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Friday, November 29, 2013

BZRK (BZRK #1) by Michael Grant

Set in the near future, BZRK is the story of a war for control of the human mind. Charles and Benjamin Armstrong, conjoined twins and owners of the Armstrong Fancy Gifts Corporation, have a goal: to turn the world into their vision of utopia. No wars, no conflict, no hunger. And no free will. Opposing them is a guerrilla group of teens, code name BZRK, who are fighting to protect the right to be messed up, to be human. This is no ordinary war, though. Weapons are deployed on the nano-level. The battleground is the human brain. And there are no stalemates here: It’s victory... or madness.

BZRK unfolds with hurricane force around core themes of conspiracy and mystery, insanity and changing realities, engagement and empowerment, and the larger impact of personal choice. Which side would you choose? How far would you go to win?

Released: February 28th 2012    Pages: 391
Publisher: EgmontUSA             Source: Library

First Look: ****This intrigued me, first and foremost, because Michael Grant wrote it.  I'm a huge fan of his Gone series, so I hoped this would be just as good.  That was all the reason I needed to pick this up.  

Setting: ***** 
I wish the time period of this book would have been clearer.  If this book's inside cover hadn't said, "set in the near future", I wouldn't have been sure.  The world seems like the modern world we know--it hasn't become overtly dystopian yet, at this point in time (if we assume that the world eventually turns dystopian in every fictional world, because that seems to be the trend).  Some of the technology used--the nanobots, mainly--seemed out of our current reach, but then again, you'll see equally ahead-of-its-time technology in our time if you watch Iron Man 3.  It would have been easier to figure this out if there had been a few clues placed so that we'd know this takes place a few years ahead of today.    

Characters: ****
The most prominent characters, Sadie and Noah, were fairly likable.  They each had distinct personalities and backstories, which made them seem real.  While I liked each of them individually, I'm not sure how to feel about their insta-love.  Almost as soon as they meet, they start to develop feelings for each other.  This half makes sense, and half doesn't.  Each of them desperately needed someone, given the situation they were in.  And yet, it was still insta-love, and it was too needy to be a healthy relationship.

I didn't care one way or the other about anyone else.  Every other person that was part of BZRK was one-sided.  None of them felt real.  I didn't like anyone who was working against BZRK, either.  I suppose that was Michael Grant's intent, but I wish they could have at least had interesting motivations or personalities.

Plot: ***** The plot picked up almost right away, which I appreciated.  From the first chapter, things started happening.  The action didn't let up until, well, the end of the book.  This book is very much a thriller--there's action and more action and little time for anything in between. It did have some sparse quieter moments, though, mostly between Noah and Sadie.

At times, there were two separate chains of events happening at once: one in "the macro", the type of real-life action you're accustomed to.  And then, at the same time, there were events unfolding on a tiny scale, with the nanobots.  This made things more intense, which was awesome.

Uniqueness: ***** The nanobots were what made this book stand out.  Without them, the rest of the book wouldn't stand out much.  Instead, they brought a whole new level of cool, weird technology to this book, in a way I've never seen before.

Writing: ****As I mentioned before, I'm impressed with the way Michael Grant handled having two separate action sequences happening at once, in various scenes.  It would have been so easy for these scenes to become disorienting and confusing, but they weren't.  They were clear and to-the-point, like every other thing I've read by Michael Grant.  Though there were a few sentences that made me think "Are you sure you don't want a comma there?"  I don't remember noticing an annoying lack of commas in places that should have them in Gone, but they were pretty frequent in this book.

This is just a personal thing, but many of the scenes involving the nanobots grossed me out in a fascinating sort of way.  Half of me was thinking, "This is kind of cool", but the other half was going "Great, now I need to scrub those mental images out of my brain".  It's a little bit like reading The Monstrumologist, where you can be both amazed at the sheer poetry of something, and horrified at the same time.  While BZRK wasn't poetic like The Monstrumologist, some elements left me feeling uneasy in some form or other.  Did I really need a reminder that colonies of tiny little aliens are swarming over my skin at this very moment?  Nope.

Likes: Leave it to Michael Grant to write things that make me question whether I should be disturbed by them or not.

Not-so-great: I stared at my blank review template for ten minutes like this because my feelings for this book were so confusing:

Overall: My feelings for this are very mixed.  On one hand, the nanobots were cool (if not unsettling).  The action scenes involving nanobots were written in a way that was surprisingly clear and easy to follow.  Noah and Sadie were decent characters, but their relationship developed too fast to be healthy.  I didn't care one way or another about the other characters.  Overall, this is more of a 3.5 star book, but I'll round it to four because I did enjoy it, for the most part.

Similar Books:
It displays Michael Grant's talent for vaguely disturbing weirdness, like in his Gone series (though this can go past 'vaguely', at times).  It's a thriller with teen protagonists like Boy Nobody, The Reluctant Assassin, or The Shadow Project.
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Monday, November 25, 2013

How To Revise A Novel In 70 Easy Steps

Now that NaNoWriMo is almost over (you should have 40,008 words by far behind are you?), you'll need to start preparing for the second step of writing a novel: revision.  In October of 2012, I posted a guide of how to write a novel in 70 steps.  Now, I present my guide of how to revise a novel in 70 easy steps*.

Note: My interpretation of "easy", in this situation, is rather questionable.
  1. Write a novel.  See another post for a how-to in 70 easy steps.
  2. Celebrate said novel.
  3. Shove it in a drawer and spend a few weeks/months/millennia purposefully not thinking about said novel.
  4. Pull book from drawer.  Reread book.
  5. Decide book is awful.  Yuck, did I write this thing?  Ew.
  6. Cast it back into the fiery chasm from whence it came!
    Elrond: Destroy it!  Isildur: No.
  7. Or, you know, the drawer.
  8. A few days later, pull novel back out.  Decide that you're actually going to fix it.
  9. Procrastinate Spend valuable time gathering editing supplies.  Notebooks, cappuccino, and an arsenal of red pens.  The perfect red pens, though.  Not just any random pen you found on your desk when you came into your chemistry class.  (I refer to this as "adopting" pens.  If you've never done this, you're lying.)
  10. Sit down with novel in one hand, notebook and pen in other, cappuccino on the desk in front of you.  Prepare to read and take notes of what needs to be fixed.
  11. Suddenly, have a strange urge to vacuum your bedroom.
  12. Vacuum the bedroom, and resume editing.
  13. Read book.  Take notes on what needs to be changed/what works/where this is a big gaping plot hole so massive a black hole could get sucked inside.
  14. Finish reading.  Ask yourself, "Did I write that?"
  15. Again, this novel.  YUCK.
  16. Decide another novel idea is a better use of your time.
  17. Return to novel.  Open up its Word Document and start making big changes.
  18. Move so many scenes around that you can't remember what goes where and nothing makes sense anymore.
  19. Decide that one certain scene needs to be deleted.
  20. On second thought, it doesn't.  You worked for hours on that single scene.  It can stay.
  21. But it JUST DOESN'T WORK.  
  22. *angst*
  23. Compromise by deleting said scene from actual draft, but copying and pasting it into another document.  It's not truly gone, right?
  24. Completely rethink your entire vision for the novel.  Now even more things have to change. 
  25. *shuffling noises*  Ah, the sound of moving things around and making voice stronger and readjusting character arcs and such. 
  26. Everything is finally...maybe...where you want it on a large scale.
  27. Except that one scene.  Bust it apart and scatter the pieces because they're your words to delete so you can be violent about it if you want to.
  28. Now everything is where you want it.  From a distance.  The closer you look, the uglier it gets.
  30. Print entire manuscript, double-spaced.  Marvel at the sheer amount of paper and printer ink it takes.  Trees?  Who needs those?
  31. Prepare for battle. 
  32. Go an an adverb-crossing-out spree.  Delete ALL the adverbs!
  33. Meticulously comb through every line for awkward phrases, words you don't like, and other weird typos.  
  34. Make so many red marks that you simultaneously feel like you're making progress and also that your writing is terrible.  (Or green marks or whatever color your want.  I edit things in green.)
  35. Realize that you can actually smell the ink from your pen.  Is that good or bad?
  36. Attack novel with pen until it looks like a warzone.  
  37. So many words...this is harder than it looks.  And it looks hard.
  38. Wonder if you've started something you shouldn't have started.
  39. Decide that you'll never get anywhere with this.  Toss it aside. 
  40. Eventually, return to line edits.  Continue wreaking havoc and destruction with your red pen.
  41. Look at so many words that you start to go cross-eyed. 
  42. Find the perfect reaction GIF for a situation in your book.  Then remember that you can't put GIFs in novels. 
  43. Realize that you're almost done.  
  44. Spend half an hour obsessing over one sentence.  
  45. Finally, finish line edits.  
  46. Then realize that you are now faced with the Herculean task of typing all of your edits back into your novel's Word document.
  47. Cry.
  48. Embark on this perilous and maddening journey.
  49. Go on YouTube to find the perfect epic music to play while you edit your novel.  Waste twenty minutes deciding which music to use.  I recommend this ten-hour loop of 'I'll Make A Man Out Of You', this ten-hour loop of the Game of Thrones theme, Kyle Landry's Pokémon or Lord of the Rings piano medleys, or Imagine Dragons' 'Nothing Left To Say / Rocks' (because when you're in the middle of a big pile of editing, you might feel like this).
  50. Begin typing everything into your computer.  Can you feel the eye strain yet?
  51. Wish that you could jump ahead in your own time stream to a point where you have finished doing this.
  52. Begin building a time machine.
  53. Realize that all of the necessary physics equations necessary to build a time machine, and a time machine that lets you jump ahead in your own time stream at that, are even more maddening than your editing.
  54. Return to editing.
  55. Become a little desperate to be done. 
  56. Give yourself a pep talk and begin typing your edits into the computer twice the speed as before.
  57. Finish typing everything into the computer.  Spend five minutes in denial; after all this time, how could you actually be done?
  58. Confirm that yes, actually, you are done. 
  59. Cry.
  60. Send shifty-eyed glances toward your next novel.
  61. Celebrate. 
  62. No, wait.  There's still one other thing that needs to be changed.  Now you're done.
  63. Do this, whatever this is: 
  64. Save the file of your finished and revised novel in about eight different places so it's harder to destroy, like Voldemort putting pieces of his soul into random objects.
  65. Contact the Guinness Book of World Records and tell them about the impossible feat you have just accomplished.
  66. Admire how shiny and lovely your novel is, now that it's all revised.
  67. Try to forget about the fact that if you want to be published, you'll probably have to endure another round of revision with your literary agent.
  68. Realize that you have revised an entire novel.  Therefore, you are invincible. 
  69. ?
  70. Become a bestselling author and make as much money as J. K. Rowling.

What are you favorite/least favorite steps of revision?  Are there any steps you would add?  While you're here, how is NaNoWriMo going, for those who are participating?

*If you're looking for an actual how-to on novel revision, I have a serious one as well.  The same goes for finishing a novel.
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Friday, November 22, 2013

The Iron Thorn (The Iron Codex #1) by Caitlin Kittredge

In the city of Lovecraft, the Proctors rule and a great Engine turns below the streets, grinding any resistance to their order to dust. The necrovirus is blamed for Lovecraft's epidemic of madness, for the strange and eldritch creatures that roam the streets after dark, and for everything that the city leaders deem Heretical—born of the belief in magic and witchcraft. And for Aoife Grayson, her time is growing shorter by the day.

Aoife Grayson's family is unique, in the worst way—every one of them, including her mother and her elder brother Conrad, has gone mad on their 16th birthday. And now, a ward of the state, and one of the only female students at the School of Engines, she is trying to pretend that her fate can be different.

Released: February 22nd 2011    Pages: 492
Publisher: Delacorte Books        Source: Library

First Look: ****That girl on the cover is a mess.  First, someone badly needs to introduce her to the glorious concepts of shampoo and conditioner.  And maybe sunlight and a hairbrush as well.  She'd also do well to find a dress that actually fits her.  This picture, to me, illustrates why strapless dresses are not a good idea.  Finally, someone needs to show her how to do "natural" makeup.

Anyway, I was in this for the steampunk.  It looked interesting, though if I'd known it involved a version of the fey, I would've been more hesitant.  Books about the fey/faeries/whatever you call them have never been my thing, and I'm not sure why.

Setting: ****If nothing else, I liked the uniqueness of the setting.  It was a steampunk setting, but not the typical Victorian-era setting.  It was an alternate version of the 1950s, if I remember correctly.  All at once, it had historical fantasy, steampunk, and even dystopian elements.  The closed and controlled nature of the city gave it a dystopian feel.

The technology was cool.  Again, it was something different.  The aspects of the non-human creatures were also interesting, though I wish some of the creatures would have been described in more detail so I could actually picture them.

Characters: *****  I just discovered that I read the entire book mispronouncing the main character's name.  Is that my problem, or the author's, for picking an unusual name?  I'm not sure.  But apparently it's pronounced like this.  Apart from that, I never cared one way or another about Aoife.  She seemed real enough, but I still could never bring myself to care.  I liked how she wanted to break out of her society's restrictive gender roles.  On the other hand, she seemed overly eager to put herself and her friends in danger.

I disliked Cal.  He made too many sexist comments for me to ever respect him.  I realize that, giving the revelation about him at the end, this might be considered forgivable, but I'm not sure I can manage that.  Dean was your standard-issue bad-boy-who-is-actually-nice.  He was flat, and I could never understand why Aoife was so infatuated with him.  (I'm not sure if this is good or bad, but Jensen Ackles is basically ingrained in my brain as the face of the name "Dean" anyway.)

Plot: ***** The first half would have easily gotten four stars out of me.  Cryptic messages, a search to rescue a missing brother...this caught my interest.  The first half was compelling, and made me curious as to what happen next.

And then that thing happened.  That thing where the first half of a book has few or no hints that it contains anything remotely magical (in this case, fey-related).  Then, BAM!  Suddenly you're thrust into something supernatural, far beyond anything the first half would have led you to expect.  Whenever this happens, I lose my interest in the plot.  The Iron Thorn was no exception.  At first, Aoife just wanted to find her brother.  Then she was suddenly the focus of some faerie plot to do...something or other.  At this point, the book lost me.

Uniqueness: ***** The setting gave this book a fantastic sense of uniqueness.  I've never read anything like it.  Again, it wasn't quite alternate history, it wasn't quite dystopia, and it wasn't quite steampunk.  It met somewhere at the intersection of all three, which was interesting and cool.

Writing: ****Overall, the writing did a solid job of telling the story without being awkward or distracting.  I have no other general, overarching comments.  The only specific comments I have are nitpicks. Mainly, some of the slang terms used in this book.  I can't tell whether any of these things were actual 1950s slang, or whether the author made them up.  Most of the time I could figure out the meaning, but there were a few occasions where I couldn't quite grasp it, even in-context.

Likes: Nothing not already mentioned.

Not-so-great: Cal said this: "You're going to need glasses before long, and you know what they say: boys don't make passes--"

I'm a girl.  I wear glasses.

I'm stick of this stereotype that girls can never be as pretty with glasses as without.  I hate it when, in movies, girls who are shown as not that attractive, or even ugly, suddenly become beautiful when they take off their glasses.  (Note how, in The Princess Diaries, Mia does not wear her glasses after her "makeover".)

Overall: On one hand, this book had an awesome setting that mashed up various genres, which had an awesome effect.  The first half of the book, plot-wise, was compelling.  Aoife was an okay character, though I never cared for her one way or another.  On the other hand, the second-half of the book turned too supernatural, too fast, and it lost my interest.  The side characters were either boring, annoying, or both.  Overall, it's an okay book, given that I had a fairly equal number of likes and dislikes.

Similar Books: It had an alternate history setting with a steampunk feel, like Clockwork Angel.  It involved supernatural events in a non-modern setting like This Dark Endeavor or Darker Still.

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Irony Of The Hunger Games

I went to Subway on Sunday.  (This is relevant--I promise.)  This particular Subway, and all the others, I suppose, is almost always advertising a movie by putting pictures of it on cups and having life-size cardboard cutouts and such.*  On Sunday, they were advertising the upcoming release of Catching Fire.

I noticed some interesting things written on the cup.  There was something about how you could "win your own victory tour".  And there were "victors every hour".

Am I the only one who sees what is wrong with this?

It's not just Subway, though.  It's all of the Hunger Games themed things out there--the t-shirts and so on.  It's pop culture's obsession with The Hunger Games in general.

Is the irony not obvious yet?   If it isn't, here: millions of people are excited to go see a movie about the horrors of teenagers killing each other in an arena while the rest of society watches.  A blatant message of The Hunger Games is, of course, "it's bad to make teenagers kill each other".  Perhaps a bigger message, though, is "any society who enjoys this is sick".

Where does that leave our society?

The Subway advertisements have it all wrong.  They're completely missing the point.  Nobody should want to be a victor.  Katniss and Peeta were victors, yes.  And yet, Katniss never wanted to win the Hunger Games.  Winning was never her goal.  All Katniss wanted was to survive so that she could continue to support her family.  She never wanted the glory of winning.

Note how Haymitch's advice is not "Win.  Become a victor".  It's "Stay alive."  There's a big difference.

Throughout the series, the people of the Capital are portrayed as misguided, selfish, and even sadistic for their love of the games.  The teenagers who actually wanted to be victors are shown to have twisted worldviews.  And now people in real life want to be victors?  People are calling for a video game where they, too, can be a tribute and try to win the games (if this doesn't already exist).  Doesn't the fandom even call themselves "tributes"?  Again, how can so many people completely miss the point?

I have to wonder what Suzanne Collins (the author of The Hunger Games) thinks about all this hype.  Is there a part of her sitting back and asking, "What have I unleashed?"  Or maybe the series' popularity has just proved her point.

Let's zoom out and look at the current trend of dystopian novels, as a whole.  So many of these books proclaim the evils of totalitarian government and feature characters fighting to regain their own freedoms.  The books often have a strong sense of "This could happen to us--don't let it."  Millions of readers devour this stuff.  The trend just doesn't stop.  And yet, these same people go to their polling places and elect leaders who move us in this direction.  Totalitarian government is bad, right?  Each time the United States government takes control of something--most recently, health care--we inch a little closer to the very type of society these novels caution against.

Can we, I don't know, stop doing this?

People will say, "Oh, our society would never do that.  We'd never turn into people who would make things like the Hunger Games."  Well...why not?  What makes them any different from us?  I'm just going to leave that question there.  Do we not at least partially prove this wrong by having so much enthusiasm for the series, specifically the games themselves?

People like to focus on the love triangle in the series.  The relationship drama between Peeta and Katniss.  They giggle over Finnick's "occupation".  As a whole, though, the series isn't about any of this.  It's about people struggling to repair a corrupt society.

Don't get me wrong--I'm not denouncing the entire series.  Personally, I like it.  I'm not a die-hard fan, but I think it's a powerful story about family, the power of people who put their minds to creating change, and the lines between right and wrong.  My point is not that it's bad to like it.  I'm just saying that we need to retain (or regain) our perspective on it.  We can't lose sight of what it is, and what it isn't.  We can't turn it into a fascination for the games themselves.  As soon as we do that, we're no better than the Capital.  

*When they were advertising Iron Man 3, you could get a kid's meal in a reusable bag with a picture of Iron Man and the quote "Make your move".  I'm half amused and half disappointed that they didn't finish out the quote, because it's an excellent line from The Avengers: "Make your move, Reindeer Games."  Reindeer Games being, of course, Loki.  (Ignoring the fact that if you're young enough to get a kid's meal, you're most likely too young to see Iron Man 3 anyway.)

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Allegiant (Divergent #3) by Veronica Roth

The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.

The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.

But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.

Told from a riveting dual perspective,
Allegiant, by #1 New York Times best-selling author Veronica Roth, brings the Divergent series to a powerful conclusion while revealing the secrets of the dystopian world that has captivated millions of readers in Divergent and Insurgent.

Released: October 22nd 2013         Pages: 526
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books   Source: Library

Unpopular opinion alert.

The more I think about it, the more I'm not sure why I gave such high ratings to Divergent and Insurgent.  Divergent was four stars, with Insurgent more like a 3.5 that I hesitantly rounded to four.  Now, when I think back about my reading experience with both of them, I feel like I was trying to like them more than I actually did (this is more prevalent in my review of Insurgent). 

With Allegiant, I wasn't going to put any more effort into liking it than it deserved.  I was done "trying" to like this series; my feelings are too mixed for that.  I'm not even sure why I bothered with Allegiant--maybe I was still hoping that I could finally give one of these books four stars without reluctance.

Towards the beginning of this book, when Tris and Tobias are outside the compound, the infodump begins.  A massive infodump.  I sensed it coming on and went all Ned Stark on it.

I understand that there was a large amount of information that needed to get to readers somehow, but did it really have to come through extended conversations and drawn-out monologues?  For much of the book, especially in the middle, the plot slowed almost to a complete halt in favor of this infodump.  That is, chapters of infodump punctuated by Tris/Tobias makeout scenes that felt repetitive and unnecessary.

I've never been a fan of Tris.  Either she rushes into things without thinking about them, or she sits and deliberates about something for hours when I'm sitting here wishing she would just get on with it.  She is contradictory, at times.  It's not okay for the people running the experiments to "reset" Chicago, but it's okay for Tris to "reset" these people?  This makes no sense to me, and I couldn't respect this decision.  She's also highly insecure in her relationship with Tobias.  Check this out:

"A pretty girl asks you to meet her late at night, and you go?" I demand. "And then you want me not to get mad about it?"

Two things.  First: as soon as Tobias so much as looks in this other girl's direction, Tris freaks out and feels threatened.  Tris, you aren't the only girl your boyfriend gets to talk to, alright?  Second: what, so if the other girl wasn't pretty, Tris wouldn't be mad?  That is messed up.

I'm a little more fond of Tobias.  He has the more interesting backstory and the more interesting personality.  I've never loved him, but he always came across as a stronger character than Tris.  As for everyone else...the side characters seemed flat.  There are so many side characters in this series--combining them might have helped solve this problem.  Also, for some reason, the character names in this series bother me to no end.  Nobody seems to have a name that fits them.  I don't know why, but the names just never sat well with me.  Did anyone else notice this, or is it just me?

Another problem I had was with the separate point of view chapters.  This book is told from two perspectives, those of Tris and Tobias.  There was no differentiation at all between the two styles of narration.  The voice was the same for each.  It was easy to lose track of whose chapter I was reading at any given time.  If I stopped in the middle of a chapter, I would actually have to go back to the beginning of the chapter to check who was narrating before I resumed reading.  Also, this book was full of odd metaphors that kind of worked, but not really.

I have to give Veronica Roth credit, though, for *spoiler--highlight to read*killing Tris.*end spoiler*  It's an incredibly gutsy way to end a series.  I wasn't expecting it--I don't think anybody was.  If I had been more attached to the character, I would have been shocked and stunned, which was the intended effect.  Since I never cared for her, though, most of the impact was lost on me.  Still, though, I was touched by Tobias' emotions at the end, and his determination to keep on living, despite the circumstances.  This, for me, gave Allegiant a tiny bit of redemption.

Overall, it's hard to decide between two and three stars for this one.  There were so many things that bothered me, but at the same time, I didn't hate it.  More often than not, I just felt apathetic while reading.  It's a 2.5 star book, if anything, so I suppose I'll have to round it up, because I'm having trouble justifying two stars for it, because I didn't dislike it that much.  A hesitant three stars, then.

Similar Books: It has a similar feel to Shatter Me, Inside Out, and Under The Never Sky, both of which also feature female main characters, romance, and a dystopian (or at least futuristic) setting.  It's a dystopian novel that alternates between a male and female point of view like Legend.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Frozen (Heart of Dread #1) by Melissa de la Cruz and Michael Johnston

Welcome to New Vegas, a city once covered in bling, now blanketed in ice. Like much of the destroyed planet, the place knows only one temperature—freezing. But some things never change. The diamond in the ice desert is still a 24-hour hedonistic playground and nothing keeps the crowds away from the casino floors, never mind the rumors about sinister sorcery in its shadows.

At the heart of this city is Natasha Kestal, a young blackjack dealer looking for a way out. Like many, she's heard of a mythical land simply called “the Blue.” They say it’s a paradise, where the sun still shines and the waters are turquoise. More importantly, it’s a place where Nat won’t be persecuted, even if her darkest secret comes to light.

But passage to the Blue is treacherous, if not impossible, and her only shot is to bet on a ragtag crew of mercenaries led by a cocky runner named Ryan Wesson to take her there. Danger and deceit await on every corner, even as Nat and Wes find themselves inexorably drawn to each other. But can true love survive the lies? Fiery hearts collide in this fantastic tale of the evil men do and the awesome power within us all.

Released: September 17th 2013    Pages: 336
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile           Source: Library
First Look: ***** What is happening with the cover model's hair?  Hair floats.  Hair doesn't sink down like that.  I realize that the cover does say "frozen", but even if she was currently frozen, the water would've been liquid when she entered it, and either way, I read the entire book and I don't remember her being frozen in water.  Anyway, now that I've taken care of that, I need to tell you something.  Something this book's description doesn't say, but should.  DYSTOPIAN NAVAL BATTLE WITH DRAGONS.  If someone had forgone writing the description and simply wrote those five words, I probably would have picked this up sooner than I already did.

Setting: *****
Finally--a dystopian setting in which the world has gotten colder instead of warmer.  Even if I couldn't physically feel the cold myself, it was still a refreshing change.  The cooling aspect alone is enough to make this setting stand out, just because of how unique it is.

It doesn't stop at the cold, though.  Everything in this setting is so vivid, detailed, and gritty.  The world has less order and more chaos, like many dystopians.  What I love, though, is how this setting reflects on the characters who live in it.  Each character is a product of the world in which they grew up.  This is the key to making settings that feel real--tie it in with the characters. 

Characters: ***** 
I love books that involve two point-of-view characters who, at least initially, are pitted against one another.  I'm trying to accomplish this same thing in the novel I'm currently writing, so I loved seeing that in this book.  Nat and Wes begin with conflicting goals.  Throughout the story, though, these goals change and shift, and they find themselves on the same side, and their relationship morphs and develops as the story progresses.

Both Nat and Wes were such dynamic characters.  I loved Nat's backstory, her hidden secrets, her courage and resilience, and everything about her.  I loved the way Wes protected his crew, his calloused strength, the way he was unsure of everything.  I liked how they clashed and conflicted with one another, but also how they complemented each other.  The relationship between them never felt forced--it felt natural, like there was no other possible way their story could have turned out.    

Plot: ***** 
Nobody told this was a ship book.  I love ship books.  As in, books in which a significant portion of the plot is spent while on a ship.  NatWes, as I now dub this ship, is on a ship.  And I'm going to leave that comment right there without going further. Anyway, nobody told me that this book had dragons at the end, either.  Even without these two things, though, the plot was awesome.  The book started out, as mentioned above, with Wes and Nat at odds with one another, which made for marvelous conflict.  The entire time, I was kept engaged in the story--I was never once bored.  The plot kept me turning pages, and it was different from your typical "Help, help, I'm being repressed!" let's-take-down-the-totalitarian-government dystopian novel. Instead, it focused on other things. It was much more quest-y than dystopian novels typically are, which I liked. I loved the elements of magic, and how they played into the plot as a whole.

Uniqueness: ***** 
I feel like I'm repeating myself over and over.  I'll say it again, though--it's about time someone wrote a dystopian novel where the world has gotten colder instead of warmer.  Also, it's refreshing to read a futuristic story that doesn't involve trying to take down a repressive government.  The novel is an interesting and awesome mix of fantasy and dystopian elements, which makes for a unique and fresh read.

Writing: ****
I really appreciated the distinction between the two point of views.  This book is told by two different narrators, Nat and Wes.  In each of their separate chapters, it was easy to tell who was narrating.  Their voices were different, and that really shone through.  It made the characters stand out even more than they already did.  Overall, the writing did a good job of telling the story without distracting me or giving me unnecessary reminders of the authors' presence.

Likes: The zombies in this book are called "thrillers". Also, there's an Imagine Dragons* quote at the beginning of this book.

Not-so-great: Nothing not already mentioned.

Overall: Overall, this was an awesome book.  Nat and Wes (I just typed Nes and Wat...) are both equally dynamic, interesting, and lovable characters who contrast and complement one another nicely.  The plot is different and engaging.  It's nice to read about a dystopian setting affected by cooling, not global warming.  Each point of view voice was distinct, and I never had a doubt as to who was narrating any particular chapter.  If all of that praise wasn't enough, this book includes a dystopian naval battle.  With dragons.  Need I say more?

Similar Books: It's a dystopian novel split between two point of views that initially are in conflict with one another, like Legend and Proxy.  It is in the same vein as dystopian novels like Under The Never Sky and Shatter Me

*After two failed attempts to get tickets, a friend and I have finally secured ourselves a spot at an Imagine Dragons concert in March.  And I'm excited.  It's going to be awesome.
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Saturday, November 9, 2013

19 Thoughts And Reactions To Thor: The Dark World

This is generally a book blog, but sometimes I have to stop and talk about other things.  In this case, we have to stop our regularly scheduled programmed to discuss the latest Marvel movie.

I went to see Thor: The Dark World last night.  It was awesome.  My friends and I were talking afterwards, and one particular friend and I were trying to articulate our opinion about it.  We just ended up making vague "mind-is-spinning" gestures and saying "feels".

Everything is spoiler-free except for numbers 13 and 19.  Number 3 is  a nonspecific spoiler.
  1. Even if the story itself hadn't been awesome, the movie would've been worthwhile for the visual effects alone.  DAT CGI.  If attractive things are sometimes referred to as "eye candy", then Thor: The Dark World is an eye cheesecake.  Eye Ben and Jerry's.*  The panoramic shots of Asgard are stunning.  The gravitational weirdness with the truck is mind-bending.  Every little piece of tendril-looking magic or energy is awesome.  
  2. Alternate titles: Thor: Our CGI Is Better Than Yours, Thor: Yes, We Do Realize That Half Of You Are Just Here For Tom Hiddleston, Thor: Look At All This Power We Have Over Your Feels, Thor: You Didn't Really Need Your Eardrums Anyway, Did You?, Thor: Take That, DC!, Thor: Not Just Another Placeholder Until Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Thor Loki.
  3. Asgardian funerals are beautiful.  It was reminiscent of both Boromir's funeral: person is placed in boat (with sword, regardless of gender), and sent down a river and over a waterfall.  Someone then shoots a flaming arrow at the boat, like in the funeral of Hoster Tully in A Storm of Swords.  There are also Tangled-esque floating lanterns.  Conclusion: I want to have my funeral in Asgard.  The huge downside to all this, though, was the fact that a funeral was even necessary, because I hate it when beloved characters need funerals.
  4.  This happened.
  5. Spoiler: Thor still has biceps that probably set off security alarms in airports.
    Darcy: Look at you.  Still all muscly and everything.
  6. I didn't get the Loki horse joke that I wanted.  I realize that a horse joke would go over the heads of 80% of the audience, but if you would have been able to catch it, it would've been hilarious.  It's like wanting a hobbit joke for Martin Freeman in, well, everything.
  7. Loki also did not say "I do what I want".  What is Marvel holding out on?  It's also worth noting that we didn't see the "reindeer games" helmet at all.
  8. We got to see Sif beating people up.  And being sassy.  And also beating people up.  And not forming the love triangle with Thor and Jane that it seemed like the trailer was hinting at.
  9. If you've ever wanted to see Christopher Eccleston with Legolas hair, now is your chance.  Also, are we not going to talk about the fact that Christopher Eccleston's character essentially destroyed his own army in order to deal a crushing blow to his enemy?  Did he feel some déjà vu while filming that?
  10. Things blew up in this movie.  I want to rewatch the entire thing and just count the number of explosions, because it has to be huge.
  11. I had heard that Darcy would have a bigger role in this movie, that she would be more than just the comic-relief sidekick and the character that enables these movies to pass the Bechdel Test.  While her role was a little bigger, it still didn't extend far beyond sidekick and comic relief.  I would've liked to see more from her.
  12. Why can Chris Hemsworth pull off a neater-looking half-ponytail than I can?  
  13. That thing...that happened...I can't...I'm going to have to discuss this with spoilers.  These are actual spoilers, not like the "spoiler" in number 5.  If you don't want to know, read no farther (in number 13, anyway--14 is fine).  Marvel did the thing, guys.  Marvel killed him.  You know which "him" I'm talking about.  After he died, I spent the rest of the movie thinking, "Nope.  He'll come back.  They're not going to do that.  Isn't Tom Hiddleston signed on for a few more movies yet?  GAAAAH.  Nope nope nope."  And then the ending: ASDFJKL; WHAT JUST HAPPENED?  I don't know how to deal with this.  So, the denial was actually correct.  But still.  Then again, why wouldn't Marvel do that?  Why wouldn't they take that massive opportunity to create that kind of emotion, toss it around, then throw it right back at you?
  14. Loki impersonating Captain America.  You didn't know you wanted this until now.  This might have been the best part of the entire movie.  I can't wait until the GIFs start coming out. 
  15. Loki in general.  He's been imprisoned for awhile, and yet, he's still able to smart-aleck Thor.  In moments of danger.  This movie will not disappoint Loki lovers.  He gets a fair amount of screen time, and it's all used for wonderful character development.  We get lots of brother-brother moments with Thor.  We see Jane Foster slap Loki.  We see Loki being the annoying little brother.  We get a Loki/Frigga moment.  Loki has lost none of his signature charm, style, sass, manipulativeness, cunning, or anything else that makes Loki, well, Loki.
  16. This movie has the most baffling post-credits scene that I have ever seen.  I just stared at it with a skeptical expression.  Not sure if want.  I found this link, and it explains it, so now it makes more sense.  Still, I was in the theater, staring at it like this:
  17. It's getting to the point where if you go to a Marvel movie and don't stay past the credits, you're going to miss some crucial information.
  18. Ivan the intern.  He deserves his own movie.  I would watch it.
  19. (Actual spoilers) Two reactions to Frigga: 1. This lady is awesome.  Not only is she a loving mother, she's also capable of pulling out her weapons and attacking some bad guys.  2. *sob*  I wouldn't have expected her death to hurt all that much, since she didn't have much screen time in Thor.  But it did, and she got some surprising moments of depth right before her end. 
  20. Edit 11/10: I forgot about this point when I published this post, which is odd, considering it was one of the first things I pointed out to my friends while we were sitting through the credits, waiting for the post-credits scene.  When the dark elves come to attack Asgard, we see Asgardian machine-gun-Star-Wars-lasers.  We never see these again.  The Asgardian army, instead, fights with swords (or hammers), when the lasers are clearly more effective.  Why is this?  One of my friends pointed out that men with swords are attractive.  I cannot disagree with this.  Still, Cinemasins better take note of this.

In summary: it was awesome.  I don't think fans will be disappointed--I sure wasn't.  We'll see how the rest of Marvel's Phase Two plays out.

*I think this is officially one of the weirdest things I've ever written on this blog.

Have you seen Thor: The Dark World yet?  If not, what are you looking forward to, if you plan to go see it?
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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Lost Code (The Atlanteans #1) by Kevin Emerson

In the year 2086, Camp Eden promises summer “the way things used to be,” back before the oceans rose, the sun became a daily enemy, and modern civilization sank into chaos. Located inside the EdenWest BioDome, the camp is an oasis of pine trees, cool water, and rustic charm.

But all at Camp Eden is not what it seems.

No one will know this better than 15-year-old Owen Parker. A strange underwater vision, even stranger wounds on Owen’s neck, and a cryptic warning from the enchanting lifeguard Lilly hint at a mystery that will take Owen deep beneath Lake Eden and even deeper into the past. What he discovers could give him the chance to save the tattered planet. But first, Owen will have to escape Camp Eden alive…

Released: May 22nd 2012               Pages: 435
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books   Source: Library
First Look: ****Upon reading the description of this book, it seemed like a unique dystopian, hopefully involving Atlantis (because, well, it had Atlanteans in the title).  Other than that, I'm not exactly sure what drew me to this book.  I'd heard almost nothing about it, either good or bad.  

Setting: ***** 
I have mixed feelings about the setting.  On one hand, it was had less originality than I'd like--the near-future Earth covered with floods, increased temperatures, destroyed ozone layer, etc. has been done time and time again.  You could argue that, well, what other way is there to write a dystopian novel?  At this point, if you're going to use that type of setting, you'd better have an awesome plot and characters, or I'm going to feel like I've read this over and over.

Then again, it did have aspects that stood out, and that interested me.  The idea of the Atlanteans was interesting, as well as the developing of the "abilities", for lack of a better term.  I loved the premise of a summer camp, trying to pretend the world wasn't a dystopia.

Characters: ****Once I got into this book a little bit, I liked Owen.  He started out as a bit of a stereotypical loner, and I began to think that this whole book would be full of teenage stereotypes (which I'm sick of ranting about).  Thankfully, Owen quickly proved himself to be more three-dimensional than that.  He was the stereotypical loner, in some ways--he still got picked on, still had few friends in the camp--but he wasn't afraid to stand up for himself or others, in a few cases.  He found a group of friends that accepted him, and from there onward, he felt less need to seek acceptance from the boys inside his cabin that bullied him and others, which I appreciated.

I'm on the fence about Lilly.  She's definitely not afraid to assert herself and speak her mind, and she has some amount of depth...just not as much as I would've liked.  Owen fell in love with her initially for her beauty, but as the relationship progressed, I wish I could have seen more of Lilly's personality.

Plot: ***** And, once again, I have mixed feelings.  At the beginning, this book wasn't grabbing my attention.  This might be partly because it was predictable.  Owen stayed underwater for ten minutes and survived, and then found strange slits in his throat.  In a book with a reference to Atlantis in the series title.  Hmm...wonder what that could mean.  I had this one called as soon as it happened.

Then again, once I got past the beginning, this book did keep me turning pages.  I wanted to know what would happen next, and what the characters would do next.  Despite predicting the twist about Owen's "ability", I wanted to know more about it.

Uniqueness: ****Even though this book did contain overused dystopian elements of a futuristic overheated world, it still managed to differentiate itself.  It didn't involve a rebellion against some totalitarian government, which is a nice change of pace.  Also, it contained characters with unique abilities that I've never read about before.

Writing: ****The prose had nothing that would make me sit and reread a certain section just for the sheer beauty of it.  However, it still did a solid job of telling the story.  It kept me interested without seeming distanced, and didn't distract me from the story.  There was nothing awkward that I came across, and it was well-paced.  All in all, then, it was well-written.

Likes:"'We have to go deeper,' I said."
This amused me so much more than it should have. What is this, Inception?  You're waiting for a train, Owen.  A train that'll take you far away.  Okay, I'm done now.

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

Overall: I have mixed feelings about this.  On one hand, I never loved the characters, plot, or anything else.  It took awhile to grab my attention, and the characters started out a little stereotypical.  The more the story progressed, though, the more Owen become more three-dimensional, and the more the plot grabbed my attention.  Overall, this is probably more of a 3.5 star book, but I round up.  Four stars it is.

Similar Books: It involves teens and their day-to-day survival (kind of...this isn't really a survival story) like Monument 14, Life As We Knew It, or The Maze Runner.  It has teenagers gaining powers, like Gone.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Whoa...What Happened Here?

So.  It looks different.  

I figured it was time for a redesign.  I was getting sick of the old one.  All the Microsoft Paint was starting to bug me, mostly because it's been there almost forever.  The sidebars also were getting on my nerves, because I disliked how narrow they made all my posts.  

And so I embarked on a journey to redo the entire layout.  Except that it was less of a journey and more tinkering with this HTML, messing with this image, etc. etc. etc.  More like poking at it with a stick than going on an epic quest.  It's been in the works for a few months now, but I put it together in small pieces so it took awhile.

I thought I was going to run into all kinds of trouble when I actually implemented the new design, but I only encountered minor problems.  This concerns me, actually.  Now I'm wondering if the whole site is going to explode in the next few days or something.

The splatter-paint background was taken from a scanned sheet of paper, on which I'd, well, splatter painted.  I have a set of "pens" that aren't really calligraphy pens, but I don't know what else to call them.  They're pen-shaped pieces of glass that you dip into ink in order to write.  I don't remember exactly why I used them to splatter paint--I think that sheet came from when I first got the pens and wanted to play with them.  It worked for the blog, so I used it.  

Everything else was, quite literally, assembled in Microsoft Paint.  To quote Jennifer Lawrence, "Because I am an artist."  All I really did was use Paint to add the text over the background.  Because that's totally how the pros do it.  After making all of the images, I made a test blog and played around with everything until it looked right.  I'm half-tempted to make this test blog public (right now, it's set to private) and offer a prize to whoever can find it.  Locating it might be possible if you know me well enough, but it would still take a huge amount of guesswork, so it's not likely to happen.

What else is going to be different around here?  Well, nothing.  My posts will stay the same, because even though the look has changed, my personality hasn't.  So it'll still be random and prone to the occasional rant.  Yay, I suppose, if you enjoy that.  (If you don't, why are you still here?)

And now it's connected to Google+!  Whatever that means!  You can put this blog in circles now.  Like Dante.  Because that's absolutely what Google was going for when they created Google+.

One thing in particular I'd like to point out is the new writing page.  The old page had an archive of all of my posts on writing, but it hadn't been updated in months.  I completely updated it and reorganized everything, so hopefully it's easier to find anything in particular you might be looking for.  It's also worth pointing out that the quote on the top of the right sidebar changes when you refresh the page.  *braces for onslaught of pageview counts*

Now, it's like...

I told myself I wasn't going to post that.  But, when it came down to it, I couldn't help it.

That's about all I can say about the redesign.  Thoughts?  I'm not sure what else to post, but I feel like there should be something, so here is an awesome song.

PS: If the icon (in your browser tab for this page, to the left of the page title) still shows up as the old icon with the tiny stack of books, and you care about things like that, the new icon should show up if you clear your browser cache.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

How To Name Your Characters

A character's name is an important aspect of the character itself.  A name goes with a person forever, whether they like it or not.  For people who know them, it becomes an integral part of their personality.  For the person themselves, it becomes a part of their identity.

Would Percy Jackson be the same if he was named Albert Bergenstein?  Probably not.  To me, Percy Jackson has a slightly quirky name, which fits him ('Percy' just strikes me as quirky for some reason).  Would Aragorn be the same if Tolkein had named him Frederick?  Ignoring the fact that Frederick isn't a Middle Earth-sounding name, it just doesn't roll off the tongue with a majestic, kingly sound like 'Aragorn'.  Of course, these perceptions are all a little skewed, since I've never known the characters by any other names.  The point still stands.

Writers go about naming their characters in different ways.  For me, most of my characters just popped into my head, and the name came with them.  I never really thought about Everett Flinch's name, or Davi's, or especially not Mason Ardale's.  I keep a spreadsheet of names I like, and none of these were on it.  I just felt like Mason couldn't have any other name.

When the name doesn't come automatically, though, you'll have to go searching for it.  To do this, I recommend starting with a baby naming website (like this one or this one).  Most of these sites allow you to search using a number of various factors--popularity, starting letter, names similar to X, ethnicity, meaning, and more.  Start keeping some sort of list of names that grab your attention.  (Spreadsheets are wonderful for this, because you can organize columns and keep track of meanings and other things.)  You could start off by searching for names that mean something that describes your character.  (Baby name websites are so addicting, for writers, aren't they?  I love looking for character names.)

I've read some writing advice that tells you that your character's name absolutely has to have a meaning that is relevant to the character or story.  This is not true.  You can do it if you want, but there's no reason you'd have to do it.  Real people sometimes don't consider the meaning of their child's name when naming him/her, so writers can do it, too.  Chances are, your readers won't bother to look up the meaning, anyway.

There doesn't have to be any deep or symbolic reason why you picked the name you did.  You can pick all your names by finding names that just sound good to you.  There's nothing wrong with that.  Again, real-life parents do this all the time.

Keep in mind, though, names that were popular or unpopular when your character was born.  Look up some census data (it's everywhere online) to find out what names were big when your character was born.  For example, you're not going to find many teenagers today named Agnes, because the name wasn't very popular in the 1990s.  Nor are you likely to find a modern 50-year-old man named Taylor, Jordan, or Aidan.   Names go through trends like everything else.

You should also keep in mind your character's ethnicity or heritage when choosing a name.  A family with Norwegian roots is probably not going to name their child Pedro.  Again, most baby name websites allow you to search for names with specific origins, so you can find names that go with a certain ethnicity.  (Icelandic names are cool.  I looked up the names of the band members of Of Monsters and Men, and it  looks like the Swedish Chef slapped a keyboard.  But how cool is the name 'Ragnar'?)  Some families might even have naming traditions, like giving the firstborn son his father's name as a middle name.

Also, can we please not take a "normal" name and spell it unconventionally, just to make it "different"?  Can we not name people Maery, Kaite, or, I don't know, Aschleey?  (Hahaha, I just saw what I did there.  I didn't realize I did that until it happened.  I debated changing it, but I think I'll keep it.)  This is not cute, trendy, or a good way to be unique.  Let your character's personality stand on its own without this type of eye-rolling name.

And then there are fantasy names.  This is a whole different ballgame.  Fantasy names generally don't use names that today's society recognizes as, well, names.  Fantasy names are often nothing more than made-up words.  Still, in many cases, there is some sort of pattern to the names.  In Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle, different races of people have different sounding names.  Elven names tend to be vowel-heavy and  smooth-sounding, with lighter consonants, like Arya, Ellesmera (not a character name...but it fits my point),  and Oromis.  Dwarf names have a harsher, more "throaty" sound, with harder consonants, like Orik, Hrothgar, or Hvedra.  Human names are, admittedly, a mixed bag, but many of them are either recognizable as real-world names, or sound like they could potentially be real-world names: Katrina, Roran, Angela, or Jeod (which sounds a little like Jared to me).  And then, of course, the evil people have to have evil-sounding names, like Galbatorix (I'm pretty sure his parents just picked some random Scrabble letters to name him) or Durza.  Do you want a Galbatorix babysitting your children?  Nope.

There aren't any set rules for fantasy names.  It's probably best not to have a Leriocis'wqeoikl and a Fred that come from the same town, but other than that, it's wide-open territory.  I'd suggest using some name generators to help you get started.  You'll have to sift through lot of unpronounceable gibberish, but you might find something you like, or something that sparks another name idea.  Side note: Can we please avoid names with apostrophes at all costs?

A good generator to start with is this one, on  You can customize it, if you want (make it give you names starting with ta- or ending with Q or whatever you'd like).  It also has a dropdown list for names with similar sounds.  Another good generator is this one, from  It has a fantasy name generator, but also a ton of other random generators for...basically everything.  (The fanfic pairing generator is a little scary.)

However you go about naming your characters, keep in mind that it'll stick with that character forever.  This doesn't mean that you have to spend hours poring over baby name lists, but unless there's a specific reason not to, you should generally pick a name that you like.  After all, you'll be typing it over and over.

How do you name characters?  What are some of your favorite character names?
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