Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Pearl Wars (Skyship Academy #1) by Nick James

A devastated Earth's last hope is found in Pearls: small, mysterious orbs that fall from space and are capable of supplying enough energy to power entire cities. Battling to control the Pearls are the Skyship dwellers--political dissidents who live in massive ships in the Earth's stratosphere--and the corrupt Surface government.

Jesse Fisher, a Skyship slacker, and Cassius Stevenson, a young Surface operative, cross paths when they both venture into forbidden territory in pursuit of Pearls. Their chance encounter triggers an unexpected reaction, endowing each boy with remarkable--and dangerous--abilities that their respective governments would stop at nothing to possess.

Enemies thrust together with a common goal, Jesse and Cassius make their way to the ruins of Seattle to uncover the truth about their new powers, the past they didn't know they shared, and a shocking secret about the Pearls.


Released: September 8th 2011        Pages: 376
Publisher: Flux                               Source: Library
First Look: ****I'm not sure what exactly drew me to this book.  The goggles and the word "skyship" screamed steampunk, though this book isn't even steampunk.  (Up close, the goggles look fakey anyway.)  Still, I decided to give it a shot.

Setting: *****  
I don't understand why the Unified Party and the Skyship people are at odds with each other.  It seems that all dystopian novels have to have two battling factions.  Pro tip: it is possible to write a dystopian novel without this aspect.  Patrick Ness uses this wonderfully in The Ask and the Answer and Monsters of Men, but in both these cases, it works.  Those novels take time to explore the conflicts, rather than just having conflict for the sake of it.  They use the warring factions to ask difficult questions of readers: When you only have two choices, who do you fight for?  A tyrant or a terrorist?  Also, who do you save: the lives of many, or the life of the one person you can't live without?  I wouldn't have minded the two factions aspect in The Pearl Wars, except that there was very little worldbuilding, and it felt thrown in just to give something to plot around.  Enough information was laid down to establish that these were warring factions, but we weren't ever given a reason why they were fighting.  Or a reason to care.

Characters: *****  
I have mixed feelings about both main characters, Jesse and Cassisus.  Jesse had potential to be a character that felt real, with much for readers to connect with.  He had that, to some extent, but for me, his constant complaining prevented me from ever getting close to him, as a character.  He spends most of the first half of the book feeling sorry for himself because he's the worst trainee Skyship has.  But he never did anything about it.  If he really wanted to stop being the worst and stop being picked on for it, why didn't he work harder?  Talk to his teachers and get extra help?  Train for the paintball-type game on his own? 

Cassius was more interesting, for me.  I'm not sure why, exactly.  This could be just my imagination, but I think he got less point of view chapters in the second half of the book, and Jesse's point of view took over the story.  Again, I could just be making this up, but it seemed like his storyline dropped out as soon as he crossed paths with Jesse.  I wish I could've gotten to know Cassius better--he seemed like an interesting character, and probably will develop throughout the rest of the trilogy.

 Plot: ***** 
The beginning was exciting.  Then it slowed down for 150 pages or so.  It finally picked back up, but by that time, it was too late to save this book from a three-star rating.  There was a snippet of action at the beginning, and it caught my attention, but then it turned into a long segment of Jesse's complaining, eavesdropping, and other less-exciting things.  Why is it that whenever a character randomly eavesdrops on a conversation just for the sake of it, that conversation always just so happens to be about him?  The plot picked back up at the end, in terms of things actually happening, but I wish it wouldn't have taken so long to get there.

Uniqueness: ***** 
The aspect of the Pearls was unique.  Other than that, this book contained many too-familiar tropes of standard-issue dystopian novels.

Writing: ***** 
The thing that annoyed me was the awkward point of view switches.  Jesse's point of view chapters were written in first person, present tense.  Cassius' were in third person, past tense.  This meant that, at the beginning of every chapter, it took me a few paragraphs to readjust to the switch.  It didn't make sense to me--why make one person's point of view one way, and the other character's point of view different?  It wasn't consistent.  And anyway, present tense tends to get on my nerves.  Other than that, I had no other major issues with the writing.

 Likes: Nothing not already mentioned above.

Not-so-great: Same.

Overall: This was an okay book.  The setting wasn't explained fully.  Jesse spent too much time complaining, but other than that, he and Cassius were decent main characters.  The plot was exciting at the beginning, slowed down for too long, then picked back up at the very end.  The switches every chapter or so between first person present and third person past tense were annoying.  Overall, though, it was a decent book.  It's more on the high side of three stars, for me, but not quite enough for me to bump up the rating.
 



 
Similar Books: The dystopian setting and dual point of view remind me of Proxy and Legend.  It also has a little bit of an Airborn vibe to it.
 
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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Some Thoughts On Christian Fiction

The more Christian young adult fiction I read, the more I become divided about it.  I've read some utterly amazing Christian fiction, like Stephen R. Lawhead's In the Hall of the Dragon King and its sequels, Bryan Davis' Raising Dragons/Oracles of Fire series, and of course, the classic Narnia books.  I've also read some that I had issues with.

Before we go any further, can we not do this: "But it's Christian fiction, so therefore it's all good, because it's Christian!"  No.  I'm not going to argue that one here because I have better things to do.  Moving on.  (I'm also not going to discuss the definition of Christian fiction.  I had that discussion once, and it was interesting, and I'd link to it, except that particular discussion has been sucked into the black hole where Inkpop used to be.)

Christian fiction that I don't like has some common pitfalls.  There's always the aspects of poor writing and characterization, lack of plot or structure, and so on, that make me dislike a book no matter what genre it is.  The thing, for me, about not liking certain Christian books is that when I don't like them, they tend to have made me mad in some way.

A major problem is making everything too black-and-white.  Many Christian fiction books have "good guys", the protagonists.  And they are obviously good people and the heroes of the story.  On the opposite side, we have the "bad guys", and this is more where the problem lies.  The villain of the story is completely and utterly evil, most times without explanation.  Every single thing about them is bad--there's nothing redeeming whatsoever. 

The problem is that real life isn't like this.  Nobody is ever completely good or completely evil.  Everyone, from the Pope to Hitler, is a shade of gray somewhere in between.  Many Christian books, though, just set up someone as the Designated Bad Guy, and then demonize him.  The most marvelous characters in fiction, though, the ones we can't forget about, the ones that we love like they're real people (because they are, in a way), are not these purely good people.  They're people with flaws and regrets and secrets.  They're people in gray.  Characters that we love make mistakes.  And it's okay.  It's what makes them real, which enables us to love them.

It goes the same way for villains.  A character can be evil, but we still have to be able to see the humanity.  And this means that a villain has to have something about him/her that makes them seem real.  For example, Galbatorix's pain over the death of his dragon, or Draco Malfoy's desire to please his father.  They're evil, yes, but they still feel loss and shame and pressure, and that's something every human can relate to.  Pure, uncontrolled, mindless evil with no good whatsoever just doesn't happen in real life, barring insanity, etc.  Ignoring sadists like Drake Merwin from Gone who are clearly complete lunatics and also just happen to have an evil alien radiation monster consuming their brains.  It's also worth noting that a significant portion of people who do "evil" genuinely believe that they're doing the right thing.  The terrorists who did the 9/11 bombings believed that this act would save their souls.  Saint Dane from the Pendragon series (I should probably point out, for those unfamiliar with the series, that "Saint" is used ironically.  Kind of.  It started non-ironically.), initially, believes that Halla, the universe, is in need of rebirth and cleansing.  So he destroys it, because that's what he thinks is right.  (If that makes no sense to you, well, it's a ten book series.)  And this means that all of our notions of good and evil are through a lens.  Whose lens are we looking through, then?  By what standard do we judge people who commit crimes against humanity in the name of something they truly believe is good?  I'll just leave that there, because I have no solid answer.  Christian fiction sometimes fails to take everything in this paragraph into account, and assumes all "bad guys" are just bad to the core with no rhyme or reason.   

Characters on the opposite of the spectrum annoy me even more than off-the-charts villains, though.  Some characters in Christian novels are so righteous, so pure, and so perfect that I just can't stand them.  They take no offense at anything unless it's an act from the villain.  They love everyone, don't get mad (unless it's directed toward the villain, again), and are moved to tears of joy at the slightest victories.  Because we can't have anybody doing the wrong thing in a Christian book, right?  Ugh, no. It gets on my nerves.  These people are too perfect to be real.  There's nobody that acts like that in real life, no matter how much we'd like to.  If nothing else, I can imagine having always-righteous characters would be a turn-off for non-Christians.  Nobody wants to read about a person this is just so wonderful that we know we can never be like them.  People want someone to root for and relate to, and we can't do that for an unrealistic character.  Better to have flawed people that are still good, rather than perfect people.

Another problem is that characters, mostly fantasy ones, kill off "evil" characters all the time.  And they think nothing of it.  We're supposed to think that this is good, because we're essentially killing off the devil's followers.  You'd think Christian books would handle the killing of antagonists even better than secular books, but in many cases, you'd be wrong.  The characters feel no qualms, no guilt, no hesitations, over tossing the villain into a giant vat of lava or something.  If they're "evil", they "deserve to die", and that's the end of it.  I find this to be wrong, in most cases.  It doesn't sit well with me.  What about this (note that Tolkien, who wrote both of these quotes in The Fellowship of the Ring, was a Christian author, and his books are full of Christian symbols)?

Frodo: What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!
Gandalf: Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo.         

And:

Gandalf: Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.

 For example, Eldest, a secular book, handled it well.  I can't find any exact quotes, but I remember Roran discussing the guilt of all his killings.  No matter how much he tells himself he's doing it for the greater good, he can't ever get over it.  On several occasions, he becomes nauseous simply thinking about it. (Just for fun, though, here's a discussion of whether or not Roran could have actually killed 200 dudes with his hammer.  Short answer: Um, no.  But this is Inheritance, so what is logic?)  Arya says this in Brisingr:

Arya: That day was the first time I took a life.  It troubled me for weeks afterward, until I realized I would go mad if I continued to dwell upon it.  Many do, and they become so angry, so grief-ridden, they can no longer be relied upon, or their hearts turn to stone and they lose the ability to distinguish right from wrong.

Also: "You'd think killing people would make them like you, but it doesn't.  It just makes people dead." -Voldemort, A Very Potter Musical

It's also worth pointing out that Christianity isn't about perfect people being righteous all the time.  It's about real people who make mistakes, but can find forgiveness if they so seek it (yet still have to live with the consequences of their actions).  Unlike some Christian books, I don't really believe that people are inherently good.  Or inherently evil.  (But again, LENSES.)  I believe that all people have good in them, and also that all people have some amount of "bad" in them.  It's not about anything that is inherent in human nature--it's about the nature of each individual to decide for themselves what kind of human being they will be.  (Perhaps this comes from me tending to come down around Lawful Neutral on the character alignment scale.  And also being INTJ, which often goes hand-in-hand with Lawful Neutral.)

So, in summary, can we not write Christian fiction that contains too-perfect, too-righteous characters?  Can we recognize that the world is not a battlefield where the "good" stand on one side of a line in the stand, and the "evil" on the other?  Can we have flawed characters, whether Christian or not? 

*Can we just keep talking about Roran's killing sprees for a moment here?  What I find interesting about this is how much this reminds me of Murtagh.  They both have the same drive, the same desire to protect what they love (once Thorn comes along, and once the Nasuada/Murtagh ship becomes apparent [I shipped that long before it happened, by the way.]).  If you throw them both into the thick of battle, they both go beserk (compared to Eragon, who goes all "What am I doing here, again?  How do I Dragon Rider?  SAPHIRA WHERE ARE YOU?" when the fighting starts).  If their positions were switched, Roran and Murtagh probably wouldn't have been much different at all.  The difference is that Roran, despite not even being Eragon's brother, gets the chance to be the brother.  To be on the "good side", if you will.  Murtagh, even though he's Eragon's half-brother, doesn't get much chance.  Roran feels guilty when he kills people, but it's likely that Murtagh burned down whole cities and enjoyed it.  Roran kills "evil" people (if being a soldier of the Empire constitutes being evil, which it really doesn't, but it's the only way to take down Galbatorix), while Murtagh kills mostly innocent people.  The point is that neither of these are ever fully justified, nor should they be.  Nor should either character be condemned as a "bad" character for this.  If someone ever asked me to write a critical essay on Eragon, I'd be ready.  I am so prepared for that.  Aaaaand that was the longest asterisk segment I've ever written.**

**On a semi-related note, are we not going to talk about Angela and her suspicious ways?  She's allegedly quite old (nobody's quite sure how old), but looks pretty young.  She travels around quickly, somehow, despite not having a dragon, horse, or, I don't know, airplane, taking short times to travel distances that take other characters weeks.  She's eccentric (one of her sendoff pieces of advice is "Don't eat earwax!", for goodness' sake).  She travels with Solembum, and I wouldn't put it past him to be an alien (because, you know, the all-fiction-takes-place-in-the-same-universe theory).  Are you getting where I'm going with this?  Also, there's a guy in Brisingr that raves about a question he's spent his whole life trying to answer.  The question is never revealed.  I wonder who what that question could be...
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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Dragonspell (DragonKeeper Chronicles #1) by Donita K. Paul

One dragon egg holds the key to the future.

Once a slave, Kale is given the unexpected opportunity to become a servant to Paladin. Yet this young girl has much to learn about the difference between slavery and service.

A desperate search begins…

A small band of Paladin’s servants rescue Kale from danger but turn her from her destination: The Hall, where she was to be trained. Feeling afraid and unprepared, Kale embarks on a perilous quest to find the meech dragon egg stolen by the foul Wizard Risto. First, she and her comrades must find Wizard Fenworth. But their journey is threatened when a key member of the party is captured, leaving the remaining companions to find Fenworth, attempt an impossible rescue, and recover the egg whose true value they have not begun to suspect…

Weaving together memorable characters, daring adventure, and a core of eternal truth,
Dragonspell is a finely crafted and welcome addition to the corpus of fantasy fiction.


Released: June 22nd 2004         Pages: 339
Publisher: WaterBrook Press   Source: borrowed from my brother
First Look: ****I checked out a book from this series from the library years ago, not realizing it wasn't the first book (pet peeve: a book series that isn't clearly labeled with numbers).  I went ahead and put the first book on my to-read list, because, well, dragons.

Setting: *****  The term-dropping (where an author introduces many new in-world concepts at once) was exhausting for the first fifty pages or so.  After that I didn't care because I had completely given up on knowing exactly what any of that stuff meant.  For example, we're told early in the story that Kale, the main character, is an "o'rant".  Well, that's nice, but what does it mean?  We're never told.  Other creatures like "doneels" and "emerlindians" are introduced, but, again, we're not told exactly what they are.  Around page 250, I finally realized that this book has a glossary.  It's not helpful, though--all it says about most of the races is their average height, which doesn't help. 

Apart from this, the other aspects of the setting didn't do anything for me.  I was given a very narrow picture of the world Kale lives in.  I don't know what kind of society it is, what kind of culture, or even what kind of government they have. 

 Characters: *****  Kale was flat.  I couldn't like her because I still have no idea what sort of personality she has.  Other than having a "follower" personality, that is.  She didn't make decisions for herself.  Everything that she was told she swallowed without a single question.  Not to mention the fact that she gained random powers out of nowhere.  I'll buy the mindspeaking thing, sure.  But now she's suddenly able to use her mind to temporarily blind an enemy, with almost no training?

I never understood her backstory, either.  She used to be a slave, and the author regards this like it was a terrible existence.  And yet, every time Kale recalls being a slave, it's never a negative thing.  It's always "I never had to think about X when I was a slave", or "things were easier and simpler when I was a slave".  And why did she stop being a slave?  The impression I got was that she was called to be part of a quest.  Why, though?  I was never given an explanation.

I wasn't attached to anyone else, either.  Either I couldn't take them seriously, or I just plain didn't care.  The dragon, Gymn, didn't really do anything but faint.  And then there's the fact that Kale named her dragon Gymn.  So basically, her dragon is either named Jim or Gym.  That's worse than that time I had to read about an evil dragon named Beth.   

And then, of course, we have the Christian fiction character trap, which this book falls into.  Every character is so inherently good and righteous all the time.  They never mess up, ever.  Except the ones that are the Designated Bad Guys, of course.  Then they're awful and terrible and there's nothing good about them and it's okay to kill them all.  I'll say it again: Christian fiction isn't supposed to be about ideal Christians who are perfect in every sense of the word.  Like any good fiction, it's only worthwhile when the characters are realistic.  When they have flaws, and mess up.  Just because it's a Christian novel doesn't mean your characters can't make mistakes.

Plot: ***** Who are we fighting, again?  And why?  The characters were on a quest against evil.  We never know why they're fighting these people, though, or what makes them evil in the first place.  We don't see villages razed to the ground or anything of the sort.  The only thing that makes the villains evil is that the author tells us so.

The plot didn't have much focus.  "Focus" is the term I use for having a specific plot goal that is obvious, and the characters are working towards it constantly throughout the book.  Plots should always have focus; I should be able to easily identify what the conflict is.  This book made it too easy to lose sight of its focus.

 Uniqueness: ***** 
It has some unique aspects, but it also uses an abundance of fantasy stereotypes--the wizened old wizard, the bumbling comic-relief dwarf(-ish thing), etc. 

Writing: ***** 
The thing that bothered me above all else was the excessive internalization.  It's good to let your readers be privy to your character's thoughts once and awhile, but I was reading italicized thoughts two to three, or more, times per page for much of the novel.  It annoyed me.  Most of it was unnecessary, anyway.

Other than that, the writing felt disconnected from the story.  I got no sense of emotion from the narration, despite the amount of Kale's thoughts that I read about.  There was also at least one typo. 

 Likes: Well, at least it's finally off my to-read shelf.

Not-so-great: This isn't so much a problem with the book as a new quirk about me I've just discovered.  At one point, Kale meets Paladin, who is essentially this book's version of Christ.  Kale sits down and talks to him, and describes him as "handsome".  I've never thought about whether or not Jesus would be handsome, but now that I do, I don't feel like he would be.  I feel like he'd be pleasant-looking, but not handsome.  I keep thinking about what would happen if I met Jesus and I thought he was handsome.  How awkward would that be?   (If he looked like, say, Tom Hiddleston, how distracting would that be?)  I'm weirded out by this whole idea, and I'm really not sure why.

Overall: I didn't like this book.  At all.  It was another Christian novel in which the characters were righteous all the time and never made a single mistake.  And they were flat and uninteresting characters on top of all that.  The writing contained way too much internalization.  The worldbuilding was poor, and the plot was unfocused.  One star.  I will be steering far clear of the rest of the series.
 

 
 
Similar Books: It's Christian fantasy involving dragons like the Dragons In Our Midst/Oracles of Fire/Children of the Bard series and the Dragons of Starlight series..  (They're all one.  Kind of.  I explain it more in this post.)  It's a fairly tame high fantasy with Christian elements like The Door WithinIt also has a bit of a Dragonlance vibe.
 
 

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Vessel and Boy Nobody Mini-Reviews

Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst
Liyana has trained her entire life to be the vessel of a goddess. She will dance and summon her tribe's deity, who will inhabit Liyana's body and use magic to bring rain to the desert. But when the dance ends, Liyana is still there. Her tribe is furious--and sure that it is Liyana's fault. Abandoned by her tribe, Liyana expects to die in the desert. Until a boy walks out of the dust in search of her.

Korbyn is a god inside his vessel, and a trickster god at that. He tells Liyana that five other gods are missing, and they set off across the desert in search of the other vessels. The desert tribes cannot survive without the magic of their gods. But the journey is dangerous, even with a god’s help. And not everyone is willing to believe the trickster god’s tale.

The closer she grows to Korbyn, the less Liyana wants to disappear to make way for her goddess. But she has no choice--she must die for her tribe to live. Unless a trickster god can help her to trick fate--or a human girl can muster some magic of her own.


Released: September 11th 2012              Pages:  424
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry         Source: Library

I love the cover of this book.  For once, the girl-in-a-dress cover actually matches the book.  Anyway, my favorite part of this book was probably the setting.  It was so cool!  It wasn't your usual European-based fantasy setting--it had a unique desert flair (is that at thing?  It is now).

Liyana was a decent enough character, though I wish I could've gotten more depth from her.  Korbyn was fun and likable.  The ending had a nice twist to it, one I didn't see coming.

One thing that annoyed me was that everyone felt the need to tell stories all the time.  Don't get me wrong--I love stories.  But when every character has a fable for every situation, it gets tiresome.  Overall, though, I enjoyed this book.  It's a unique fantasy novel that will appeal to readers looking for something a little different. 
 
 
Similar Books: It has a  non-standard fantasy setting like Eon: Dragoneye Reborn, The Girl of Fire and ThornsProphecyand Shadow and BoneIt also reminds me of Defiance and The Singer of All Songs.
 


Boy Nobody (Boy Nobody #1) by Allen Zadoff 
 Boy Nobody is the perennial new kid in school, the one few notice and nobody thinks much about. He shows up in a new high school in a new town under a new name, makes a few friends, and doesn't stay long. Just long enough for someone in his new friend's family to die-of "natural causes." Mission accomplished, Boy Nobody disappears, moving on to the next target.

But when he's assigned to the mayor of New York City, things change. The daughter is unlike anyone he has encountered before; the mayor reminds him of his father. And when memories and questions surface, his handlers at The Program are watching. Because somewhere deep inside, Boy Nobody is somebody: the kid he once was; the teen who wants normal things, like a real home and parents; a young man who wants out. And who just might want those things badly enough to sabotage The Program's mission.

In this action-packed series debut, author Allen Zadoff pens a page-turning thriller that is as thought-provoking as it is gripping, introducing an utterly original and unforgettable antihero.


Released: June 2013                                         Pages:  337
Publisher:  Little, Brown, and Company         Source: Library

This book has a rather unfortunate case of insta-love.  Though it wasn't as bad as others I've seen before, it was certainly present.  Boy Nobody and Sam fall in love almost at first sight.  That whole situation struck me as odd--he's been trained not to feel, to get in, kill the target, and get out.  No emotions involved.  In all other situations, his training was prevalent, and he had an almost superhuman ability to get himself out of nasty situations.  And yet, he still falls in love with this girl.  I realize that this was part of the theme of the story, the theme that humans always have the capacity for emotion, but you'd think The Program would have considered this possibility before.

Other than that, it was an okay book.  It had enough suspense to keep me turning pages, but the characters were rather flat.  Most of them came off on varying levels of stereotypical.  Boy Nobody was hard to figure out, which was, again, part of the point of the story.  He was a cold killing machine, and yet he had a soft side.  Still, it was hard to root for him.  Three stars.

 
Similar Books: It involves some sort of secret agency using teens to get things done, like the Alex Rider series, The Shadow Project and its companion The Doomsday BoxIt also reminded me of The Reluctant Assassin and Variant.

 
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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

18 Things You Should Know About Negative Reviews

Recently, the book reviewing community has been stirred up time and time again over unfavorable book reviews.  Basically, what happens is this: a blogger or Goodreads reviewer reviews a book and criticizes it.  The author of said book (actually, sometimes it isn't even that book's author--sometimes it's other random authors as well) gets mad at the reviewer and posts about it, or emails someone about it, or tweets, or something.  And drama ensues.  I won't go into specific details; you can read all about it if you just Google "author reviewer drama" or go to this page for a list of specific incidents.

I had told myself I wasn't going to say anything about any of this.  It didn't directly affect me, although it affects the entire reviewing community.  And finally I just gave in and said "You know what, I'd feel better if I just went ahead and posted this."  So I did.  Also, I may or may not have been provoked by this blog post, which disappointed me.  Without further ado, here are 18 things I think you should know about negative reviews.

Disclaimer: Some of this will be opinion.  Which means that somebody will disagree with me.  If you are not prepared to read something you'll disagree with, you might as well not bother.  It's also important to remember that not every author handles negative reviews poorly, nor does every reviewer attract drama with unfavorable reviews.
  1. A person has every right to not read a book.  Anyone has the right to put whatever book they want on a "do-not-read" shelf, for whatever reason they want.  There's nothing unfair about it, no matter what their reason is.  If they disagree with public statements the author has made, they can "do-not-read" the book.  If they only read books with an even number of pages or never read books by authors named Jennifer, that's fine.  Readers can read, or not read, whatever they want.
    Loki would approve of this child.

  2. A person also has every right not to finish a book.  And write a review stating why they didn't finish it.  Or not write a review.  The same principle applies here.  There is no rule saying a reviewer has to finish a book.  There's also no rule against writing a review saying why they didn't finish it.  And there's also no reason why they can't simply not finish the book, and not write a review.  Basically, reviewers can read as much or as little of a book as they want and review it to whatever extent they want and nobody else has the right to tell them otherwise.         
  3. Many reviewers actually know what it's like to write a book.  One common thing I see in defense of authors who have been "attacked" by reviewers is that "reviewers just don't understand how much effort and love goes into writing a book".  While it's true that many reviewers have never written a book, it's also true that many reviewers also happen to be writers.  Don't go generalizing reviewers like this.  I know what it is like to write a book.  I know how much sweat and pain and joy and sheer effort goes into a book.  I know that I'm reading and reviewing "your baby".  I get it.
  4. Before you get mad about a negative review, take a minute to find out more about the reviewer's rating system.  Every reviewer reviews a little differently.  For example, a three star rating from one reviewer might mean "I liked it", while from others (like me) it might mean "this book was okay".  (And yes, I do believe reviewers have been attacked over three star reviews.)  Most reviewers have an explanation of their rating system posted somewhere on their blog.  Take a minute to figure out what the star rating means before you get all worked up about it.
  5. A reviewer can review a book however they want.  If they want to use GIFs, fine.  If they want to use memes, fine.  If they use none of the above or something else, that's fine too.  I use GIFs in reviews all the time, for one star reviews and five stars and everything in between.  No, it isn't what a professional reviewer would do.  But when did I ever claim to be a professional?  I'm getting paid nothing for this and using up my own time, so I can review however I want.
  6. There's a difference between a negative review and a "bullying" review.  There are reviews that say mean things about the book.  The reviewer says they hate it and never want to think of it again.  And uses some GIFs to put the book down.  Maybe it's unnecessarily negative, but it hasn't crossed the line into bullying yet.  That line hasn't been crossed until the review threatens the author in some way (or the other way around, which has happened more often as far as I'm aware of), or just plain goes way out of line.  For example, shelving a book as "author should be stoned" is not called for, in my opinion, while shelving a book as "would rather eat soap than reread" is harsh, but acceptable. 
  7. There's a fine line between attacking the book and attacking the author.  A reviewer actually has every right to say "I hate this book.  I think it is horribly written.  I'd rather be attacked by a crazed ferret than read one more word."  Yes, it's a little mean.  But everyone is entitled to their opinion.  There's a difference, though, between saying "this book made me want to throw up" and "this author should never show her face in public again".  It's fine to criticize a book, but leave it at the book.  There's no reason to go after the author.
  8. The whole point of a review is for a reader to express their opinion.  If you don't like that, get out.  Seriously.  If you can't deal with the fact that people may have opinions that are different from yours, what are you even doing on the internet, let alone reading book reviews?
  9. When in doubt, take a screenshot.  If there's something about a review/an author's tweet/a blog post/whatever that crosses some sort of line that shouldn't be crossed, it's at high risk for deletion.  Especially if you're the target, you will want to have some proof that this post existed.  Screenshots are the answer.  (On a PC, press ctrl+prt sc, then press control+v to past it into a document of some sort.)
  10. In some cases, negative reviews can help the author.  For example: I read Twilight out of pure curiosity.  I've never been into vampire books, or romance.  But I'd heard that Twilight was a terrible book, and I wanted to see for myself just how bad it was, if at all.  Because of this, Twilight got one extra read and review than it would have otherwise.  And who knows?  Maybe someone else decided to read Twilight because of my review.  It's a chain reaction.
  11. It doesn't become a problem until you make it one.  Sometimes, these things are best left alone.  Yes, maybe it makes you mad.  If a kid is insulted on the playground, and retaliates by throwing a punch, it's not going to help anything.  It's just going to start a bigger fight and get people in trouble.  By all means, defend yourself and your reviews, but don't go looking for fights, either. 
  12. Deleting posts or comments is immature.  Don't do it--it doesn't make things better.  Sometimes, when someone on the internet says something that they probably shouldn't have said, and they realize it, they'll delete the original post or comment.  Ladies and gentlemen, this doesn't help anything.  It shows an inability to take responsibility for your own words.  It shows that you have something to hide.  It shows that you think the problem will fix itself if you delete the post, and it won't.  (Someone probably took a screenshot anyway.)  To me, this is the internet equivalent of "But he started it!" 
  13. Reviews are not for authors.  Reviews are for readers.  The point of a review isn't to pat an author on the back, nor is it to shame that author into never picking up a pen again.  The point of a review is to inform a reader about a book.  As Ashfall author Mike Mullin wrote in a recent blog post, you can bet authors like J.K. Rowling aren't spending hours reading their negative Goodreads reviews.  And Rowling probably has hundreds of them.  Will that stop her from publishing another book?  No.  (By the way, virtual high-five to Mike Mullin for being cool and writing that blog post in defense of reviewers.) 
  14. There's no reason why Goodreads should take down a negative review.  Even if it sounds mean.  I've seen comments that say something like this: "This review is so harsh and mean.  Goodreads should take it down."  Um, why?  There's no reason why Goodreads should even care.  What kind of place would Goodreads be if there were only positive reviews?  Ugh.  It would be like those times where you're forced to smile at people you can't stand, and everyone is giving fake smiles to everyone else even when nobody in the room likes one another.
  15. Goodreads is for readers, not authors.  Yes, Goodreads has many useful tools for authors, and in many cases, provides a great platform by which readers and authors can interact.  In the end, though, Goodreads is for the readers.  It's not about the people that write the books, even though they are an integral part of it.  It's about the people who read the books and review the books.  It's a reviewing community.  That's what it's for.
  16. Reviewers tend to stick together, and stick up for each other.  If an author reacts badly to a negative review, you can bet there will be a bunch of other reviewers putting your books on a do-not-read shelf.  Which is fine for them, but bad for the author.  The more people that shelf a book as do-not-read, the more people will see it shelved as such.  And many of those people will find out why people are boycotting it, and they might also shelf it as do-not-read.  And for each person that shelves it as do-not-read, that's one less book that's being sold.
  17. If you think harsh book reviews are bad, go on YouTube and check out some of the comments there.  Some of those commenters make authors look like they're getting off easy.
  18. No matter where you are, people will always start drama.  Don't feed the beast unless you have to.  This doesn't need much elaboration.  Like I said before: defend yourself, but there's a time to be defensive and a time to not even bother with these immature people. 
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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Siege and Storm (The Grisha #2) by Leigh Bardugo

Darkness never dies.

Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land. She finds starting new is not easy while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. She can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her--or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

 
Released: June 4th 2013                   Pages: 435
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.         Source: Library

Shadow and Bone was one of the most raved-about books of last summer.  Most of the reviews I saw were filled with glowing praise.  While I didn't love it to the point that many people did--I had my issues with it--I enjoyed it.  I feel the same way about Siege and Storm.

First, the setting.  DAT WORLDBUILDING.  I'm moving.  Bye, everyone.  I'm out.

 

The world of this book is so cool.  It's a high fantasy setting, with all the necessary pieces of high fantasy: kingdoms, monarchies, palaces, old-fashioned technology and customs.  But it has a Russian twist that I've never seen before.  The Russian influence makes the setting unique, and makes it stand out from the standard high fantasy setting.  Bonus points for setting a significant portion of the book on a ship; I love ship books.  It's cool to follow Leigh Bardugo's Pinterest boards and see some of her inspiration for her world.

I was annoyed, though, at the Russian words scattered throughout the book.  The words themselves didn't annoy me, but some of the time no explanation was given.  For example, I had to go online in order to find out what exactly a kefta is.  Context clues got me pretty close, but it would've been nice to have more explanation right away.

A new character in this book was Sturmhond.  He has another name, revealed partway through the book, but for the sake of being non-spoilery, we're going to stick with Sturmhond.  Leigh Bardugo has pretty much pulled Alina's love triangle into a love square.  (And apparently there's going to be another in the next book.)  Well, Alina can have Mal.  I like this new guy best.  Sturmhond came into the book with a bang and he's one of the coolest characters I have read about this year.  Just look at this picture that might or might not be him.  He's clever, brave, funny, and, well, awesome.  He is easily my favorite character in this series.  I can't wait to read more about him.

As for the other characters: Alina has always been, for me, the type of character that I like well enough to keep reading about, but don't truly love.  She's a decent character and everything, but I have yet to love her as I'd love a real person.  I do get to that point with some fictional characters, but not yet with her.  My feelings for Mal during the last book were lukewarm, but the more I read, the more I dislike him.  Sometimes I can respect him, but the more he drowns his problems in alcohol, the less I like him.  (And apparently you can't really get drunk on kvas anyway--it's considered non-alcoholic.)  The Darkling, of course, is as dashing and complex a villain as ever. 

The plot does get a bit slow at times, but I still maintained interest throughout.  I'm eager to read the finale to this trilogy--I'm betting it will be awesome.  I can't get enough of the awesome setting.  And Sturmhond.  Four stars.

 


 
Similar Books: It has a rich and detailed non-standard high fantasy setting like Eon: Dragoneye Reborn, The Girl of Fire and ThornsProphecyand VesselIt also reminds me of Throne of Glass and The Demon King.
 
 
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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Quintana of Charyn (Lumatere #3) by Melina Marchetta

There's a babe in my belly that whispers the valley, Froi. I follow the whispers and come to the road . . .

Separated from the girl he loves and has sworn to protect, Froi must travel through Charyn to search for Quintana, the mother of Charyn's unborn king, and protect her against those who will do anything to gain power. But what happens when loyalty to family and country conflict? When the forces marshalled in Charyn's war gather and threaten to involve the whole of the land, including Lumatere, only Froi can set things right, with the help of those he loves.


Released: September 26th 2012          Pages: 516
Publisher: Candlewick Press              Source: Library

After reading Finnikin of the Rock, I waited over two years to read Froi of the ExilesI don't know why.  I shouldn't have waited so long--I was missing out!  Because of this, I made sure to get my hands on the trilogy's finale, Quintana of Charyn, as soon as possible.  And I'm glad I did.

First, we're going to talk about the cover.  Do we have to have a weapon on every YA high fantasy cover? Casually scrolling through my Goodreads shelf, I found over a dozen covers featuring weapons.  And that's not even counting all the covers featuring people holding weapons.  Some weapon covers are cool, but some feel more like "this is fantasy so we felt like we should throw a sword or something on the cover, in case you couldn't tell it was fantasy".  This book falls into the latter category.

Anyway.  I've said this before, but I'll say it again.  Melina Marchetta is awesome at creating complex characters.  I spent much of this series like this:

 
Tell me your secrets, Melina Marchetta!  I want to know how she does it.  Every character is so beautifully constructed.  They are full of flaws, which makes them human.  And yet, they're such good people and you can't help but root for them.  They are complex and unpredictable, in the way that humans are.  At the same time, every move they make feels true to their character.

I love Froi.  He's courageous and sensitive and witty.  He has a lot of pain inside of him, but he still have an enormous capacity to love, and that's what I like about him.  He just doesn't give up.  His love for Quintana is an example of romance written right.  They have a complicated relationship, just like basically anyone in real life, but at they core, they really truly love each other. 

My only criticism of this book was that, for a majority of the novel, Froi's storyline was the only one I was truly invested in.  The rest--Phaedra's story, Quintana's, Finnikin's--didn't quite bore me, but I never could care about them as much as I cared about Froi's story.  I was never quite sure why Quintana had the only first person chapters, but it didn't bother me either, so I just went with it.  

Overall, this was a satisfying conclusion to an awesome series.  Though Froi of the Exiles is my favorite of the trilogy, this was still good.  It's exciting, intense, and quite dark in places.  And yet, it never loses hope, and never loses the reader's attention, either.  Highly recommended.
 

 
Similar Books: It's a dark, intense high fantasy with incredibly complex characters like Falling Kingdoms, The Demon King, and even A Game of Thrones.  It would also appeal to fans of fantasies such as The Girl of Fire and Thorns, In the Hall of the Dragon King, or The Poison Throne.
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Monday, September 2, 2013

Starglass (Starglass #1) by Phoebe North

Terra has never known anything but life aboard the Asherah, a city-within-a-spaceship that left Earth five hundred years ago in search of refuge. At sixteen, working a job that doesn't interest her, and living with a grieving father who only notices her when he's yelling, Terra is sure that there has to be more to life than what she's got.

But when she inadvertently witnesses the captain's guard murdering an innocent man, Terra is suddenly thrust into the dark world beneath her ship's idyllic surface. As she's drawn into a secret rebellion determined to restore power to the people, Terra discovers that her choices may determine life or death for the people she cares most about. With mere months to go before landing on the long-promised planet, Terra has to make the decision of a lifetime--one that will determine the fate of her people.


Released: July 23rd 2013         Pages: 448
Publisher: Simon & Schuster  Source: Goodreads First Reads giveaway

First Look: ***** I didn't have any strong thoughts one way or the other, at first sight.  The cover is nice enough, but forgettable.  The pitch just made me glance over to my bookshelf at my copy of Glow.  Still, since I won a free copy, I figured, why not? 

Setting: ***** 
Basically, it was a town.  Except...on a spaceship.  If we weren't reminded every so often of its spaceship-ness, it would be easy for a reader to forget it.  The town itself runs like any other town, except that its government is rather overbearing.  But, hey, what's new?  I would've liked to see more differentiation between Earth and the ship.  As in, I wanted to see reasons why this setting was different than any Earth setting.  How being on a spaceship affected the people, the town, the culture.  I never got as much of that as I wanted.

Characters: ***** 
Well, for starters, we have a main character named Terra.  What does she do?  She's a botanist.  This, admittedly, had me rolling my eyes.  While she was a decent-ish character, Terra acted consistently young for her age.  Yes, she's worried about getting married and all--why do we have sixteen-year-olds getting married anyway?  The spaceship isn't having a problem with decreasing life expectancies or loss of fertility, as far as I know, so why force people to get married so young?  Anyway, Terra was concerned about who she would marry, but instead of trying to determine whether or not she could spend her entire life with Koen, she just moped because Koen wouldn't kiss her.  If I was in that situation, I'd worry more about who I could get along with and even love rather than who would kiss me.  Especially if the babies are all made in a lab anyway.

(spoilers in the next two paragraphs)  I didn't agree with all of the choices Terra made.  While many book characters do things I wouldn't have done, there's a line between what I can accept and what I can't.  Characters do things that I wouldn't have, yes, but often I can see the justification, and at least partially sympathize with it, and it doesn't detract from my opinion of the character.  And then some characters go and make choices that I don't agree with and just plain made me dislike them.  For example, the murder Terra commits at the end.  Her justification was poor, and it made me dislike her.  Murdering people just isn't okay, no matter if the guy killed your mother or not.

And then I flat-out hated Koen.  At first he seemed nice enough, but then it turned sour.  I think he was a jerk for stringing Terra along like he did.  He gave Terra hope that she could have a happy marriage with a man who truly loved her.  He let her think that he actually did love her.  And then, when she found out that he loved whatever-that-guy's-name-was, he expected her to be okay with it.  To say, "Alright, I know you'll never truly love me, but I'll accept a marriage to you and be totally fine with you making out with some guy whenever you want."  No, no, no!  That is not a healthy relationship.  Expecting her to go along with that was cruel and unfair.  That revelation made me feel like this:
Reasons Jane Foster Is Epic #999: She punched Loki in the face, and even Loki appreciated it.  Even Sif looks a little intimidated.  (Keep watching Thor's head...this entertains me too much.)


 Plot: *****
  Meh.  Parts of the plot fit well and made total sense to me.  For example, conflicts with Koen, her father, about her job,  and so on. It worked for me. And then there was the whole rebellion thing, which didn't work for me.  It just didn't feel natural. I understand that they don't have all the freedoms they want on the ship, but we still never saw the ship's government actually mistreat anyone. For me, there was never enough justification for an actual rebellion. To have a rebellion, you have to show readers a reason why this government needs to end/change.

Also, why do we have people running around and stabbing each other with knives?  We're on a spaceship.  Shouldn't they at least have, I don't know, laser guns or something?  Something that goes "Pew pew pew!"?  And if the government is so tight about regulations that teenagers have to find a spouse within a year or the government will pick one for you, why do they allow people to run around with dangerous weapons?  (At least one person is known for carrying a blade in plain sight on a regular basis.)  

Uniqueness: ***** 
The idea of a group of people living on a crowded spaceship, heading toward a new home planet, where not all is as it seems is a trend that is going strong right now.  While Starglass had its own variations (the Jewish culture, etc.), I would've liked to see a little more originality.

Writing: *****  Very early on, I was greeted with one of these beauties: "I let out a breath I hadn't even realized I'd been holding."
Me: Here we go again....
Can we stop using this cliché sentence?  It appeared at least twice in this book.  In real life, people don't do this.  Incidentally, four days after reading this sentence, I posted an entire blog post about sentences like this that people need to stop writing.

The only other major thing that stood out to me was that the first description of the overall design and structure of the ship was in the last chapter or so.  Maybe I missed something at the beginning, but I don't think so.  This is the kind of thing authors should use early in the novel, to establish the setting.  Not at the end.  (If there's a description in the beginning that I missed or forgot about, feel free to call me out.)

 Likes: I could connect to Terra's passion for art.  I'm not an artist myself, if you define artist as a person who makes visual art, but as a writer I know about the desire to create.

Not-so-great: Why is this book called Starglass?  I don't recall that word ever being used in the novel.

Also, why did Terra keep talking about feeling awkward in her changing body and outgrowing clothes?  At the start of the novel, she was fifteen.  Aren't most girls done growing by the time they're fifteen?  Or was I just a very early bloomer?

 Overall: Starglass was an okay book.  I know I mostly wrote about what I didn't like, but none of it was enough to bring this book below three stars, either.  The plot was a bit unoriginal, with a rebellion that didn't quite seem necessary to me.  The writing used some irritating clichés.  Terra was an okay character, though she made decisions that didn't sit well with me.  A few other scattered things made me roll my eyes.  I couldn't stand Koen.  I probably won't seek out the sequel for this, when it comes out. 
 
 
 
Similar Books:  It has heavy similarities with Glow and Across the Universe--all three take place on a spaceship headed for a new planet, with rebellions and spacey romance and female main characters.  It also reminds me of  Inside Out, which also features a spacey rebellion featuring a female main character.
 
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