Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Book of Names (Legends of Karac Tor #1) by D. Barkley Briggs

It’s Thanksgiving Break and chores are being handed out. Hadyn, nearly 16 and the oldest of the four Barlow brothers, is told by his father to clear the back acres of their new farm. Hadyn resents life. After losing his mother to cancer and relocating away from the only home he’s ever known, he misses his friends and his Mom. While hacking through a briar patch, a strange rock formation arouses his curiosity. After four mysterious black birds deliver a strange summons, Hadyn and his brother Ewan realize the stone is really a magic Viking runestone. Through this portal, they cross into the ancient world of Karac Tor.

Crisis looms. In the Five Dominions of Karac Tor, names are being stolen from the young—literally erased from the sacred Book of Names. Meanwhile, the sorceress Nemesia is spreading darkness from her Tower of Ravens. While Hadyn and Ewan are immediately hailed as Champions sent to help rescue the land, the brothers have a far more simple goal: find their way home—and stay alive! As the seductive call of Nemesia lures them towards despair, the Barlows must discover power and courage they never knew they possessed. Yet even if they survive, will anyone know how to send them back to our world? Or will they be lost forever?


Released:  June 20th 2008              Pages: 381
Publisher:  Living Ink Books         Source: received as a gift

First Look: ***** This looked pretty interesting.  Mainly because I like fantasy and am rather partial to brother-brother stories.  Perhaps because I wrote one myself.

Setting: ***** First off, why does every book character hate moving to the country?  I live in a rural area, and I love it.  I rather like not being hedged in by people on all sides.  But it seems that book characters are only capable of liking to live in the city.  Why does this happen?

Anyway, Karac Tor.  It actually confused me a little.  I could never figure out what exactly I was supposed to think about it.  At first it seemed like some sort of surreal fairy world, but then it turned into a war-hardened (kind of but not really) kingdom.  And none of it was particularly memorable.

Fun fact: If you say Karac Tor five times fast, it sounds like "tractor".  Or at least, it does in my head.

Characters: ***** There were some nice moments between Hadyn and Ewan where I could start to see the bond between them, and maybe some tension.  I wish the author would've taken this further, though.  It seems like they had all the potential for a deep, complex relationship, but it never went beyond the surface.  I liked them, but it was an "I want this character to win" rather than an "I love this character to death and it's like they're real and if something happens to them I will send an angry letter to the author". 

My other problem was that these boys adjusted way too easily to Karac Tor.  They've just been thrown out of the modern world into a medieval one, but they hardly have any issues at all with it.  They accept the reality of it almost instantly, and from there it was like they'd grown up in the place.  They had no problems with the strange food, clothing, customs, etc.  It was unrealistic.

Plot: ***** It was all pretty generic.  Some siblings move to a new place, find something odd, get transported into fantasy world and from there have to save said world.  There was nothing to make it stand out.  Perhaps this should go under "uniqueness", but the lack of originality was what kept from from liking this.

That, and the fact that Ewan and Hadyn didn't do much.  Sure, they were along for all of the adventures, but did they themselves make anything happen?  No, not really.

Uniqueness: *****
Already discussed.

Writing: *****
I found typos.  Not just one typo, but multiple.  And not simple things, like a misplaced quotation mark.  No, this book had at least one instance of two words stuck together likethis.  And more.  Is it that hard to line edit?  I don't think so.

Other than that, the writing actually had some nice moments where I could really feel the emotion of the characters.  For the most part, though, it was unmemorable. 

Likes:
Can we all just take a moment and think about what's happening on the cover of the third book?  At first I was thinking "So this is what orcs do when they're done filming LOTR."  And then I notice another orc.  Alrighty then.  And then I notice Tinkerbell in the corner and her facial expression...and I'm laughing so hard I can't even breathe...two orcs versus Tinkerbell...I'm dying over here...this is so much funnier than it should be...  And honestly, this would have been the funniest thing I've seen all day, but earlier I saw this video (it's short but it's a gem...and it's actually really stupid but it's so incredibly entertaining), so it can't claim that honor.

Not-so-great: Hadyn's dad originally wanted to name him "Ransom".  Hadyn's mom "had a dream" where she somehow realized her son's name should be "Hadyn", so Dad agrees to it.  This is not a divine intervention.  This is a "Seriously, husband?  That kid will hate us forever if we call him that".  Or maybe it is divine intervention.  Maybe God looked down and said "You know what, let's give her this dream because this kid doesn't deserve to be bullied for having an unusual name."

Overall: This was an unoriginal book, which made it rather unmemorable.  It had the potential to be exciting, but in that regard it fell flat.  I kind of cared about the characters, but not to a huge extent.  Not as much as I would've liked to.  And besides, they adjusted way too easily to living in a fantasy world.  It had some nice moments, but overall it was just an okay read.

 
Similar Books: It bears many similarities to The Door Within, with the most obvious being the city-boy-goes-to-fantasy-world thing.  It also a similar feel to the Ranger's Apprentice books, which begin with The Ruins of Gorlan

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Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Doomsday Box (The Shadow Project #2) by Herbie Brennan

When the CIA created a program to research time travel in the 1940s, they never imagined it could lead to a global pandemic decades later. But after an undercover agent, code name Cobra, exploits the time-travel operation to send the black plague into the twenty-first century, the supernatural teen spies of the Shadow Project are recruited to go back in time to Cold War-era Russia and prevent this devastating chain of events from occurring.

There's just one problem: How do four teenagers deter a seasoned CIA agent from his life-or-death mission? Michael, Danny, Opal, and Fuchsia, a new agent with mysterious abilities, will have to use their powers of astral projection—and persuasion—to convince Cobra that what's at stake could hit closer to home than he can imagine. That is, if they can even manage to survive in Moscow in the early 1960s, where the KGB wants them dead. . . .



Released: December 28th 2010          Pages: 336
Publisher: Balzer + Bray                    Source: won through an Inkpop weekly challenge

Time travel books are just so much fun.  I'm fascinated by the concept, and the questions that go along with it.  The time paradox (if you go back in time and kill your grandmother, do you still exist?).  Things like that. 

And in that regard, I really enjoyed this book.  The plot was tight and full of suspense.  I kept turning pages because I genuinely wanted to know how it would end.  It was quick, with twists and turns.

But despite my enjoyment of the plot, the characters did absolutely nothing for me.  The only things I really knew about them were a few tidbits of backstory information.  What kind of personalities did they have?  I have no idea.  I got the vague impression that Fuchsia is a bit quirky.  Other than that, everyone was flat.  The POV chapters gave me no distinction between the characters' voices. 

Along with that, this book missed some good opportunities for moral conflict.  Agent Coulson  Mr. Carradine wants Danny to kill Cobra, if necessary.  Okay.  Danny talks this over with the team, and they're all "No, that's stupid.  Dump the poison down the drain."  Even though Danny kind of agrees with Carradine, he doesn't argue at all and they dump the cyanide and that's that.  So...we aren't going to argue about this?  We're not going to take along the only thing that can absolutely guarantee the success of our mission?  And Carradine doesn't even care that if Cobra dies, he won't exist?  Or would he still exist?  Why doesn't anybody even ask that question? 

Also, I fail to understand why the CIA would want to use teenagers for this kind of mission.  The book's reason is that "they have open minds".  But apparently because they're the CIA they don't have to worry about getting into trouble for endangering the lives of teenagers.  And let's not brief them at all about how to behave in the 1960s, because of course they don't need that, even if it does make total sense.  And apparently Michael (who is black) has absolutely no reaction to experiencing segregation. He's very "yeah, whatever" about the whole thing. 

Overall, the plot was compelling, but the characters were completely flat and there were a few things that made no sense.  Three stars.  If I'm going to be honest here, the most fascinating part of this entire book was the author's note at the end.

 
 
Similar Books: It deals with time travel like Found and TimeRidersIt has the action-novel feel of Michael Vey.
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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

100 (More) Things Every Beginning Writer Should Know (Version 1.5)

A few weeks back, I posted a list of 100 things every beginning writer should know.  For once I completely abstained from making references (yes, that post is lacking in even the most obscure reference...this is a rarity around here), posting GIFs, and being generally sarcastic or quirky or whatever tends to happen when I sit down to write a blog post. 

Looking back on that post, I'm happy with it.  You know, wise sage advice and all that.  But there's another side to writing that wasn't covered.  A messier side.  And so, here are 100 more things every beginning writer should know.
  1. Sometimes you just have to disable your internet connection.
  2. Solitaire doesn't actually get your writing done.  Neither does Minesweeper.
  3. There will be bad books published while your lovely book sits at home and does nothing.
  4. You will read said bad books and wonder, "Who is the idiot that published this?"
  5. You will realize that there is no answer to this question.
  6. Bribe yourself with chocolate. 
  7. Your characters will sometimes take over your story.  When this happens, sit back and relax, because there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.
  8. It's perfectly normal to have picked out actors to play your characters in the movie adaptation of your novel even if you haven't started it yet.
  9. If you think you'll be able to slip your political agenda into your novel without us noticing, you're wrong.*
  10. Don't name your character "Bella".
  11. Don't give your characters stupid names.  Seriously.  Don't name your character "Dank" or "Canada".  (One of these names is something I've seen in a blurb.  The other is a play on another name from a book I know of but have never read.)
  12. More on names:  If you think your name is a cool, trendy combination of overused names, you are wrong.  "Bethanastasiakate" is not going to win any awards.
  13. If you are going to include a thinly veiled reference to another book/movie/show, you had better write a good novel.  If your book is good and I catch your reference, I'll think you are twice as awesome.  But I don't like your book and catch the reference, I will be mad because, you know, how dare this unskilled author like the same things I like!
  14. You will write dumb things. 
  15. You will look back on said dumb things and think "Why would I have ever written 'The flames blazed brighter than Denethor falling to his death.'?"
  16. In some cases, you might be so amused by said dumb things that you'll be tempted to leave them in the novel.  Resist this temptation.
  17. It's probably best not to plan your Nobel literature prize acceptance speech until you actually win the Nobel prize.
  18. If it makes you feel better, write that flashback!  Even if flashbacks are generally pointless and you'll end up deleting it later.  But hey, movie fans like deleted scenes, so why not novel readers?
  19. If a pronunciation guide is needed, you either A) need to rethink your character/place names or B) are named Christopher Paolini.
  20. Same thing again: If you feel that your trilogy is getting out of control, you need to A) get it under control or B) are named Christopher Paolini and can use this as an excuse to make even more money.**
  21. There's a fine line between killing someone off to further the plot, making your readers hate you, and being George R. R. Marting and doing both.
  22. Pacing.  Learn to use it.
  23. The Microsoft Word paperclip probably won't help you overcome writer's block.
  24. Don't say you're going to write a retelling of Romeo and Juliet unless you actually know how R&J ends.
  25. Plot bunnies tend to multiply like, well, bunnies.
  26. They're going to their house because Logan Lerman is there.  It's not rocket science.
  27. Every time you use the word "very", a baby sloth cries.
  28. You are not Shakespeare, and can't go around making up your own words.**
  29. Don't use the cheap mirror trick.  Quoth the raven, "Nevermore".
  30. Unnecessary prologues are, well, unnecessary.  Ain't nobody got time for that.
  31. Don't plagiarize.  Changing the names of characters in your fanfiction does not count as being original. *coughELJamescough*
  32. Thou shall not combine thy marks of questioning with thy points of exclamation, yo. 
  33. Don't add "yo" to the end of every super-serious line.  Even if it's funny for awhile.  And even if I just did it.
  34. If you start your novel without knowing your ending, you're going to have a bad time.
  35. Rather than trying to spell out a character's accent in each piece of dialogue, write "he had an accent" and leave it there.
  36. Italics are actually super annoying when you use them for a long time.  Yeah, that flashback sequence that you wrote in all italics?  That probably isn't going to work out.
  37. Don't assume that you can write a ripoff of The Giver without anyone noticing.
  38. If you write something along the lines of "The magical door was locked, and she couldn't break it down.  Then she remembered that she was indeed a member of the line of Alkasjdla, descended from a woman whom a nymph had endowed with special door-opening powers.", stop it.  That's too convenient.  Make it hard.
  39. Your readers are, in fact, not stupid.
  40. That being said, I wouldn't recommend going out and taking an IQ test of your readers.
  41. Don't stop writing every time you think you have a better idea.  The new idea isn't as good as you think it is.
  42. Don't kill off a random character because "well, Sean Bean might play this guy in my novel's movie!".
  43. There's no need to describe every detail of your character's outfit every time he/she walks into a room, unless your name is Cassandra Clare and you somehow make the big bucks despite doing this all the time.
  44. The best villains are the ones that make sense in a twisted, disturbing way.  It's easy to write a cookie-cutter I-hate-everything, but the scariest ones are the ones that have a reason to hate everything and hate everything in a way that, again, makes disturbing sense. 
  45. If you reread a scene of yours and are thinking "Something doesn't feel right about this", you're absolutely correct.  All the time.  If something feels off to you, there's definitely something off.
  46. If you are writing something that's historical in any way, shape, or form, do your research.  If you don't, this might happen:
  47. "Shoutout to my Winterfell bros!  #iphonenegative6iscoming #YOFATWA (you only freeze at the Wall always)"
  48. If you are writing about a nonpopular, geekish guy who is desperately in love with a popular cheerleader who is way out of his league, stop what you're doing right this minute.
  49. DON'T TYPE THINGS IN ALL CAPS FOR EMPHASIS.  IT'S NOT PROFESSIONAL AND IT'S ACTUALLY KIND OF INTIMIDATING WHEN YOU KEEP IT UP LONG ENOUGH.  ARE YOU AFRAID YET?  BECAUSE I KIND OF AM AND I'M THE ONE WHO WROTE IT.
  50. If I can learn to spell it, you can learn to spell it.  Pull yourself together and you'll pull through it.  Now I really feel like someone new!  You can learn to spell it too!  (If you don't know what song that is, shame on you.)
  51. If your characters use the phrase "as you already know" in dialogue, you are trying to cleverly sneak in your infodump.  Don't do it.
  52. While we're talking about infodump, don't do it at all.  Ever.
  53. If you use "legit", "cray-cray", or "YOLO" in narration and you're being serious, I will personally track you down and knock some sense into you.
  54. Just because you are pinning to a Pinterest board about your book doesn't mean you're getting anything done.
  55. If someone asks "Can I be in your book?", gently remind them that you're writing a war novel in which 75% of the characters die.
  56. Don't drop too many new terms at once, or your readers will be like:
  57. Haters gonna hate, but they might also have some good criticism for you.  If everyone is saying your plot is too slow, they're right.
  58. Back up your files in eight different places.  If a zombie apocalypse comes, you might not have food, but your novel will be safe!
  59. Never get involved in a land war in Asia.
  60. Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line.
  61. Everything is funnier when you're avoiding writing.  Even things that have no reason to be funny.  So don't avoid writing. 
  62. If anyone in your novel lifts a "heavy sword", you might as well just wave a giant Perkins-size flag that says "I am ignorant."
  63. So far, the literature world generally does not accept the use of gifs in novels.
  64. That being said, there is always hope....
  65. If someone reads your novel and their reaction to it includes the phrase "THE FEELS!", you win at writing.
  66. Your characters should never be "average".  Average is a stupid idea that society presents to try to cover the fact that nobody is average.
  67. The moment when you finish your first draft is the best and worst moment of your entire life.
  68. Random cameos from other random fandoms have no place in your novel. 
    No, this is Patrick.
  69. If you're an adult writing a young adult novel and think you know all about teenagers because you were one a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, you should stop and talk to some actual teenagers and rethink everything you think you know about YA novels.
  70. Always walk around with something to write with.  Even if it is a hot pink highlighter that you'll never be able to read later.
  71. You WILL be able to finish your book.  That is, of course, if you actually sit down and write it.
  72. People will ask you what your book is about.  It's okay to tell them "It's not done yet" if you'd rather not explain.  Like if you're writing some kind of experimental steampunk futuristic high fantasy retelling of Greek mythology.  I can understand not wanting to explain that.
  73. Nobody actually cares what color your characters' eyes are.
  74. When you're stuck on a scene, either wait it out or better yet, backtrack.  Yes, it means deleting words.  You can do it.
  75. Creepy insta-lust does not constitute romance.
  76. Adverbs are like olives on pizza.  They're tolerable if they have to be there in the first place and aren't overabundant, but put them everywhere and they're gross and annoying.
  77. There comes a point when you've written so much in one day that you can't even words.  Your characters' usually-witty comebacks will have turned into stuff like "dishonor on your cow!"
  78. Falling action is just...no.
  79. If your characters aren't suffering, you have not done your job.  To quote Leo Valdez, "Suffering?  I love suffering!  Let's do this!"
  80. The word "really" is really, really pointless.
  81. The double exclamation point is like jumping into a giant vat of pudding.  At first it seems like fun, but it turns out to be a bad idea and kind of scary.
  82. As of right now, the entire world is forbidden to use the phrase "mere slip of a girl".  By the power vested in me by myself, I now pronounce literature and this phrase DIVORCED.  You may now write something more original and sensible.
  83. Doing a Meyers-Briggs type analysis on your character is, surprisingly, not a waste of time.  Neither are things like the character alignment categories (lawful good, chaotic evil, true neutral, etc.).
  84. Make the good guys lose sometimes.  Nobody likes a Mary Sue.
  85. If any of your characters cries out "Tell me!" in a dramatic fashion, you're going to set all the Tumblr fangirls crying again. 
  86. Did you know?  Dramatic exits are all the rage.
  87. Take the fantasy novelist's exam (Google it), and make sure you pass.
  88. Edit your work.  Please.  It's not that hard.
  89. Okay, yes it is.  But do it anyway.
  90. Watch out for lines that could be awkward if taken out of context.
  91. If you want to calculate how long it will take to write your book, use this formula: estimate time it will take to finish book.  Multiply this number by 6.02 x 10^23.
  92. If none of your characters ever mess up, you're going to have a boring book.
  93. Physical descriptions of characters are only 24% as important as you think it is.
  94. Many people (including yours truly) love a well-written anti-hero.
  95. Never say something like "somehow, he managed to stand".  Well, he managed it.  And he had to do it in some logical way, so therefore there has to be a reason.  If you happened, you have to know how it happened.
  96. Don't forget that your characters have noses and can actually smell things.
  97. "I love extended dream sequences," said no one ever.  Except maybe Leonardo DiCaprio.
  98. Revision is...haha, I'm not even going to go there right now.
  99. One does not simply write a novel.

    And there you have it!  Authorness in all its glory.  I would have posted this about a week ago, but Blogger ate half the list items and I had to rewrite them.  The irony of this has not been missed.

    What else do you think beginning writers should know?

    *"I'm sorry, Nick, what were you lying?"  Tony Stark, everyone.
    **For the record, I love his books.
    ***Not that I don't do that in my blog posts...

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    Friday, February 15, 2013

    Isle of Swords/Isle of Fire (Isle of Swords #1 & 2) by Wayne Thomas Batson

    A young lad awakens on an island, alone and brutally injured, with no memory of his past.  Captain Declan Ross searched for riches that will free him and his headstrong daughter, Anne, from the piracy business forever . . . Bartholomew Thorne, an infamously ruthless pirate, seeks to destroy Ross and any who stand in his way of the legendary treasure hidden by a mysterious order of monks. With these intriguing characters and many more, Wayne Thomas Batson weaves a spell-binding adventure filled with high-seas drama where battles rage, storms brew, a long-dormant volcano awakens, and a sea creature slithers in the deep as pirates race for a cliff-top fortress.

    Released: September 11th 2007           Pages:344
    Publisher: Thomas Nelson Publishers Source: received as gift

    Isle of Swords and its sequel, Isle of Fire, are separate books, but I'll be reviewing them together because reasons.  It works because I have pretty much the same feelings about both of them.  Just so you know, this review contains minorish spoilers (though I hesitate to call them spoilers because the reveals are completely predictable and I had it all figured out right away).

    A few years back, I read this author's The Door Within and the rest of the trilogy.  I remember enjoying it, so I wanted to give this a try.  And anyway, Christian pirates?  I wanted to see how that would work. 

    Ultimately, the not-really-but-kind-of Christian pirates annoyed me much less than the fully Christian characters of Other Books I Will Not Name.  I like how the author showed that being Christian isn't about being perfect all the time.  Christians make mistakes, too, and Batson doesn't shy away from that. 

    I still have some problems with the series, though.  One major one is its lack of originality. 

    Similarities between Isle of Swords and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies:
    1. Young man is the son of a notorious pirate and is rescued by a girl
    2. Spirited girl hangs out with pirates all the time
    3. Young man and girl get married
    4. "Good" pirates vs. "bad" pirates
    5. British officers are generally idiots unless they come in handy
    6. Drawn-out sea battles in which many things blow up
    7. Said sea battles often involve "good pirates" fighting both the British Navy and the "bad pirates" at the same time
    8. Crew members with deformities, included a messed-up eye (and the messed-up eye guy is basically comic relief)
    9. Crew with no regard whatsoever for their personal safety
    10. MILL WHEELS.  (somebody correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure there was at least a minor escapade in Isle of Swords/Fire involving a mill wheel)
    11. There's some sort of awesome treasure on a sketchy magical island
    12. The Big Bad Pirate is out to get...everybody
    13. Borderline magical things happen
    14. Monkeys play a role
    15. The girl's dad is overprotective
    16. Pirates set ships and towns and everything else on fire
    17. Storms at sea during the most dramatic moments
    18. Sea monsters

    Now, granted, it is hard to write a pirate book without inadvertently borrowing some stuff from Pirates.  And some of this stuff almost has to be in a pirate book, anyway.  What good is a high-seas adventure without a massive storm during the final battle, and a sea monster?  Still, some of these overlaps can't be merely coincidence. 

    Even without the shameless copying similarities to Pirates, the plot was highly predictable.  I figured out who Cat's father was as soon as Cat showed up.  Dolphin's parentage was no surprise, either (and why is there a random lady named Dolphin?).  The plot's twists and turns weren't unexpected, and some of them felt a bit cheap.  For example, they had the map all along, except Cat had never opened his bag?  Why would he have not said, "Hey, I've got this weird bag around my neck.  I have amnesia, so it might be a good idea to examine not only the bag's contents, but the bag itself"?

    It was tough to connect to the characters.  Cat was likable enough, but I wish the author would have gone farther with his father-son conflict (especially since I love stories where a "good guy" has a villain father).  Anne could have been likable, but she actually bothered me because she had exactly the same traits as Antoinette (the names are even similar) from the author's other series.  Thorne and the Merchant were evil just for the sake of being evil, and that also annoyed me.  (This, actually, is the difference between having villains that amass herd of adoring fangirls and are stylish and actually cool and disturbingly lovable *coughLokicough*  are well-written, and villains that are just bland.)

    Overall, this book is essentially a Christian, PG-rated Pirates of the Caribbean without some of the cool and interesting stuff that happens in PotC, but with monks that blow things up.  It was predictable and I struggled to connect to the characters.  Still, it was a rather fun, swashbuckling adventure.  Three stars. 



     
    Similar Books: It has pirates, like Steel.  We've already talked about the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.  Also, this series has a similar structure (and basically the same characters with different names) as Batson's other series, The Door Within.
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    Tuesday, February 12, 2013

    Across The Universe (Across The Universe #1) by Beth Revis

    A love out of time. A spaceship built of secrets and murder.

    Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

    Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone--one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship--tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn't do something soon, her parents will be next.

    Now Amy must race to unlock Godspeed's hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there's only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.



    Released: January 11th 2011         Pages:398
    Publisher: Razorbill                      Source: Library

    (Note: I read the book with the original cover, but I couldn't bring myself to post it here.  The original cover bothers me to no end.  It's brimming with so much awkwardness that I can't even take it.  I mean, that isn't even a romantic almost-kiss position.  That's an "I wonder how your chin smells" position.  And that's just weird.)

    First Look: ***** I've never really been drawn to this book.  Probably because its cover screamed "Insta-love!".  Still, I've heard so many good things about this book.  I was at the library, and at the same, spaceships sounded good.  I don't know why--I was in a spaceshipy mood?  So, both on a whim, I picked up this and Black Hole SunIt turns out that I was impressed with neither.

    Setting: ***** I could never figure out what exactly the spaceship was supposed to be like.  Was it enclosed with rooms and corridors, like you'd expect a spaceship to be?  Or was it open on the inside with actual buildings inside?  I could never tell.  Sometimes I thought it was one way, sometimes another.  Or maybe it was both?  I don't know.  It would've been nice if this was made a little clearer.

    Characters: ***** First, Amy.  Elder kept talking about how spirited and rebellious she was.  Um...she didn't do anything.  Sure, she never hesitated to verbally challenge someone, but she never backed up her words with actions.  She'd be fine yelling at Eldest all day long, but then she'd go and sit in her room and act depressed. 

    And then there's Elder.  He was a well-developed character, but I never liked him because he was also a well-developed creeper.  From the moment he sees Amy, all he wants to do is make out with her.  Seriously?  That's romantic, now?  Amy has just gone through the trauma of being unfrozen early and has no hope of seeing her parents again and you want to start a relationship with her?  No.  This is not okay.  She is obviously in no condition to be entering a dating relationship.  I spent most of the book mentally screaming "BACK OFF!" at Elder.

    Elder did redeem himself a tiny bit at the end.  The key words are a tiny bit.  His confession in the final chapters didn't make me like him, but I regained an ounce of respect for him.     

    Plot: *****
    The plot was highly predictable.  When someone started unfreezing people, I knew who it was right away.  A certain character appeared near the beginning, and right away I knew he was the culprit.  Then, Eldest is being all secretive and there are some sketchy records out there.  Is something fishy going on here?  I was thinking "Well, duh.  What are you idiots waiting for?  Get to the bottom of this?"  But the characters were more like "Is something weird?  I don't know.  Maybe sometime in the next fifty years we'll look into that but OH LOOK EVERYONE, IT'S THE SEASON!"

    And by the time the big reveal came along, I had it all figured out.  It doesn't take rocket science (pardon the phrasing).  Seriously...all the so-called "normal" people are brainwashed robots but the "crazy" people who can still think for themselves are on mental pills.  How does that not strike anybody as suspicious? 

    There were a few more things that didn't make sense.  For example, Amy's brief period of brainwashing after drinking the ship's drugged water.  She spent a long, extended scene showering in this same water, and it didn't affect her.  But as soon as it comes out of a cup, she's brain-dead.  This makes no sense.  So having all the drugged water soaking into her pores didn't affect her, but a glass of water did?  What?  Also, every time Amy ate, she'd eat a bite, get disgusted, and throw the food away.  Why is she not starving yet?  It's been a few days.  Why has this not yet been an issue.

    Also, one more thing.  This book supposedly had romance in it, but all I see is a creeperly insta-lust on the part of Elder.  Romance:


    Uniqueness: *****
    Claustrophobic spaceship of people traveling to make a new world on a new planet?  Check.  Something is not as it seems in said spaceship?  Check.  I've seen this pattern before.  The freezing thing, though, was unique.

    Writing: *****
    The author's detailed description of freezing at the beginning of this book freaked me out.  I suppose that was the point, but still.  I was thinking, "When did I sign up for this?"  But, ah, well.  I got through it. 

    The only complaint I have about the rest of the book's writing is with the separate POVs.  The chapters from Amy's POV were pretty much identical in voice and tone to Elder's.  Most of the time I could keep track of who was narrating, but if I left off reading in the middle of a chapter and came back to the book awhile later, I'd have to go look at the chapter heading to check.

    Likes: The freezing thing was interesting, and provided the opportunity for some interesting ethical and emotional issues on Amy's part.  Unfortunately, though, the author never went anywhere with this.

    Not-so-great: Eldest?  Really?  What is this, the Inheritance Cycle?  The only guy I'll call "Eldest" is Murtagh McAwesomesauce Morzansson (middle name invented by yours truly).

    Overall: Overall, this is one of those books where it seems everybody loved it but me.  I found it to be highly predictable, with several logic gaps.  Amy didn't do much of anything, and Elder was a creepy stalker who needed to back off.  Frankly, I don't see what everyone liked so much about this book.  I don't recommend it, and I have no plans to read the sequel in the near future. 


    Similar Books: It has a claustrophobic spaceship setting, like Glow and Inside OutIts main character reminds me of Juliette from Shatter Me, and the author's writing style reminds me of Matched.

    *I've determined that one of the quickest ways to freak me out is with scary-looking medical equipment. You can show me all the disgusting and scary evil creatures you want and I'm fine, but this kind of thing honestly terrifies me. The unwinding scene in Unwind, the part where Steve Rogers is injected with the super-soldier serum (I don't even think that's supposed to be freaky but it is), even that scene where Pepper Potts is pulling out Tony Stark's arc-reactor and pulling on the wires...I don't think I could be a doctor.
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    Sunday, February 10, 2013

    Making Fantasy Settings Real

    I've read fantasy books where I was totally immersed into the author's created world.  I accepted it as real, because the author made me believe it.  It was as real as my own world.  I've also read fantasy books where I couldn't suspend my disbelief.  The author was trying to get me into another world, but instead, I was watching the story from the outside, from the world I live in. 

    The difference between believable and not-so-believable fantasy is hard to pin down.  There is a fine line between the two, and sometimes readers will disagree on what is believable and what isn't. 

    How, then, can you create a fantasy world that is just as real as Earth?  How can you convince readers to put aside their disbelief?

    (Oh, and in case you're wondering, "suspension of disbelief" refers to the reader putting aside their thoughts of "Yeah, that isn't possible" in order to enjoy a story.)

    The trick to fantasy is that you have to make it more believable than the real world.  That's the paradox of it.  When you write a, say, contemporary romance novel, you don't have to convince readers that your novel's world is real.  They'll simply accept that.  In fantasy, though, you have to work for it.


    You do this by "iceberging".  It's a weird verb because I made it up.  I don't know how else to phrase it.  Ever heard of Hemingway's "iceberg theory"?  It's like that.  You write what is on the surface, but underneath there is a virtual mountain of things that are left unsaid but are still part of the story and the meaning. 

    From the way I see it, fantasy is the same way.  You have to know your fantasy world inside and out if you ever want it to seem real.  You have to know everything--big picture things, as well as smaller details.  You amass countless bits of information about it in your head.

    And then you don't use most of it.  Think about it.  If you use every single setting detail in your story, readers are going to be so bogged down with endless description that you won't have room for the actual story.  No one wants to read every little thing about your setting.

    You have to find a balance.  Big-picture elements of your setting (i.e. kingdom A has a hundred-year-long feud with kingdom B) definitely need to come through.  But you also need details.  Details are what truly make your setting come to life. 

    If you intersperse details throughout your story without adding too many, it's like the tip of the iceberg.  Readers won't get to know every single detail about your setting, but they'll get the feeling that this world is real and fleshed out.  If done right, they won't feel like they've been dropped onto an alien plant with no help whatsoever. 

    In summary: Know everything you can about your setting, but don't use it all.  Scatter details throughout, because details bring things to life and will create the impression that your world is real.  But don't overdo it!
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    Tuesday, February 5, 2013

    Black Hole Sun (Black Hole Sun #1) by David Macinnis Gill

    Durango is playing the cards he was dealt. And it’s not a good hand.

    He’s lost his family.

    He’s lost his crew.

    And he’s got the scars to prove it.

    You don’t want to mess with Durango.


    Released: August 24th 2010      Pages: 352
    Publisher: Greenwillow             Source: Library

    First Look: ***** I honestly have no clue why I picked this up.  It's never been on my to-read list and the blurb tells me absolutely nothing about the plot.  And the cover...awkward text placement, anyone?  Okay, so maybe I thought that guy was Liam Hemsworth at first.  I have no idea why I thought this, but...okay.

    Setting: *****
    My main thoughts on the setting basically sum up my entire reaction to this book: what is going on here?  It was set on Mars.  That's the only thing I could pin down for sure.  Everything else was up in the air, setting-wise.  The technology seemed inconsistent (as in, why are these people high-tech enough to do this, but not that?).  I never really got a clear picture of where anything was going on.  It wasn't memorable at all. 

    Characters: ***** I thought the AI implant element was interesting.  How weird would that be, to have a second...brain...in your brain?  Except, Durango kept referring to Mimi (the "AI") as AI.  But it doesn't make sense to call her "artificial intelligence" since she was a real person at one time, and therefore not artificial.

    Anyway, I couldn't connect to any of the characters.  Durango had some backstory that might have been interesting, if it had actually been explained.  But since I didn't get much of that story at all, I couldn't get into it. 

    None of the other characters were all that interesting, either.  Vienne in particular annoyed me.  She had no depth.  She was just an attractive girl who could fight.  There was nothing else to her.

    Plot: ***** The majority of the plot had me going "Um, what?"  Nothing was ever explained fully, so I had a hard time following what was actually happening.  I felt like I was watching the story in fast-forward--I could see stuff happening, and it sort of made sense, but not really.

    Also, like watching a movie in fast-forward, this book went way too fast.  Which goes hand in hand with the little-to-no explanation problem.  If more time had been spent on certain plot points, I might've enjoyed this more. 

    Uniqueness: *****
    I guess it was unique, though I have a hard time judging this aspect of books that I don't like.

    Writing: *****
    I felt like so much of the lines in this book were meant to be funny.  And they weren't.  Not to me, at least.  Characters were throwing around one-liners in dialogue and narration like they do in Artemis Fowl and Pendragon.  The difference is that AF and Pendragon are hilarious.  This book, not so much.  It was trying too hard.

    Then again, it was unintentionally funny in some places.  Sometimes a really weirdly written phrase appeared and I couldn't help but be amused.  I always feel a tad bit bad about that, but I can't help it.

    She locks eyes with me, and I feel a sensation of fluttering behind my belly button, like my legs are being unscrewed..."
    Um...are you okay there, Durango?

    This happened whenever Durango got too close to Vienne.  It didn't sound like true love to me.  It sounds like Durango has some kind of medical condition.  He should probably get that checked out.

    And then there was this scene, which so perfectly mirrored that wonderful "ANOTHER!"* scene:

    "Another!" I shout.  Later in the scene: With his free hand, he downs another drink. Slams it on the bar, shattering the glass.

    Likes: There was a guy named Leeroy Jenkins.  As soon as he said his name, it sounded familiar.  I knew I'd heard it, but I couldn't place where.  Apparently, it is a reference.  Though I've never played World of Warcraft and I don't know anyone who does, so I have no idea where I heard it.

    Not-so-great: *coughcough*

    Overall: This is a weird book.  I spent most of the time feeling like I was watching the story happen in fast-forward.  I couldn't connect to (or even like) Durango or any of the other characters.  The narration plopped me into a world I've never been to and expected me to be able to follow everything with no explanation.  The narration wasn't as funny as it was supposed to be, but was funny in places that it wasn't supposed to be.  If that makes any sense.  I don't recommend this.

     
    Similar Books: It features space travel (kind of...maybe...) like A Confusion of Princes and it reminds me of Epic and The House of Power for reasons I don't know or understand.
     
    *Has anybody else seen that deleted scene where he slams the wine glass into the fire and says "Another!"?  Or am I the only one who noticed that?
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    Saturday, February 2, 2013

    Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

    Oct. 11th, 1943--A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it's barely begun.

    When "Verity" is arrested by the Gestapo, she's sure she doesn't stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she's living a spy's worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.
    As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage and failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?


    Harrowing and beautifully written, Elizabeth Wein creates a visceral read of danger, resolve, and survival that shows just how far true friends will go to save each other. Code Name Verity is an outstanding novel that will stick with you long after the last page.

    Released:February 6th 2012          Pages:343
    Publisher: Egmont Press               Source: Library
     
    First Look: ***** This is one of those books that it seems like everybody on Goodreads loved.  It has an interesting premise, but in the end it became one of those "I just want to know what the big deal is" books for me.

    Setting: *****
    There was a huge amount of research going on before this book was written.  Or at least, I assume the author did her research.  I'll admit that she could have made up everything about WWII aircraft and such and I would've believed it, because I know next to nothing about the subject.  But it seemed legitimate to me.  I loved the detail that went with every aspect of the setting.  It really made it seem real.  I also liked this look into a side of WWII I hadn't considered much before. 

    Characters: *****
    More of a 3.5 on this one.  I liked Verity.  (She goes by multiple names, and her real name is revealed during the book, but for simplicity's sake I'm sticking with "Verity".)  At least, I liked her well enough to start caring about her.  I had a hard time connecting her with Queenie, one of her other aliases--for some reason, I couldn't see Verity, as she was in the prison, doing or saying the things that Queenie did.  Or maybe that was the point. 

    I didn't get much chance to connect with Maddie.  I didn't care for her as much.  I truly admire her, though, for one certain thing that she did during the end (if you've read the book, you'll know what I'm talking about).  That took some real courage, and it certainly got an emotional reaction from me.

    The one thing that I saw the most praises about in this novel was the friendship between Maddie and Verity.  I knew that they were good friends, best friends even, but I never got the sense that they had the immensely strong bond that other reviewers talked about.  I agree that their friendship really came through during the Plot Point Which I Will Not Name.  Other than that, though, I felt like Maddie and Verity hardly knew each other and suddenly became best friends out of nowhere.  We never got much of the interaction that went from "Hey, I could be friends with this girl" to "I would risk my life for you".  I got the outside parts, but I feel like something was missing in the middle.

    Plot: *****
    I have mixed feelings about the plot.  On one hand, it was incredibly slow.  I found myself wondering "Okay, when is the amazingness going to begin?  Can something please happen already?" 

    On the other hand, though, I love the plot's complexity.  The review that called it a "mind game of a novel" is exactly right.  It's like The Night Circus in that you almost have to read it twice in order to get the full effect.  While I'm not planning on a reread anytime soon, I could see how it would be fun to pick out all the nuances that I missed the first time, not knowing to look for them.  I love the revelations that come at the end, and the way it twists everything you thought you knew about the first part of the story. 

    Uniqueness: ***** 
    It's a nice break from all the dystopians that I feel like I've been reading nonstop lately.  There hasn't been much historical YA fiction published lately that isn't focused on romance, this stands out.  (Can we have more YA historical non-romance, please?  The reason I don't read much of it is because it hardly exists.)

    Writing: *****
    Elizabeth Wein did a lovely job making Verity's voice come through in this novel.  It felt truly authentic.  I also like the unreliable narrator aspect.  You don't really realize it at first.  It's convincing, and then you get to the second part and you just go "Wait, WHAT?"  I enjoyed that.

    Likes: Nothing that hasn't already been said.

    Not-so-great: Ditto.

    Overall: This is a complex book with some heavy emotions.  It's wonderfully detailed, with mostly likable characters.  It makes you think twice, and it twists around what you thought you knew about the story.  I'm not going to dance on the rooftops singing its praises, though, like much of the Goodreads community.  The plot was too slow for my liking, and I didn't get the strong sense of friendship from Maddie and Verity that everyone talked about.  Overall, a pretty good read.


    Similar Books: It has a WWII setting like The Book Thief, is rich and complex like The Night Circus, and has a prison-y feel (because that totally makes sense) like Airman.

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