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Friday, January 31, 2014

Insignia (Insignia #1) by S. J. Kincaid

More than anything, Tom Raines wants to be important, though his shadowy life is anything but that. For years, Tom's drifted from casino to casino with his unlucky gambler of a dad, gaming for their survival. Keeping a roof over their heads depends on a careful combination of skill, luck, con artistry, and staying invisible.

Then one day, Tom stops being invisible. Someone's been watching his virtual-reality prowess, and he's offered the incredible a place at the Pentagonal Spire, an elite military academy. There, Tom's instincts for combat will be put to the test and if he passes, he'll become a member of the Intrasolar Forces, helping to lead his country to victory in World War III. Finally, he'll be someone important: a superhuman war machine with the tech skills that every virtual-reality warrior dreams of. Life at the Spire holds everything that Tom's always wanted friends, the possibility of a girlfriend, and a life where his every action matters but what will it cost him?

Gripping and provocative, S. J. Kincaid's futuristic thrill ride of a debut crackles with memorable characters, tremendous wit, and a vision of the future that asks startling, timely questions about the melding of humanity and technology.

Released: July 10th 2012                 Pages: 446
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books   Source: Library

First Look: ****This had a lot of potential to be something I'd really enjoy.  Virtual reality is interesting, as well as the Ender's Game-like use of teens in combat.  Also, I was told it was hilarious.  Goodreads is full of glowing reviews, but I can't see why.  Well, here's a review that's not quite so glowing.  

Setting: ***** 
I'm intrigued by the idea of nations essentially being run by corporations, which sponsor the military.  This is a believable future, and made for an interesting backdrop.  However, I don't buy the idea that future wars would be fought in outer space, with no human or human civilization being destroyed in the process.  This just doesn't make sense to me.  Isn't the whole point of war to have two (or more) nations trying to annihilate one another until one is forced to surrender?  If your own nation, your own soil, your own people aren't being destroyed, why surrender?  If there's no surrender, there's never a winner.  In that case, what's the point?  There is none.

Characters: *****  
The main character, Tom Raines, was reckless, impulsive, and obnoxious.  He was prone to making stupid--not to mention dangerous--decisions.  I realize that some of this could be attributed to the fact that he's a hormone-filled 14-year-old boy (Was he 14?  I'm going with it.).  Still, this was excessive, and I know that 14-year-old boys are capable of making reasonable decisions just like the rest of us.  (My brother was 14 until a few months ago, and I'm certain he wouldn't act this reckless.)  He goes online and "meets" the world's most famous virtual fighter (all fighting is done by controlling spaceships and such remotely), and repeatedly challenges her to online games.  Oh, yeah, and she fights for the other side, so he's committing treason in order to play games.  Real smart.  But nope, this goes mostly well for him, and he actually develops a little romance with the enemy fighter.

The only semi-interesting characters were Wyatt and Medusa, who are the only major female characters in this teenage boy angst-ridden novel.  The other characters seemed to think Wyatt was incredibly socially awkward, but she didn't seem that bad to me.  Having a blunt personality does not make you awkward.  She may have said things that are normally a little too "honest" to say in public, but I liked her for it.  Everyone else at the training academy felt one-sided and generic.

Plot: ***** This book's plot falls into the same trap as Ender's Game: it's almost all training for action, but little real action.  Tom did some actual virtual fighting at the end, but mostly, the book focuses on his training.  This got long and tedious, and I kept waiting for something real to happen.  They play the training simulations over and over, but there's no conflict.  It was also full of the typical drama that happens whenever you have a book about teens in a boarding school situation.  We have rivalries that form instantly, for no good reason.  Pranks, angst, crushes, and such.  This plot was interrupted one too many times for some sort of prank competition.  Overall, the pacing of the book was fine, but I wanted real conflict, not just simulated conflict or petty rivalries.

Uniqueness: ***** This book borrowed heavily from Ender's Game. Both books feature a young boy being shipped off to a training school where they learn to virtually control weapons in outer space to fight some interplanetary war.  Insignia is just a slightly less repetitive Ender's Game with more teenage boy humor and romance, minus the social commentary.

Writing: ***** The narration was full of gems like this: "Medusa was extraordinary, because she was extraordinary."

Ladies and gentlemen, let's take a moment to think about the fact that someone was paid to write those words.*  The book also had moments like this: "Beautiful girls didn't hang around to talk to short, ugly guys with bad acne."  Which implies that girls only speak to guys they find attractive.  This is so untrue, and all it does is make girls look shallow and petty.  I'm a girl, and I'll talk to any guy who is capable of carrying on a worthwhile conversation.  I don't care if he's "ugly".  If he's as attractive as, say, Andrew Garfield, but can't carry on a worthwhile conversation, he isn't worth my time.

Also, other reviewers keep saying that this book is funny.  I read the whole thing and I must've missed the funny parts, because I didn't find any.  Unless conversations like this one are supposed to be funny.  Would this be funny if I was a 14-year-old boy?  I'm guessing not, but...maybe?

Nothing not already mentioned above.

Not-so-great: Why were all the students--new recruits as well as ones who'd been there for a few years--grouped together in the same classes?  Why would they all be learning the same things?  Especially since the classes shown were all basic information (all the better to infodump with!).

Overall: Insignia could have been an exciting sci-fi adventure, but, well, it wasn't.  The main character, Tom, made too many stupid decisions for me to ever respect him.  Only a few characters were actually interesting and didn't feel like cardboard cutouts.  The plot had too many training scenes and too little real conflict.  It borrowed obviously and heavily from Ender's Game.  The worldbuilding made little sense.  Overall, I suppose I didn't dislike it enough to give it two stars, so I'll have to give it three, but...I won't be reading the sequel.

Similar books: Ender's Game is basically Insignia's sophisticated older cousin.  This book also reminds me of The Eye of Minds and The Lost Code.

*It's not just this book, though.  So-called "classics" do the same thing.  Check out this eloquence from Albert Camus' The Stranger: "It was then that I realized that you could either shoot or not shoot."  I'm so glad Camus could clarify that for us.
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Monday, January 27, 2014

The Mid-Novel Crisis

It happens to even the best of us: halfway through the novel you're writing, you get sick of it.  You hate it.  There's another shiny new idea that sounds like so much more fun.  You're bored and disillusioned with your novel.  You wonder why you even started it in the first place, and you just know it's not worth finishing.

(Okay, sometimes this happens at the one-third mark.  But for now, we'll keep calling it the "mid-novel crisis".)

It just keeps spiraling from there.  You start to wonder why you're even writing anything.  You wonder why you even exist.  You wonder why anything even exists.  You wonder why existence is even a thing.  You wonder if it is a thing at all.

It goes in stages.  Remember the five stages of grief from health class in middle school?  Yeah, it's like that.

Stage 1: Denial
No, I can still do this.  If I just keep waiting here, staring at this MS Word document, it'll come to me.  I'll get through it and I'll be fine.  If I just keep staring at this blinking, hypnotic, seizure-inducing cursor...

Stage 2: Anger
Why can't I do this?  I should be able to accomplish a simple little task like finishing this book.  It can't be that hard, can it?  It's just words.  Just letters.  Why am I suddenly so unable to type simple letters?

Stage 3: Bargaining
Alright, fine.  I'll just take a little time off from this book.  I'll just go start another book for a week or so, and then I'll return to the crisis novel.  Maybe my inspiration will return.  Maybe I'll be able to get somewhere with it.  Maybe world hunger will be eliminated and cancer will be cured.

Stage 4: Depression
All I want is to finish this book.  Why can't I finish this book?  Why do my characters hate me so much?  Whyyyyy?  *collapses into corner with entire tub of ice cream*

Stage 5: Acceptance
I am so far beyond caring about this mid-novel crisis that it doesn't even matter anymore.  You know what?  I'm just going to sit here and type asdfjkl; because that's better than nothing.  Isn't it?  It's not better?  Whatever.  I can do this.  There's a wall somewhere in my writing process, and if I just keep crashing into it hard enough, it's bound to fall down sooner or later.

You know it when the crisis hits.  It's when you normally write 500 words an hour, but you've hardly been able to pull off 500 words over the past week.  It's when your characters start acting in unfathomable ways and you start drawing a blank as to who they are.  It's when you have absolutely, positively, no clue where your plot is headed next.  It's when you're here during your writing time.  (Don't think I'm not aware of what you're doing, because I am.)  It's when you wonder what you've gotten yourself into.

The problem is that once the mid-novel crisis hits, it's like you've fallen into this vast canyon of self-doubt, lack of direction, procrastination, and inability to write.  Imagine Hamlet as the main character of The Order of the Phoenix: that's how much angst you feel--especially since the mid-novel crisis tends to bring an existential crisis along with it.  It's hard to write words when every ten minutes your brain goes all "What am I doing here?".

Maybe you came here seeking a way out of the canyon of the mid-novel crisis.  In that case, know that I'm still searching for an effective way out, myself.  In some ways, I think that it happens to everyone, and we all just have to suffer through it until it gets better.

That being said, I'm not at a total loss for pointers.  The best thing you can do is to stick with it.  Don't abandon the novel in favor of another, more awesome idea.  Guess what: it's not more awesome.  It just looks more awesome because the shiny new idea always looks better than your current work-in-progress.  If you start that new novel, you'll end up reaching the same crisis halfway through, and you'll repeat the cycle forever and never learn how to pull yourself out.

 If you're at a loss for plot, do some outlining.  Step back and figure out how you're going to get to your ending.  Plan out every step before jumping back into the fray.  If your characters feel like they're getting more and more distant, pull them back to you with some character forms or an 100 things list.

If your problem is "just writer's block", just...get over it.  I'm not joking.  I'm part of that crowd that doesn't believe in writer's block.  There are words in your brain; use them.  They're words, and they can get you over the stumbling block in your novel.  It doesn't matter how terrible they are.  You'll be able to edit them later.  Get those words onto the paper.  If you have to, use Write Or Die.  Just keep nudging at that block, and it'll eventually move out of the way.

The next time the mid-novel crisis hits, you'll probably go through the cycle.  Maybe you're in the cycle right now.  Either way, know this: you can climb out of it.  It's something that can be overcome.

Have you had an experience with the mid-novel crisis?  How do you get yourself out of it?

PS: You already know what I'm going to say.  BLOG SURVEY.  It's still open!
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Friday, January 24, 2014

Ink (Paper Gods #1) by Amanda Sun

On the heels of a family tragedy, the last thing Katie Greene wants to do is move halfway across the world. Stuck with her aunt in Shizuoka, Japan, Katie feels lost. Alone. She doesn’t know the language, she can barely hold a pair of chopsticks, and she can’t seem to get the hang of taking her shoes off whenever she enters a building.

Then there’s gorgeous but aloof Tomohiro, star of the school’s kendo team. How did he really get the scar on his arm? Katie isn’t prepared for the answer. But when she sees the things he draws start moving, there’s no denying the truth: Tomo has a connection to the ancient gods of Japan, and being near Katie is causing his abilities to spiral out of control. If the wrong people notice, they'll both be targets.

Katie never wanted to move to Japan—now she may not make it out of the country alive.

Released: June 21st 2013    Pages: 326
Publisher: Harlequin Teen    Source: Library

First Look: ****This sounded interesting because, while I know next to nothing about Japanese mythology, it's not something I've ever really read about before.  Also, I love the idea of drawings coming to life--like Inkheart, except with pictures. 

Setting: ***** 
The setting itself was interesting, but it was handled poorly.  Japanese terms were thrown into the narration or dialogue with little or no explanation.  Some of these terms or phrases were included in a glossary at the back (these came up as links on the e-book version that I read, which I could click to bring me right to the glossary).  This was annoying and unnecessary.  Flipping back and forth to a glossary, whether you're on an e-reader or a physical copy, is a pain.  There's no reason to force your readers to do this when it isn't hard to define the phrase in the narration itself.  If nothing else, it distracted from the story.

The Japanese setting was certainly different, since it's not something you read about much in YA fiction.  It seemed authentic enough to me, but take that with a grain of salt, since I'm a Midwestern girl who has never been to Japan and has no connection with Japanese culture. 

Characters: ***** 
Katie frustrated me.  It's one thing to have a character who makes a wrong decision--in fact, every strong character needs to make some wrong decisions in order to have a compelling story.  Maybe it'll make me dislike the character, but at least the character will be three-dimensional.  There's a difference, though, between characters who make wrong decisions and characters who make decisions that are just plain stupid.  Kate falls into the latter category.  First of all, she's whiny.  She spends the first third of the book complaining about how she doesn't fit in to Japanese culture, how she doesn't speak the language well, and how she doesn't understand the customs.  I can't feel any sympathy for her because, initially, she doesn't even try.  She doesn't try to improve her language skills and refuses to get involved in activities that will immerse her in the culture.  I'll give her some credit for eventually trying.

Apart from that, though, she demonstrates a lack of common sense that I found obnoxious and baffling.  There's obviously something off about Tomohiro from the beginning.  Katie states over and over that he's scary, and that hanging out with him is unsafe.  And she still follows--no, stalks--him.  But since she's a heroine in a YA book, of course she's going to stalk the scary guy (who just so happens to be gorgeous), who is (surprise!) actually nice, if a bit moody.  They proceed to fall in love.  Please, give me a break.  One, it's absurd and disturbing that Katie thinks you can have any sort of healthy relationship with a person described as "dangerous".  Two, insta-love is always a no.  Three, why is Tomo so okay with Katie stalking him?

Tomo was a more interesting character than Katie.  He was moody, but his powers and their effect on him was compelling.  I wanted to read more of his struggle with his powers and less of Katie's romantic angst.  This book would've been so much more interesting from Tomo's point of view, or even as a dual POV with him and Jun.

Plot: ***** 
The first half of this book bored me.  I didn't care about Katie's struggle to "fit in".  It wasn't much more interesting reading about her following Tomo around.  There was too much romantic angst and too little plot.

The second half got more interesting, especially once the Japanese Mafia got involved.  Then this book finally started on the important things, like the implications of Tomo's ability, and Katie's search to find answers about her effect on his ability.  The romance aspect of the plot didn't take as much of a backseat as I would've liked, even though it wasn't the most important aspect.  Still, the second half was an improvement.

Katie's decision at the very end annoyed me.  If nothing else, does she not realize how much plane tickets cost?  She wasted all that money, and for what?  So she could stay with Tomo, even though she just got kidnapped and almost killed because of him.  Besides, the decision was incredibly predictable.

Uniqueness: ***** Tomo's powers and those aspects of the book were unique, but it was too bogged down by the overused new-girl-new-school and romance-with-dangerous-brooding-guy clichés.

Writing: ***** The writing wasn't necessarily bad, but there wasn't anything compelling about it either. It had a few nice metaphors, but other than that, nothing stood out.  I remember being annoyed during the first few chapters at how stereotypical and forced Katie's voice sounded, but either that faded or I learned to ignore it.

I've mentioned this already, but it was seriously annoying to have to keep going back and forth to the glossary to understand the random Japanese phrases thrown into the dialogue.  It wasn't that hard for me, since I read it on a Kindle app which allowed me to click on links, but it still disoriented me, and I saw no reason for it.

Likes: Nothing not already mentioned above.

This book made me want Japanese food.  Not that I don't always want Asian food anyways.

This is a book with an interesting and unique premise.  However, the interesting parts of the story were overshadowed by a cliché and overbearing romance.  Katie was a frustrating and irresponsible protagonist who made dumb decisions of a regular basis.  It took too long for the plot to get interesting.  In short, this book would've been so much better if the romance had moved out of the way of the actual story.

Similar Books:  It's about a girl living in a new city and falling in love with a guy with powers like Invisiblity.  It also reminds me of Auracle, Unearthly, and even Shiver.

There's still time to take my blog survey.  Yes, I'm still talking about it.  Think of it this way: if I get a flood of responses, I'll be satisfied, and I'll stop reminding you.  So if you think this is annoying, go take the survey and tell me how annoyed you are so I can stop talking about it.

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Monday, January 20, 2014

Pinterest For Writers

Before I begin, let me say this: if you're reading this and you're not already on Pinterest, disregard this post.  If you haven't already been sucked into the black hole, don't go anywhere near it.  Just walk out now.  Trust me.

Okay, for those that are still here...

Unless you actually bake the recipes you pin on Pinterest, actually do the DIY projects, or actually buy the clothes you hang on your "virtual closet" pinboard, Pinterest is useless other than the fleeting moment of happiness you get from pinning a thing.  What good is it going to do you to have a board full of pictures of dresses you can't afford?  None, except for the longing satisfaction of looking at the pictures.  If you set the value of that satisfaction against the time lost by doing it, you've most likely come up short.  But hey, at least it's safer, cheaper, and 100% more legal than, say, cocaine.  And probably more fun.

This is the value of creating writing/novel inspiration boards.  At least you'll be using your time for something slightly more productive, since, as I'll talk about later, these boards can serve as references for character personalities, physical descriptions, etc.

(I realize that, if you're like me, your Pinterest feed does not look anything like what the founders probably intended.  I don't go for the mason jar crafts or hipster DIY shirts or "healthy" recipes or whatever normal people pin.  My feed is more Tom Hiddleston, bizarrely hilarious screencaps of Tumblr posts, Loki, math jokes, Benedict Cumberbatch, more Tom Hiddleston, and the occasional dorm organization thing.  It looks more like Tumblr than Pinterest.)

Since you're there anyway, you might as well turn Pinterest into a tool that can help inspire your writing.  The most obvious way is to create a board of writing prompts and inspiration.  Pin anything and everything that inspires you.  It could be a compelling or intriguing photo, an interesting piece of artwork, a link to an article about a topic that you'd like to write about, a quote, lyrics, etc.  Hipster quotes in Helvetica on washed-out landscape photos.  Or one of those pictures of Ryan Gosling (or another handsome guy of your choice) that says, "Hey girl, you should be writing."  If it sparks your creativity, pin it.

If you're working on a specific writing project, it's an awesome idea to make an inspiration board specially for this project.  I made one for both my previous novel and the one I'm writing now.  It's awesome as inspiration, but it's also helpful to keep track of things, visually, for your novel.  If I find a photo of a person that looks like one of my book characters, I put it on the board.  Then, I can use this photo as a reference for writing physical descriptions.  This also doubles as an acceptable excuse to pin 1,893 photos of Andrew Garfield if your novel has a similar-looking character.

I also like to pin quotes that describe the novel or a certain character.  Just make sure that you write, in the pin description, who or what the quote refers to, so you don't lose track.  Song lyrics or even links to songs on YouTube are also good ideas.  Little infographics with information about any certain Meyers-Briggs personality type can be found easily on Pinterest, and it's good to keep track of which characters are which type.  (I highly recommend knowing the type of each of your major characters.  It'll help so much with figuring out how a character operates, because most of the work is basically done for you.)

Here's an example of a novel inspiration board.  It's the one I use for my current work-in-progress.  Click to see the whole thing.

Follow Annie's board Untitled Book on Pinterest.

The awesome thing about your novel inspiration board is that you can use it however you want.  If you want to pin inspirational writing quotes, go for it.  If you just need some kitten pictures to keep you sane, no problem (because we all need some kittens sooner or later).  If you need to pin some pictures of cake, because your protagonist likes cake...okay, who are you kidding?  You just want cake.

But I digress.

I also keep a board filled with writing advice, memes, and quotes.  It has links to various helpful articles and some writing humor.

Follow Annie's board Writing on Pinterest.

In summary: use Pinterest to your advantage as a writer.  Use it for reference, inspiration, or keeping track of things.  You might as well turn your time-wasting into something a little less time-wasting.

Do you have a writing-related Pinterest board?  Let me know!

UPDATE 2/3/14: PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: When you pin something off someone else's novel inspiration board (which is an okay thing to do), be sure to change the caption.  Most likely, the original pinner has captioned it so that it fits their story.  Not yours.  If you don't change the caption, specifics of someone else's story will be on your board.  Which not only makes you look stupid, but it also lets it spread around the internet, and nobody wants that.  Seriously, just change the caption.  On everything, actually.  It's not that hard.  Also, if you notice that someone pinned something from your novel board, it's okay to ask them to change it.

It's semi-related storytime: Pinterest recently introduced this new feature that recommends categories of pins based on things it thinks you like (as in, Pandora for Pinterest).  Some of the things it thinks I like: Tom Hiddleston, fandoms, 'Jesus jokes' (apparently this is what it is referring to), writing, Ryan Tedder, the Avengers, Tolkein, and dorm organization.  Why does Pinterest know me better than most humans?  It also thinks I like ships, but when I clicked on the recommended pins, they were all pictures of...actual ships.  Sailing and cruise ships.  No, Pinterest, no.  Those weren't the kind of ships I was talking about.  I just...I don't even know how to respond to this.

Before I go: take my blog survey.  David Tennant wants you to.  Is that manipulative?  Whatever.  Click here or on the GIF to take the survey and tell me about all the things I do that annoy you.  (And no, I'm not going to stop bugging you about this for awhile, so you might as well just do it now.)

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Friday, January 17, 2014

A Dance With Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire #5) by George R. R. Martin

In the aftermath of a colossal battle, the future of the Seven Kingdoms hangs in the balance — beset by newly emerging threats from every direction. In the east, Daenerys Targaryen, the last scion of House Targaryen, rules with her three dragons as queen of a city built on dust and death. But Daenerys has thousands of enemies, and many have set out to find her. As they gather, one young man embarks upon his own quest for the queen, with an entirely different goal in mind.

Fleeing from Westeros with a price on his head, Tyrion Lannister, too, is making his way to Daenerys. But his newest allies in this quest are not the rag-tag band they seem, and at their heart lies one who could undo Daenerys's claim to Westeros forever.

Meanwhile, to the north lies the mammoth Wall of ice and stone — a structure only as strong as those guarding it. There, Jon Snow, 998th Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, will face his greatest challenge. For he has powerful foes not only within the Watch but also beyond, in the land of the creatures of ice.

From all corners, bitter conflicts reignite, intimate betrayals are perpetrated, and a grand cast of outlaws and priests, soldiers and skinchangers, nobles and slaves, will face seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Some will fail, others will grow in the strength of darkness. But in a time of rising restlessness, the tides of destiny and politics will lead inevitably to the greatest dance of all.

Released: July 12th 2011   Pages: 1016
Publisher: Bantam            Source: Library

In my review of A Feast For Crows, I said, "It's the high fantasy Hunger Games in here".  Anyone who has heard of this series probably knows of George R. R. Martin's reputation for brutally killing off beloved characters left and right.  There is no doubt that he has earned this reputation.  And yet, at the same time, there's more to it than "GRRM kills off everyone's favorites because he's just evil like that".  Scoff all you like, but in many cases, I appreciate it when characters die.  Sometimes, it's annoying how untouchable main characters are in other books or movies.  There's a clear distinction between the protagonists, who (in most cases) cannot and will not die, no matter how much danger they're in, and everyone else, who is at risk.  There are no redshirts in Westeros, which makes it all seem so much more real.  When the blades come out, you can never be sure that your favorite will make it out alive.  And the blades come out often.  (If you're curious, there's an interesting page on TVTropes that basically allows you to calculate how likely a particular character is to die.)

In my previous review, I also discussed my lack of fondness for almost all the characters.  I take this back--a little.  Not completely.  aFfC lacked some of my main favorites, which made it easier for me to dislike everybody.  This time, I got to read about Jon, Tyrion, and Daenerys again.   I didn't realize how much I missed them.  Daenerys just keeps getting stronger.  I love her protectiveness of her people, and her courage, despite her young age.  Tyrion, while often obnoxious and even crude, genuinely cares about the few people he can learn to love.  Jon is just...he's basically the only one left who would make a good king.  

Oh, wait.

SPOILERS IN THIS PARAGRAPH ONLY.  Actually, nobody's really sure whether or not Jon is actually dead.  Sure, he was stabbed multiple times, but several other characters have seemed pretty dead, only to reappear a hundred pages later, or in the next book.  And I'm still in denial.  I hope he's not dead.  I wasn't done shipping him with Daenerys.  This ship just keeps sinking, but I'm going down with it.

Even if some of my favorites are back, I'm still disliking pretty much everyone else.  I'm still in this for the long run, even if only just to see who survives.  The complex plot threads just keep getting more and more tangled, but we still have a long way to go to get to the end.  I'm sticking with it, even if these books are large and beastly and sometimes hard to read.  A Dance With Dragons is, arguably, the book with the most filler material out of this entire series.  A few chapters made me think, "How on earth does this move the story forward?"  Still, it was at least semi-interesting filler, for the most part.    

I've been listening to this song ('Daniel in the Den' by Bastille on Bad Blood) obsessively over the last few weeks, and it really makes me think of this series.  The lyrics are a Biblical reference, but the song could just as easily be applied to these books.  Especially the parts about being "felled in the night by the ones you think you love/they will come for you" and "you thought the lions were bad/well, they tried to kill my brothers/and for every king that died/they will crown another".

Overall, I enjoyed this complicated mass of a book.  The characters are compelling, even the ones I don't like.  The plot inches forward, but there's just so much going on that it couldn't happen any other way.  I'm eager to read the next book, though I'll have to wait awhile for it.
Similar Books:  Eragon, the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Possibly Dragons of Autum Twilight. A Dance With Dragons is much more political than Eragon, and much less quest-y than LotR. Its only similarities to DoAT are that they're both high fantasy and they both have this gigantic epic tome feel to them.  It has a similar premise and feel to Falling Kingdomsand kind of The False Prince, though TFP is a million times tamer (and smaller).  It also reminds me of the Seven Realms series.

PS: If you haven't taken my blog survey yet, you definitely should.  *Jedi mind powers activate*  You want to take this survey.  You are going to take this survey.  You are clicking right here, right now. 
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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

11 Things You Have To Accept To Become A Better Writer

There are facts of the writing life that you can't change.  Sure, you can try to ignore them, but it will never do you any good.  If you ever want to get better, there are certain things you have to deal with and learn to accept.  Here they are:
  1. No piece of writing is ever perfect.  No matter how hard you try, there will always be some aspect of your work--your novel, your short story, whatever--that could be better.  No book, no matter how popular, well-written, or critically acclaimed, is perfect.  There will always be something you'll wish afterwards that you could change.  Human beings aren't perfect, and we are not capable of perfect writing.
  2. That being said, strive for perfection anyway.  Even though your writing will never be perfect, you have to keep trying for perfection.  If you set your sights anywhere lower than this, you will fall short of your potential as a writer.  I heard someone say this once, and it's true: "Strive for perfection.  You will not achieve it, but you might achieve excellence."
  3. There will always someone better than you.  Every writer has read an amazing book and thought, "Wow, I'll never be as good at writing as this author."  That particular author has also had the exact same thought.  No matter how good your writing is, there will always be someone who knows more about the craft and has had more practice.  This is okay.  If you were the best writer in the world, what motivation would you have to improve, anyway?
  4. There will always be somebody who is worse than you, but somehow still gains more success.  You'll also read novels that make you cringe and go, "Why did anyone ever publish this garbage?  My one-eyed fish could write a better book than that.*"  Awful books get published all the time, for whatever reason.  Maybe someone actually thinks they're good; maybe someone just thinks they can make money off it.  Either way, the bad books will just keep coming, and you'll wonder why they can get published while you just keep getting rejected.  It happens, and there's no good way to explain it.  All you can do is accept it and move on. 
  5. Rejection letters are a fact of life.  Author Barbara Kingsolver said it better than I can: “This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don't consider it rejected. Consider that you've addressed it 'to the editor who can appreciate my work' and it has simply come back stamped 'Not at this address'. Just keep looking for the right address.”
  6. You need to finish things.  If you never finish a book, you'll end up with dozens of half-written novels, and you won't have learned much from it.  Finishing a book is often the biggest battle, and if you've overcome it, you're already one big step ahead of many other writers.  If you never finish what you're writing, you'll never learn to wrap things up or revise.  You might become good at beginnings, but you'll never get better at writing an entire novel, as a whole.  Besides, if you ever want to be published, you have to learn to actually finish, since that's what editors and readers will expect of you.
  7. There are no shortcuts.  It would be nice if there was a faster way to write a novel, but there isn't.  Then again, if it was faster, everyone would do it.  You can spend all the time you want looking for a way to write faster, but there's no substitute for sitting down and just doing it.  Just churn out the words.  It's the only way.
  8. It's not always fun.  Some parts of writing are less fun than others.  Maybe you hate outlining, or revision, or line edits.  Maybe you know you have to delete a certain scene, but it's hard to see it go.  Writing a novel is an experience full of these difficult things, but the fun parts, the parts that remind you why you started writing in the first place, are so amazing that they make it all worth it.
  9. Write the book you want to read, not what you think somebody else wants.  Before you worry about pleasing your readers, you have to first make yourself happy.  If you aren't happy with your book, your readers won't be, either.  Only when you've written something that satisfies you can it be satisfying to others.
  10. There will always be someone who hates your work.  No book can please everybody.  There will always be someone who will think your book is awful, even if there are a hundred other people who love it.  Since this is a fact that you can't change, there's no sense dwelling on it and letting it weigh you down. 
  11. Criticism is your friend.  Constructive criticism might be painful, but if you learn to use it, you can become a better writer.  It's likely that you'll always feel a little hurt when someone criticizes your novel; this is natural, and it's okay.  You have to learn, though, to realize that the critic is (in most cases) not trying to personally insult you.  And if something didn't work for them, maybe they have a point that you've never seen before.
*I do, in fact, have a one-eyed fish.  I call him Nick Fury.

PS: If you haven't taken my blog survey yet, you definitely should.  *Jedi mind powers activate*  You want to take this survey.  You are going to take this survey.  You are clicking right here, right now. 
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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Three Year Anniversary

In 2013, this blog accumulated half of its total reader traffic.  Half.  So far, 2013 has been my biggest year, in terms of pageviews.  Which makes sense, since this thing just keeps getting bigger.

Over my entire blogging history, I've accumulated almost 77,000 pageviews (according to Blogger).  That's...that's a lot.  I don't even know what to say to that.  Sometimes I wonder why people bother to come here for my GIF-laden ranting, but then I realize that the GIF-laden ranting tends to get the most pageviews, so apparently there's something in it.

Notable things that happened this past year: I finished revising my novel Secrets of the Legend Chaser.  I started a new novel.  I sent my first query letter.  Overall, my follower total reached 100 and beyond.  I did a much-needed redesign.

People still keep coming here for plot diagrams.  I get hits for diagrams for The Hunger Games, Finding Nemo, and other books/movies.  Public Service Announcement: I am not here to do your homework for you.  Ahem.

Anyway...judging by what people search to come here, I've apparently become some kind of authority on why so many people like Loki.  I get a significant number of searches for variations on the question "Why do people like Loki?"  For some reason, this really entertains me.  I'm glad that post gets put to use.

Here are the top ten posts of the year, that were published this year, in terms of pageviews:
10. Nine Things Writers Love To Write But Readers Hate To Read
9. Things People Need To Stop Saying To Writers
8. Sentences You Need To Stop Using
7. How To Avoid Infodumping
6. Isle of Swords/Isle of Fire (Isle of Swords #1 & 2) by Wayne Thomas Batson
5. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
4. 100 Things Every Beginning Writer Should know
3. Prophecy, My Favorite Band Does Not Exist, and Necromancing The Stone Mini-reviews
2. The Irony Of The Hunger Games
1. Why We Love Loki

Here are my top ten posts of all time, in terms of pageviews:
10. The Always War by Margaret Peterson Haddix
9. The False Prince (Ascendance Trilogy #1) by Jennifer A. Nielson
8. Prophecy, My Favorite Band Does Not Exist, and Necromancing The Stone Mini-reviews
7. The Irony of The Hunger Games
6. Bitterblue (Graceling Realm #3) by Kristin Cashore
5. The Actual Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight
4. The Death Cure (The Maze Runner #3) by James Dashner
3. Not Your Teacher's Plot Diagram
2. Word Count Anxiety
1. Why We Love Loki

Here are some of my favorite posts from 2013, in no particular order:
My reviews of More Than This, A Monster Calls, and Dragonspell (mostly because it was satisfying to vent all my anger about it)
The Importance of Shipping 
Why People Love Loki
100 Things Every Beginning Writer Should Know
100 (More) Things Every Beginning Writer Should Know
How To Revise A Novel In 70 Easy Steps
Synopsizing (Or, The Art of Writing a Synopsis Without Dying Too Much)

Just for fun, I counted the number of GIFs that I've used since this day last year.  I've used 172 total GIFs, which averages out to around 1.5 GIFs per post.  172 is a lot of GIFs.  I love using GIFs more than I probably should.

I debated whether or not I should do this, but I've always wanted to, so I went for it.  I want to know what you lovely readers think, so I made a survey.  It shouldn't take you more than 3-ish minutes (probably less).  I know you have opinions, and I want to know what they are!  It asks about your favorite type of posts, what you want to read more of, etc.  It's kind of an experiment.  Click the link below to take it.

Blog Survey 2014

*waits patiently for you to complete survey*

Okay, now that you're back, I'd like to thank you for reading this past year, and even before that.  Thank you for subscribing (if you aren't already following, you should).  You are awesome and lovely.  Thank you.
*hands out tubs of virtual ice cream*

My third year of blogging has been awesome.  I'm glad I ever decided to start this thing in the first place, and sometimes I'm amazed at how well it has gone.  Hopefully my fourth year will be even more awesome!  And again, thanks for following.

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

17 Thoughts And Reactions To The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

The second installment of the epic The Hobbit trilogy is, well, epic.  I went to see it just the other day, and overall, I really liked it.  I have a few issues, but then again, I'll always have a few nitpicks about any movie (or book), no matter how much I like it.  Here is what I thought:  
  1. I love all the Middle Earth settings.  Everything always looks so awesome and real, and I want to go on one of those Middle Earth tours of New Zealand.  Or on an actual tour of Middle Earth.
  2. Alternate titles: The Hobbit: Peter Jackson Trolls Everyone, The Hobbit: Look, We Have A Fighting Archer Woman Too, The Hobbit: Which Dwarf Is That Again?, The Hobbit: Like LOTR But Not Really, The Hobbit: Just Look At Our Immense Budget, Everyone, The Hobbit: Smauglock, Majestic Thorin, And Party Thranduil (And Some Other Stuff) and The Hobbit: If It Can Go Wrong, It Will (as my mom pointed out).
  3. Like its predecessors, this movie has fabulous music.  Many themes are familiar (yay for The Shire Theme), but there's also some new music with it.  For some movies, the music is nothing more than background, and doesn't catch your attention.  In this movie, it's as much a part of the action as everything else.  You can listen to the soundtrack for An Unexpected Journey right here.
  4. The thought that crossed my mind more often than any other while watching this was, "When did THAT happen in the book?".  I read The Hobbit back in middle school, and I don't claim to remember every detail, but where did that Pale Orc come from?  Or Tauriel?  Also, the movies have a much darker tone than the book.  I'm not against this, since The Hobbit is meant for a younger audience than the movies, and the book's mood just wouldn't translate well to screen. 
  5. Once all of these movies are out, there will be a Star Wars-esque debate on what order to watch the movies, since The Hobbit movies hint at and reference elements that come into play in LOTR.  Does a new watcher watch The Hobbit trilogy and then LOTR?  Or do they go with what seems to be the generally accepted Star Wars viewing order and watch them in order of release?  Hm...I'm glad they're not ignoring the LOTR trilogy, but...
  6. Legolas?  Oh, hi.  What are you doing here?  "We just wanted to appease the fangirls," cries Peter Jackson in the distance.  Though I'm a fan of Legolas in LOTR, I'm not sure what to think of him in The Hobbit.  Sure, he's not in the book, but we have to remember that if you're turning a 300-page book into three separate three-hour movies, you're going to have to add something.  Still, Legolas' role in this movie seemed almost pointless.  If you removed him completely from the story, not much would change.  I feel like he's there more as a living, walking LOTR reference than anything else.  He fires off some arrows, casts significant glances at various characters, stares at the horizon, makes a few ominous yet obvious observations.  In LOTR, at least, he does more than that.  
  7. Where is my Dwarves In Barrels water ride?  That was all I could think of during that scene.  This would make an epic theme park ride.  Disney World, I fully expect you to get working on this. 
  8. Why did there have to be a love triangle?  Just...why?  For me, this is the biggest annoyance of the entire movie.  Love triangles are, in 99.9% of cases, something I can do without (the notable exception being Alison Goodman's Eona: The Last Dragoneye).  This one was unnecessary, especially since two of the three characters involved (the three are Legolas, Tauriel, and Kili) aren't in the book anyway.  For the record, though, I ship Tauriel with Kili more than I ship her with Legolas. 
  9. While we're talking about Tauriel, let's, well, talk about Tauriel.  I understand the need to add a female character in a highly masculine movie, but for me, the jury's still out on whether she did any good other than being the only prominent female.  I liked her, but I'm still a bit skeptical.  We'll have to see how she develops in There And Back Again.
  10. If you're not aware that Party Thranduil exists and is a thing, you're missing out.  It sprouted from the scene in An Unexpected Journey in which Thranduil (father of Legolas and king of the elves) brings his whole army to the dwarves in order to tell them "Nope.", all while majestically(?) riding an elk.  From there, he's basically become the diva of Middle Earth. It's a bizarre yet hilarious trend.  Notable examples: this, this, this, or this (whoever put the "not my division" quote onto this GIF is brilliant). He also doubles as Middle Earth's Most Embarrassing Dad.  Sometimes, he can be found hanging out with Party Loki
  11. Thorin is majestic.  As always.  Along with Party Thranduil, another meme that came of An Unexpected Journey was Majestic Thorin, and it's true.  He has to due everything intensely, or he won't do it at all.  The Desolation Of Smaug saw some character development for Thorin, mostly in a darker direction.  Like Tauriel, it'll be interesting to see where the next movie takes him, in terms of character arc.
  12. CinemaSins is going to have a field day with this.  This does not in any way mean it's a bad movie.  That being said, this movie will give them a ton of material to work with.  If I'm sitting there, mentally pointing out things that would be counted as a "sin", you can bet they'll find that and more.
  13. Bilbo.  While Thorin gets darker, Bilbo just gets braver and frankly, more awesome.  At the beginning of the previous movie, Bilbo could barely ride a pony without being freaked out, but now we see him entire a dragon's lair, for goodness' sake.  That is called development.  Also, are we not going to talk about his scene with Smaug...Martin Freeman and Benedict you see where I'm going with this?  You just can't separate John and Sherlock, apparently.  Smauglock, everyone.  Also, this.  
  14. Benedict Cumberbatch's voice, or as someone once wrote, a voice "like a jaguar hiding in a cello" .  It was a dragon's voice, yes, but you could still hear him, enough that many of us probably expected him to say "BORED".  (Oh come on, I can't be alone in this.)
  15. Smaug in general.  I like dragons, so I was likely to think this anyway, but Smaug was awesome.  The CGI looked about as real as a CGI dragon ever can.  He was big and fearsome, as a dragon should be.  Viserys Targaryen is jealous of the way he can be coated in molten gold and still survive. 
  16. Cliffhanger alert.  Suddenly, Ed Sheeran.  After half a dozen scenes that make you think "Okay, the movie will end now--just kidding, nope", it ends rather abruptly.  I'm not surprised by this, and I like it.  You can't just leave people at a convenient spot--you have to make them get agitated enough to desperately want the final movie.
  17. After reading through all of this, I realize that I have few "big picture" comments on the overall structure, etc., of the movie.  I take this to mean that it's solid plot-wise; if it had been too slow (or too fast, or anything like that), I would've taken note of it.  
This is not really a thought or reaction, but my brother found this while searching for showtimes, from this website:
What on earth is "intense family action" supposed to mean?  Did you mean...intense fantasy action?  Or is it supposed to be "intense family action"?  All I can think of is Thorin yelling at Fili and Kili for getting in the way of his majesty.  Is "intense family action" that scene in Thor where Odin just yells "HARRGH!" during a family argument?

Overall, The Desolation Of Smaug didn't blow me away, but I very much enjoyed it.  It's a solid sequel, and many people seem to think it's better than the first movie.  I'm not sure about that, but I'm also eager to see the final movie.  We already know it's going to hurt.

Have you seen The Desolation Of Smaug?  What did you think?  Also, is there anyone out there whose favorite dwarf isn't Kili?
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Friday, January 3, 2014

The Isle Of Blood (The Monstrumologist #3) by Rick Yancey

When Dr. Warthrop goes hunting the "Holy Grail of Monstrumology" with his eager new assistant, Arkwright, he leaves Will Henry in New York. Finally, Will can enjoy something that always seemed out of reach: a normal life with a real family. But part of Will can't let go of Dr. Warthrop, and when Arkwright returns claiming that the doctor is dead, Will is devastated--and not convinced.

Determined to discover the truth, Will travels to London, knowing that if he succeeds, he will be plunging into depths of horror worse than anything he has experienced so far. His journey will take him to Socotra, the Isle of Blood, where human beings are used to make nests and blood rains from the sky--and will put Will Henry's loyalty to the ultimate test.

Released: September 13th 2011    Pages: 538
Publisher: Simon & Schuster        Source: Library

Sitting here, staring at this blank review, one thought rose to my mind: something about this series makes me so, so happy.  My second thought was that, well, that first thought was odd.  This isn't what I'd consider a "happy" series--it's too dark, creepy, and strange for that.  And yet, the more I think about it, the more my initial thought makes sense.  

The Isle Of Blood is, actually, full of things that make me happy.  Gorgeous period-authentic prose, an intelligent and suspenseful plot, a spunky yet complex younger-teen protagonist, a even more complex mentor-apprentice relationship, no love triangles or insta-love, creepily believable monsters, just to name a few.   A book can, of course, have one or more of these elements and still annoy me.  In this case, though, it proves to be an awesome combination.

I've read four of his books now and through them all, one thing has become apparent: Rick Yancey knows how to write.  The more I sit here, trying to think of a way to describe his gorgeous prose, the more I'm just sitting here like this:

I've talked about the writing in this series before.  It's eloquent, and it's awesome, but sometimes it's creepy.  This book has its fair share of gory, disturbing scenes, but the prose is no less poetic during these scenes, which makes it all the more unsettling.  It's an odd experience, being creeped out and in love with a phrase at the same time.  The sheer poetry of whatever scary thing is happening somehow manages to magnify it, rather than ease the blow.  And...I suppose I'm into that.  I'm not sure what to make of this fact.  Maybe it's because my view is that a truly good book should push at (or completely bust apart) the limits of your comfort zone, in some way or other.

Will Henry's character development just keeps getting more and more interesting.  This book, more than any of the others, added a darker chapter to his personal story.  His relationship with Dr. Warthrop grows more complex with each book.  I love the bond between them; it's a bit odd, but they have a deep connection.  Warthrop himself never fails to be an interesting character on his own.

Perhaps one of the things that I love most about this series is its sense of adventure.  It's not bogged down by love triangles, insta-love, or that nameless sort of general angst that plagues too many YA novels.  This might be partially due to Will Henry's age.  While this series is written more for the older range of YA readers, the main character is only 13.  It works, though, and gives the book a more whimsical feel, at times.

Overall, The Isle Of Blood is another fascinating, awesome addition to this series.  It's unsettling and vaguely disturbing, at times, but it's utterly beautiful at the same time.

I leave you with this lovely quote from this book:
"He was spent. All fear, all anger, all guilt, all shame, all pride--gone. He felt nothing; he was empty. Perhaps God waits for us to be empty, so he may fill us with himself."

Similar Books: It has a huge amount in common with Frankenstein--similar characters, setting, ideas, and writing style. It's also reminiscent of This Dark Endeavor and has supernatural creatures in an old-fashioned setting like the Matt Cruse books.
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