspects of the setting, but I didn't get it. 

And then there was the insta-love.  Almost as soon as Talya and Luca saw each other, they were in love, and Talya was ready to abandon everything she'd ever known and risk her life to go with Luca.  Um, what?
 Uniqueness: *****  Again, it has much in common with other dystopian books, but it has enough uniqueness to make the plot and setting not feel tired and overused.

Writing: ***** 
Throughout the book, the dialogue struck me as oddly proper and formal.  It just  Maybe their education system teaches kids in a way that they grow up sounding like this.  I don't know.  Then, however, Luca's uncle spoke in a way that made him sound more like an under-educated person, which confused me.  Why would he use poor grammar, when he got the same education as everyone else?

Another problem I had was the pacing.  Like I mentioned earlier, the second half of the novel went way too fast for my liking, almost like it was skimming along the top of the plot instead of fully fleshing it out.

 Likes: I like how the Christian themes were present without being overbearing or preachy.  Also, this is my 200th review!  So, if you've read any number of those reviews, thank you!  Here's a GIF for you:

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

Overall: Overall, I enjoyed this.  I had my problems with it--including the pacing, oddly formal-sounding dialogue, and most of all, the insta-love.  I liked the setting, though, and the characters well enough.  The themes presented were interesting, and the premise was unique.  Plot-wise, the first half was awesome.  Overall, this is a good standalone dystopian book, especially if you're looking for some good and unique Christian fiction (though if you aren't Christian, you won't be put off by this book, as far as I can tell).  

Similar Books: It had a setting that reminded me a little of Ship Breaker, or its companion, The Drowned Cities.  And also, FreaklingIt featured hidden/underground cities in a dystopian setting like The City of Ember.

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Friday, August 16, 2013

A Feast For Crows (A Song Of Ice And Fire #4) by George R. R. Martin

After centuries of bitter strife, the seven powers dividing the land have beaten one another into an uneasy truce. But it's not long before the survivors, outlaws, renegades, and carrion eaters of the Seven Kingdoms gather. Now, as the human crows assemble over a banquet of ashes, daring new plots and dangerous new alliances are formed while surprising faces—some familiar, others only just appearing—emerge from an ominous twilight of past struggles and chaos to take up the challenges of the terrible times ahead. Nobles and commoners, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and sages, are coming together to stake their fortunes...and their lives. For at a feast for crows, many are the guests—but only a few are the survivors.

Released:  November 2005          Pages: 1060
Publisher: Bantam                       Source: Library

Popular opinion seems to say that A Feast For Crows is to A Song Of Ice And Fire what Order of the Pheonix is to Harry Potter movies.  It's the one everyone likes least.  The forgotten, overlooked one.  The reason for this is fairly obvious.  This book is missing the point of view chapters of many people's favorite characters--Jon Snow, Daenerys, Tyrion Lannister, and others. 

My three favorite characters.  Way to go, Martin.

And yet, my experience with A Feast For Crows wasn't bad at all.  In fact, despite the lack of my favorite characters, I enjoyed this installment as much as any of the others.  If nothing else, because my favorites weren't really in the story, they wouldn't be killed off.

You have no idea how much comfort this gave me. 

There was one major realization, though, that has revolutionized how I read this series.  Throughout the previous three books, I tried to like characters.  I picked out favorites, and rooted for them.  Well, picking favorites in this series is a terrible idea.  Because they die.  They always die. 

But a hundred pages into this book, I realized something.  I realized that, in fact, I can't stand most of the remaining characters.  Cersei is a scheming, cruel, ruthless person; I still can't like Jaime, even though everyone else seems to; Sansa just mopes and whines; Littlefinger is such a creeper that I can't even begin to cover how creepy he is; Sam's heart is in the right place, but I can't respect him since he has absolutely no backbone; Joffrey's dead but this list wouldn't be complete without him; and so on.  There are some people I like, but mostly, my favorites are either dead or absent.  And are we not going to talk about Rickon Stark?  Are we just supposed to forget he exists, or what?

Disliking everybody has given me a new perspective on this series.  If I dislike everyone, then I really don't care who wins.  But I want to know who comes out on top.  I desperately want to know.

It's the high fantasy Hunger Games in here.

I feel like an awful person saying this, but it's true.  All of Westeros is the arena, and I'm in this for the long haul.  Martin has taken a few hundred of the most cruel, ruthless, backstabbing, violent, disrespectful, unlikable people and thrown them all together into an enclosed space.  And then the game begins, and I can just sit back and watch it happen.

This is an odd way to read a series, but I'm going to go with it.  Because, let's face it, I enjoy the complexities of the game.  In my review of the first book, I talked about how complex it was.  Ha.  Ha.  I had no idea what was coming for me, did I?  Each book gets more complex, and in a few cases, the glossaries become necessary.

Everything about this world is compelling: the worldbuilding is phenomenal.  Martin has created a huge, intricate world that's entirely believable, and populated it with believable characters (even if I don't like them). 

I'm going to have to call Martin out for his continued ubiquitous use of the metaphor of "flowering" for periods.  It bugs me.  Girls are constantly referred to as "a maiden flowered", and sometimes it's said that "their flower is in bloom".  Um, what?  As someone who has gone through this experience, let me tell you, getting your period does not feel like flowers.  It does not evoke images of flowers in any way.  When I look at a flower, it does not remind me of painful cramps, hormonal weirdness, and a general sense of inconvenience.  When a girl's "flower is in bloom", one of her internal organs is, quite literally, ripping itself apart.  How about, instead of using this ill-fitting metaphor, we define a girl by her personality and actions rather than the state of her insides?

Anyway, though, apart from a few things, I enjoyed this book just as much as the others.  I can't say I didn't miss a character or too, though.  I'm eager to hear about them in the next book.  It'll be a reunion.

Feels.  Many feels, right here. 

Similar Books:  Eragon, the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Possibly Dragons of Autum Twilight? aGoT is much more political than Eragon, and much less quest-y than LotR. Its only similarities to DoAT are that they're both high fantasy and they both have this gigantic epic tome feel to them.  It has a similar premise and feel to Falling Kingdomsand kind of The False Prince, though TFP is a million times tamer (and smaller).  It also reminds me of the Seven Realms series.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (The Inheritance Trilogy #1) by N.K. Jemisin

Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle with cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she draws ever closer to the secrets of her mother's death and her family's bloody history.

With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, Yeine will learn how perilous it can be when love and hate - and gods and mortals - are bound inseparably together.

Released: February 25th 2010     Pages: 427
Publisher: Orbit                          Source: Library
First Look: ***** My initial reaction to this book's series title: Inheritance Trilogy.  Trilogy.


Okay, so Christopher Paolini's little trick he pulled after Brisingr wasn't so funny at the time. But I can laugh now.

 Setting: ***** 
The setting, in itself, was fine.  My problem, though, was that I wasn't given any reason to care about it.  Okay, so evil people are about to become this place's rulers.  Fine.  But why should I care?  Yeine, the main character, loved her homeland, but that was as far as it went.  I didn't know much about anything outside the palace. 

My other problem was that the magic system made no sense.  It had no defined rules.  First, the gods showed up.  Then, though, out of nowhere, Yeine had all these powers.  First she had a little power, but suddenly it was BAM! and she has (and can use) a huge amount of magic with no training at all.

 Characters: ***** 
I couldn't find much to like about Yeine.  For one, she hardly did anything throughout the entire book.  She sat around at court, eavesdropped a little, and hung out with a creepy thousand-year-old being in a nine-year-old's body.  The major thing that bugged me about her, though, was her low self-esteem in terms of physical appearance.  She didn't think she was pretty.  She didn't like her hair, her eyes, or her "boyish" figure.  She complained about it regularly.  This kind of negative self-image is, unfortunately, realistic.  However, it annoys me when this aspect of a character never changes or develops.  For example, Elisa from The Girl of Fire and Thorns hates how her body looks.  However, throughout the books, she learns to love herself more. 

In Yeine's case, though, there was never any progress.  When a character complains about how they look, and the author never does anything about their low self-esteem, it grates on my nerves.  At the same time, it's degrading to the character.  Why does Yeine have to keep putting herself down like this, for no good reason?

In terms of everyone else...I didn't care much.  Nahadoth and Sieh creeped me out.

 Plot: ***** The more I think about it, the more I realize that nothing really happened in this book.  It didn't drag on and on, but Yeine never really did anything.  Like I said before, she hung out with people who were clearly creepy and dangerous to her, and eavesdropped.  She didn't take action--she let things happen to her. 

I didn't understand why she didn't run far, far away from Nahadoth and the rest of the gods.  If a thousand-year-old deity with an unstable dual personality.  And besides, he had a huge amount of power threatening to spill over.  Phenomenal cosmic powers, itty bitty living space.  Okay, fine.  I reworded this entire paragraph so I could make that reference.  I regret nothing.  If this guy showed interest in me, I wouldn't encourage him, like Yeine did.  I wouldn't talk to him.  I wouldn't go near him.  I would get away as fast as possible.  But no, she had to go and start a relationship with him.  I wanted to knock some sense into her.

 Uniqueness: ***** 
It had some unique elements, like the idea of all the kingdoms, the relationship between the humans and gods (except that the gods basically just acted like humans anyway), and a few other things.  However, none of these elements were fully developed, so none of them ever stood out to me.

Writing: ***** 
So many times, the narration would come out with a metaphor that was trying to be eloquent and clever.  Most times, though, it didn't quite make it.  I could tell that the thought was there, but it never quite worked for me.  And then, sometimes, some phrases were just weird and made me say "What?"  Like this one:

"...his lips make me crave soft, ripe fruit."

Never, once, in my seventeen years of being a straight female, have I looked at an attractive guy's lips and thought, "You know, I could really go for an orange right now."  I spent a solid five minutes trying to puzzle out this sentence.  What...just, what?  Does this seem weird to anyone else?  "Wow, that guy is gorgeous.  He has lips...I want oranges.  Mangos.  Bananas.  I NEED FRUIT.  Someone go to the store and get me an entire pineapple or something, STAT!"  I can't get over this.  I just can't.

I also was annoyed by the use of 'round instead of around and 'til instead of until.  Is it that hard to write out one or two extra letters?

 Likes: ...

Not-so-great: Half the names, it seemed, were difficult or impossible to pronounce.  T'vril? Nahadoth? Enefadeh? Ygreth?  I can do this, too.  Aw;eoijfaslkdfj.  Or, as one of my favorite authors once wrote, Thardsvergûndnzmal.  And then there's always Raxacoricofallapatorius.

Overall: This wasn't a bad book, but I wasn't impressed with it, either.  Yeine doesn't do anything, and spends way too much time complaining about how "ugly" she looks.  She also makes a pretty dumb decision to start a relationship with a guy that is obviously dangerous to her.  The plot didn't drag, but it wasn't exciting, either.  Some of the writing felt a little weird.  Overall, it's an okay book, but I probably won't be reading the sequels.  No, my Inheritance Trilogy will always be Christopher Paolini's.  I don't care if it has four books.  I've been with it since it had three, so I can call it a trilogy of I want.

Similar Books: It features a female main character in a high fantasy setting like Poison Study, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, and Grave Mercy, and has a more political tone like The Poison Throne or Falling Kingdoms.
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Saturday, August 10, 2013

What I Learned About Writing from The Avengers

Since I had fun with my What I Learned About Writing From Eragon post a few weeks ago, I decided to do another.  This time, I'm going with a movie, rather than a book (because movies still have valuable writing lessons!).  It's the third highest grossing movie of all time.  The Avengers, of course. 
  • Your novel should be tight.  Like clingwrap.  I talked about what this means in this post.  Basically, if your novel is tight, everything fits together and it flows at a solid pace.  It should have no weak points.  The Avengers is like this, and so are good novels.
  • Snappy one-liners are awesome.  One thing I love about writing is that your characters can fire off awesome comebacks like that *snaps fingers*, and it looks like that just rolled off instantly when, in real life, it took you half an hour to think of it.  People tend to love a character that fires off these snappy lines all the time.  Like Tony Stark.  (I do believe, though, that the ultimate master of the comeback is Artemis Fowl.  Seriously.  That kid is quick.) 
  • Sometimes, we just want a little comic relief.  Emotions take a toll on the readers.  We want our readers to feel, but we can't let them sink into a dark pit of despair, either.  (Unless you're writing A Song of Ice and Fire, of course.  Then, by all means, go right ahead.)  Sometimes, all it takes to give readers a little break is to include a little comic relief.  The Avengers does this all over the place. 
  • Awesome villains are, well, awesome.  HELLO, LOKI.  Do I need to say any more about this?  I probably don't.  I kind of have already, anyway.
  • Chemistry is vital.  This movie would be nothing without the unspoken romantic intensity between Natasha and Clint.  The culture and generational clash between Steve and Tony.  The we're-enemies-but-you're-my-brother conflict between Thor and Loki.  The epic bromance of the Science Bros (Bruce and Tony).
  • Don't underestimate the power of side characters.  Some of the strongest characters in the movie aren't even the big heroes.  Phil Coulson pretty much establishes himself right away as the guy you don't want to mess with, even though he has no superpowers.  And yet, we connect with his admiration of Cap, which makes him human.  Side characters can be just as valuable to your story as the main protagonist. 
    Welcome to Level 7.
  • "Thought we wouldn't notice, but we did."  If you think you can stick a plot hole or inconsistency into your story and nobody will notice, you're wrong.  Readers can and do notice these things.  Please, get rid of plot holes. 
  • Sequels are hard.  Think about how many other movies The Avengers is a follow-up to: Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk...  It manages to tie in loose ends from all of them at the same time.  If you write a sequel for your book, you're going to have to find that balance between tying things together, and creating new storylines.
  • It's fun to hide little clues for your readers/viewers.  Did you know that a few scenes before Iron Man falls from space, there's actually a schwarma restaurant in the background of one of the shots?  It's not important to the plot, but still.  If you can hide tiny clues throughout your story and not make it too obvious, you might have fun with it.
  • You have to think about logistics.  If your characters have to make an 100-mile journey on foot, don't let them do it in a matter of days or even hours.  (TDKR, I'm looking at you.)  While you don't have to write about every minute of the journey, you can't just pretend it didn't happen, either.
    Well, this is...(wait for it)...hawkward.
  • Most people love escapism.  The Avengers asks the viewer to do a huge suspension of belief.  For example, are we really going to believe that all the Chitauri magically disappear at the same time?  Probably not.  And though the plot gets a little out there and a little unbelievable, it's still a fun ride and I enjoy it despite its flaws.
  • If you can pull off a clever plot, do it.  The Avengers is so, so clever in that the good guys don't actually win.  Think again.  It's clever writing on Joss Whedon's part.  If you can figure out how to work clever things like this into your story, and do it well, by all means, do it!
  • You can get a huge message across with no dialogue.  Does anyone ever specifically say that Clint and Natasha are in love?  No.  Do we all know it?  Of course.  You can use body language, emotions, and simple actions in your novel to convey huge pieces of information.
  • Sometimes you have to sit back and let your characters tell the story.  When Tony Stark is eating food during this movie, most of the time, it's not scripted.  It was just Robert Downey Jr. wanting a snack.  However, some of these scenes (blueberry scene, anyone?) with unscripted eating actually added something to the plot.  If your characters are feeling the need to improvise, give them a little rein.  Something good might well come of it.
What about you?  What have you learned about writing from The Avengers?  What books/movies have you learned from?

Edit: There's another great article on this same topic right here.
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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Proxy (Proxy #1) by Alex London

Knox was born into one of the City’s wealthiest families. A Patron, he has everything a boy could possibly want—the latest tech, the coolest clothes, and a Proxy to take all his punishments. When Knox breaks a vase, Syd is beaten. When Knox plays a practical joke, Syd is forced to haul rocks. And when Knox crashes a car, killing one of his friends, Syd is branded and sentenced to death.

Syd is a Proxy. His life is not his own.

Then again, neither is Knox’s. Knox and Syd have more in common than either would guess. So when Knox and Syd realize that the only way to beat the system is to save each other, they flee. Yet Knox’s father is no ordinary Patron, and Syd is no ordinary Proxy. The ensuing cross-country chase will uncover a secret society of rebels, test both boys’ resolve, and shine a blinding light onto a world of those who owe and those who pay. Some debts, it turns out, cannot be repaid.

Released: June 18th 2013     Pages: 384
Publisher: Philomel             Source: Library

First Look: *****  I keep trying to take a break from dystopian, but then books like this with cool premises I can't ignore come around, and I can't resist.  The idea of this book grabbed me instantly, and I really wanted to see how it would be executed.

Setting: ****
It's so hard to differentiate all these near-future settings.  They're all dystopic on one level or other, and they're all high-tech.  In each one (each of the good ones, anyway), the real originality is in how the society thinks and how the culture has changed.  Proxy's setting had some interesting aspects, including the use of a "whipping boy" to pay off debts.  While it's not something I'd suggest for our future society, the book presented it as a possible what-if alternative, and I think the setting overall worked well for the story.

Characters: ***** Knox and Syd made an interesting duo.  At first they hate each other, but they slowly and grudgingly earn each other's trust and maybe even friendship.  Even at the end, there's so much clash between them.  Knox comes from a wealthy family, Syd from a poor, and their ideas about the world are often at odds with each other. 

Of the two, Syd was my favorite.  He was easiest for me to root for, probably because he'd grown up in an environment where he had to learn how to take care of himself, which made him more responsible than Knox.  He had a sweet side and was genuinely nice to people and loyal to his friends.

I grew to like Knox, but it took longer.  Knox spends much of the earlier chapters being an arrogant, irresponsible jerk.  Slowly, though, he takes responsibility for his actions, which made me respect him more.

 Plot: ***** I was never quite sure if this would turn out to be a "let's go join a rebellion" type of dystopian novel or not.  Proxy wasn't one of those novels, though throughout there are hints of a brewing revolution.  I suspect the next book will have much more to do with the Rebooters, the revolutionary group.

The plot was action-packed, and well-paced.  I did have a problem, though, with how quickly Syd forgave Knox.  Syd has spent his whole life paying for Knox's mistakes, and I feel like Syd got over that fact way too quickly.  Otherwise, though, the plot was enjoyable. 

Uniqueness: ****
Unique dystopians are hard to find, and though it isn't radically different from anything I've read before, it did bring a new element to the genre.

Writing: ***** 
The writing tripped me up in a few places.  At first, when Syd and Knox were apart, each chapter was in each respective boy's point of view.  I assumed the entire novel would consist of separate third-person point of views.  When Syd and Knox were together, though, it turned into more of an omniscient point of view, showing both Syd and Knox's thoughts.  I'm not a fan of omniscient point of views, and this one disoriented me more than once.

Also, in every case except one, "Chapter 11" (this book's term for gay) was written with numbers.  One time, though, it was written like "Chapter Eleven".  I couldn't see a reason for this, so I think it's a typo.

Likes: The cover is shiny!

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

Overall: Proxy is an exciting, fast-paced novel in an interesting near-future world.  The main characters, Knox and Syd, were likable, and the relationship between them evolved from enemies to allies, and then friends by the end, and the progression was written in a realistic way.  The omniscient point of view threw me off a little, though, in the later chapters where both boys are together.  Still, I enjoyed this book, and I'll be reading the sequel.

Similar Books: It asks questions about the value of human life like Unwind or The House of the ScorpionIt has a near-future, high-tech setting like Ready Player One, Legend, or even The Maze Runner.

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Monday, August 5, 2013

The Importance of Shipping

If you're expecting a post about the importance of the Columbian Exchange and Middle Eastern trade routes and such, you're so wrong that I don't even know what to say to you.

No, I'm talking about the intense kind of shipping.  The war-starting shipping.  The OTP and canon kind of shipping.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, congratulations. No, really, I mean it--congrats.  You've successfully navigated the internet and the world thus far without becoming involved enough in fandoms to know what a ship is.  You're probably better off in your ignorance, and I wouldn't blame you if you left right now.

Okay, now that we're settled, here are is a quick intro to shipping (for those people that don't know and didn't leave):

Ship (n): short for relationship.  Usually used for fictional romantic pairings.  Bellatrix/Voldemort is my favorite ship.  Okay, okay, I don't know why that would be anyone's favorite ship.  It was the first thing that came to mind.  I don't doubt that it exists and is a thing, but still, ew, ew, ew.

Ship (v): to endorse a (usually romantic and fictional) pairing.  I ship Drapple.  Oh, come on.  Who doesn't ship Drapple?  Drapple is totally canon.

Canon (adj.): if something is "canon", it is an official part of the novel/show/movie as written by the author.  Percabeth (Percy Jackson/Annabeth Chase) a canon ship.  A Titanic-like ship, but still a canon ship.

I want Jon/Daenerys to be canon.  (Is there even a ship name for this?  I've seen "Snownborn", once, but that's it.  I propose...Jonerys?  Daeneron?  Snowdragon?  MotherOfDragonsWhoKnowNothing?  UGH THERE'S NOTHING THAT SOUNDS CATCHY.) 
OTP (n): abbreviation for "One True Pairing".  The ship that you ship above all other ships.  Whether or not a person can have more than one OTP is debatable; personally, I'm open to having multiple OTPs as long as they don't overlap (as in, you can't have both Hinny and Harmony as an OTP).  Occasionally also appears as an adjective.  Eowyn/Faramir is my OTP! 

Why am I talking about shipping, though?  Why does it even matter? 

It's more important than we think it is.  Why do so many people ship?  Why does it get so competitive?

The million dollar question: Why do so many people get so emotionally involved?   
Rick Riordan, are you listening? 
Isn't that the key to writing fiction, to involve people's emotions?  If we can't get our readers emotionally involved, we haven't done our job.  If a reader is so involved in the story and the characters that they feel an emotional connection to it, they'll enjoy it and buy more of your books and tell their friends about it and love it and it's basically the best thing ever. 

In January of 2012, I talked about the reason people reread their favorite books over and over, even though they know what's going to happen.  They do it because they love the characters.  The characters are their friends, and they feel like real people.  The reader loves these characters. 

It goes deeper than that, though.  It's not just the connection with characters that we crave--it's our connection to the relationships between characters.

Think about it--how boring would it be if everyone related to everyone else in the exact same way?  Where would the Harry Potter series without his clash with Snape, his friendship with Hermione, his love for his lost family?  Where would The Hunger Games be without Katniss's fierce protectiveness of Prim, or her complicated feelings for Peeta?  Where would A Song of Ice and Fire be without the sibling clash between Tyrion and Cersei Lannister, or the friendship/enemyship/whatever it is that Jaime Lannister and Brienne have?

We love to love characters.  But characters standing on their own mean nothing.  What we truly connect to is the way they connect with others.  The way they love, hate, and need.  The ways that they act with their friends.  Their enemies.  The people they've known forever. 

If you ask a Whovian what they love best about the show, there's a good chance that they'll mention Ten's love for Rose.  If you ask a Sherlockian what they like best, there's a good chance someone will mention the complicated admiration and rivalry between Sherlock and Moriarty.  The list goes on and on.  People don't just love the characters--they love how the characters love and hate and clash with and develop friendships with the other characters.

People have a distinct way of relating to each individual person in their life.  Let's say you have a group of three friends.  If you have a relationship problem, you always turn to one friend.  If you need a good laugh, you turn to the other.  If you need someone to just sit there and listen, you turn to the third.  You're friends with all three, but each one you relate to in a slightly different way.  Fictional characters are no different.

This brings us back to shipping.  If people are shipping your characters, I like to think that you've done something seriously right.  If people are shipping characters, they've not only developed an emotional attachment to these characters, but they've developed that even deeper connection with the relationship between these characters.  Essentially, they've connected with the way the characters connect (or don't connect) with each other. 

How do we create this, then?  How do we set our readers up for that kind of connection?  Character development, of course.  But not just the characters themselves--in developing the way they interact with each other.  This interaction is one-fourth of my Four Aspects of Character Development.  It's vital for a good story.

We want our characters to be ship-worthy.  We want people to point to two of our characters and say "This is my OTP!"  Canon or not, it shows that the author has, in most cases, been able to form a connection with readers. 

This is what we want to work for.

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Friday, August 2, 2013

Mist, Froi of the Exiles, and Snow Crash Mini-Reviews

Mist (Mist #1) by Susan Krinard
Centuries ago, all was lost in the Last Battle when the Norse gods and goddesses went to war. The elves, the giants, and the gods and goddesses themselves were all destroyed, leaving the Valkyrie Mist one of the only survivors.

Or so she thought.

When a snowy winter descends upon modern-day San Francisco in June, Mist’s quiet existence starts to feel all too familiar. In quick succession, Mist is attacked by a frost giant in a public park and runs into an elf disguised as a homeless person on the streets…and then the man Mist believed was her mortal boyfriend reveals himself to be the trickster god, Loki, alive and well after all these years.

Loki has big plans for the modern world, and he’s been hanging around Mist for access to a staff that once belonged to the great god Odin. Mist is certain of one thing: Loki must be stopped if there is to be any hope for Earth. But the fight is even bigger than she knows….  Because Loki wasn’t the only god to survive.

Released: July 16th 2013         Pages: 384
Publisher: Tor Books              Source: Goodreads First Reads giveaway

I won this as an ARC through a Goodreads First Reads giveaway.  I'll admit that what drew me to it was, predictably, Loki.  And Norse mythology in general. 

Mist, the main character, has what I like to call the "surface strong female character" condition.  On the surface, she's what you'd label as a "strong female character".  She can fend for herself and she beats up a bunch of male characters throughout the story.  She's not like Bella Swan.  And yet, there isn't much to her, beyond the fact that she's not a damsel in distress.  There's the action, the fighting, but there's not much depth to her.  That disappointed me.

I was also a little disappointed with the plot.  I was hoping it would be big and grand and epic, but it didn't give me that we've-got-to-save-the-world feeling.  I never got the sense that the world was in danger.  Even thought it was trying to be big, it wasn't. 

Honestly, my favorite part was the prologue.  (I don't know if I've ever said that before.  Ever.)  The WWII Valkyrie action was exciting and intriguing.  I would've gladly read an entire book about Valkyries fighting Nazis, and I would've probably preferred it over the modern storyline.

Similar Books: It involves Norse mythology in a modern setting like Loki's Wolves, had a strong urban fantasy feeling like Voices of Dragons, and reminded me of The Raven Boys.
Froi of the Exiles (Lumatere Chronicles #2) by Melina Marchetta

Blood sings to blood, Froi . . .
Those born last will make the first . . .
For Charyn will be barren no more.

Three years after the curse on Lumatere was lifted, Froi has found his home... Or so he believes...

Fiercely loyal to the Queen and Finnikin, Froi has been trained roughly and lovingly by the Guard sworn to protect the royal family, and has learned to control his quick temper. But when he is sent on a secretive mission to the kingdom of Charyn, nothing could have prepared him for what he finds. Here he encounters a damaged people who are not who they seem, and must unravel both the dark bonds of kinship and the mysteries of a half-mad Princess.

And in this barren and mysterious place, he will discover that there is a song sleeping in his blood, and though Froi would rather not, the time has come to listen.

Released: March 13th 2012        Pages: 593
Publisher: Candlewick              Source: Library

I first read this book's predecessor, Finnikin of the Rock, in 2009.  I have no idea why I waited so long to read Froi of the Exiles.  I can't believe I kept putting this off!

Froi of the Exiles is just as good as Finnkin, if not better.  It's dark and intense in the best way possible, but with moments of light and hope shining through.  It involves a romance that isn't love at first sight.  It develops slowly, cautiously, in a way that makes you love it all the more.

Melina Marchetta, will you tell me your secrets?  I love how she creates characters.  They're all so flawed, so complex.  And yet I love them.  They have the same intensity and dynamics and real people.  I loved Froi, and Quintana, and all the rest. 

This book had a few major secrets to reveal, and they genuinely caught me off guard.  I was kept up late into the night, wanting to know what would happen next.  I'm so incredibly in love with this book right now and I probably should stop myself from ranting about it, since this is a "mini-review".  Five big, wonderful stars for Froi.
Similar Books: It's a dark, intense high fantasy with incredibly complex characters like Falling Kingdoms, The Demon King, and even A Game of Thrones.  It would also appeal to fans of fantasies such as The Girl of Fire and Thorns, In the Hall of the Dragon King, or The Poison Throne.
 Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
In reality, Hiro Protagonist delivers pizza for Uncle Enzo’s CosoNostra Pizza Inc., but in the Metaverse he’s a warrior prince. Plunging headlong into the enigma of a new computer virus that’s striking down hackers everywhere, he races along the neon-lit streets on a search-and-destroy mission for the shadowy virtual villain threatening to bring about infocalypse. Snow Crash is a mind-altering romp through a future America so bizarre, so outrageous…you’ll recognize it immediately.

Released: May 1st 1992       Pages: 470
Publisher:  Bantam Books  Source: Library

Let me sum up my entire reading experience in this one GIF:
At first, I read that the main character is named Hiro Protagonist.  Half of me is going "I see what you did there", and the other half is rolling my eyes.  And that's basically what I felt about the entire book.  Some of it was kind of funny, kind of clever.  The rest of it was weird, baffling, and disjointed.  It had some convoluted and sketchy religious messages, and I can't decide what to think about any of it. 

Snow Crash had all the ingredients to be a cool technological thriller, but I was bored through much of it.  The worldbuilding was cool, but I couldn't connect to the characters, and the actual goal of the plot was difficult to identify.

I still can't decide how I feel about it.  It's odd, it's quirky, and it has its good moments.  Ultimately, though, there isn't enough I liked about it to give it more than three stars.

Similar Books: It has high-tech cyberpunk elements and involves virtual realities like Ready Player One or even Epic, and it kind of reminds me of Incarceron for some reason.

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