blog about reviews writing

Friday, February 28, 2014

50 Reasons You Should Be Writing Right Now

You aren't writing right now.  I don't know exactly what brought you here, and I'm glad you're here, but I also know that this is time spent not writing.  Here are fifty reasons why you should be writing:
  1. The more time you spend not writing, the farther you get from finishing your novel.
  2. Your characters are waiting for you to tell their story.
  3. It's not like you're doing anything else to create quantifiable progress right now.
  4. Writing will help relieve all that stress you most likely have.
  5. Every minute you spend not writing is a minute you'll never be able to get back.   You could have spent it writing, but you didn't.
  6. You improve your writing with every page, every paragraph, every word.  Keep getting better.
  7. Every word brings you closer to holding a finished, published book in your hand.
  8. Use it as an excuse to crank up your most epic writing music playlist.
  9. Writing is good for your brain.  It keeps the imagination alive.
  10. One day, your novel might change someone's life, but that'll never happen unless you actually write it.
  11. Your story is bouncing around inside your head.  Your characters spark and burn inside you to get onto that page.  Relieve yourself of that.
  12. It gives you a reason to perfect your handwriting. 
  13. There's something exciting about a blank page, but there's something even more exciting about a full page.
  14. Science* says that people who write are more awesome.  Make yourself as awesome as possible.
  15. Procrastination makes you feel guilty.  Who wants to feel guilty?
  16. There's something satisfying about the regular clicking sound a computer keyboard makes.  Or the feeling of a pen flowing across paper.  
  17. "Some writers enjoy writing, I am told.  Not me.  I enjoy having written." -George R. R. Martin
  18. Every minute spent writing is a minute not spent doing unhealthy things like eating junk food, doing cocaine, or robbing banks.
  19. On that same thought, every minute spent writing is a minute not spent scouring the internet for new music, which costs money.  Or scouring Amazon for new books to buy, which also costs money.
  20. When you're writing, you're 100% more productive than every other writer who isn't writing.
  21. You can't become J.K. Rowling, John Green, or Shakespeare if you aren't writing.
  22. Every minute not writing delays the moment when you become the author of the Great American Novel that is taught in high school classrooms nationwide.
  23. If you never finish your book, Tom Hiddleston/Benedict Cumberbatch/Jennifer Lawrence/[insert actor of your choice] can never star in your book's movie.
  24. You can take out all that anger you feel against any certain person by basing a character off them and being evil to that character.
  25. Most likely, whatever is happening in your novel is much more exciting than your real life.
  26. The Queen does not approve of your not-writing, according to this GIF: 
  27. Writing is an excuse to not talk to people.
  28. The world can never have enough books.  You should contribute to the number of books in the world.
  29. Your book might someday become someone's favorite book.
  30. You have a right to free speech under the First Amendment.  Use this right.
  31. Who knows?  Maybe your right to free speech will go away at some point during your life.  In that case, you'll regret all the times you didn't use it.
  32. Let's be honest: you probably don't have anything else on your social calender anyway.
  33. You can do it your pajamas.
  34. Even though you aren't writing a school essay when you work on your novel, your writing still improves overall.  The more time you spend doing any form of writing, the more likely you are to score well on your next school essay.
  35. The more notebooks you fill up, the more pretty new ones you can buy.
  36. If Snooki can write a book, so can you.
  37. When you write, you look more like Benedict Cumberbatch in this particular GIF than when you're not writing: 
  38. What else are you doing now?  Most likely, nothing.  Do something.  
  39. The better you get at writing, the less likely you'll be to spend the rest of your life working at McDonald's.
  40. You're probably thinking about your book anyway, so you might as well put the thought to use.
  41. Writing uses up pens and pencils, and if you're anything like me, you have approximately 6,567 pens and pencils lying around that you'd love to get rid of.
  42. If someone asks you, "What did you do today?", you can say "I wrote two chapters" instead of "I watched 45 minutes of cat videos and pinned 200 pictures of Andrew Garfield on Pinterest".
  43. Maybe someday your book will have a fandom.  A wonderfully insane fandom.
  44. Killing off characters is strangely satisfying.  You could be killing an annoying character right now.
  45. Writing is classy and sophisticated, and makes you seem slightly mysterious.  Be classy, sophisticated, and mysterious.
  46. There are so many terrible books in the world.  Do your part to combat this.
  47. Someday, someone will own an old copy of your book, and will take it off the shelf to smell it periodically because there's something wonderful about the smell of old books.
  48. Someone has to write the books that people read.  It might as well be you.
  49. Nobody's going to make you do it; you have to make yourself do it.
  50. The worst thing you write is better than the best thing you didn't write.
Well, what are you still doing here?

*By "science", I mean "me".
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Monday, February 24, 2014

The Darkest Minds (The Darkest Minds #1) by Alexandra Bracken

When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed. Something alarming enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that gets her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government "rehabilitation camp." She might have survived the mysterious disease that's killed most of America's children, but she and the others have emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they cannot control.

Now sixteen, Ruby is one of the dangerous ones.

When the truth comes out, Ruby barely escapes Thurmond with her life. Now she's on the run, desperate to find the one safe haven left for kids like her-East River. She joins a group of kids who escaped their own camp. Liam, their brave leader, is falling hard for Ruby. But no matter how much she aches for him, Ruby can't risk getting close. Not after what happened to her parents.

When they arrive at East River, nothing is as it seems, least of all its mysterious leader. But there are other forces at work, people who will stop at nothing to use Ruby in their fight against the government. Ruby will be faced with a terrible choice, one that may mean giving up her only chance at a life worth living.

Released: December 18th 2012   Pages: 488
Publisher: Disney Hyperion      Source: Library

First Look: ***** I'm not sure what drew me to this book.  I can't stand the cover, mostly because SPRAY CHEESE.  Have I ruined it now?  Also, rereading the description, there's not much about it that makes it sound different from the huge mass of dystopians published recently.  (Note to publishers: You can stop now.  The YA world is more than ready to be done with this trend.)  It's been on my to-read list for awhile, so my guess is that I added it before I started being stricter about what dystopians I add to that list.

Setting: *****  I wish anything in this setting actually made sense.  It wasn't fleshed-out.  It lacked development, and logic.  The Psi thing (the powers the kids have) came out of seemingly nowhere, the explanation almost skimmed over.  If a nation loses most of its under-20 population, sends the survivors into concentration camps, and discourages couples from having children, there's an obvious problem.  Am I the only one who sees this?  Your society can't survive if you have no younger generation.  

If so many kids died, how do you expect me to believe that the parents that still have kids would willingly let them be carted off to some camp somewhere, no matter what sort of camp they thought it was?  What was the point of the camps, anyway?  They wanted some of the kids as weapons, but what about everyone else?  Why waste resources making them do busywork?

Also, I wish the author would've actually explained what powers went with what color.  (Within the story world, different mental powers are classified using colors).  It's useless telling me about what the Oranges or Blues did if I don't even know what they are.

Characters: *****  Ruby is a flat and uninteresting protagonist.  Other reviews I've read talk about how she's so strong and "kick-butt".  Um...did we read about different girls, here?  Nothing that Ruby does gives me that impression of her.  She spends most of the novel moping in self-pity about how dangerous she is to everyone else (yet she still hung around with them...why?) and how she is a monster.  There are plenty of fictional characters who consider themselves monsters and don't brood over it constantly: Loki, Bruce Banner, and even BBC's Sherlock Holmes.

Even with that, I still have no idea what kind of personality she has.  If a character has a decently developed personality, I should be able to run them through some mental checks and roughly determine their Meyers-Briggs personality type*.  (It's a weird thing I do.  I mentally type people, fictional or real, all the time.)  It took me almost the entire book to determine that Ruby is an introvert, and I'm still not 100% sure of it.  The whole time, I felt like I was reading about a cardboard cutout of a girl, rather than an actual human being.    

People on Goodreads keep talking about how awesome and adorable Liam is, but I'm not buying it.  I liked him more than any other character, but that isn't saying much.  He's a more interesting character, but he still isn't three-dimensional enough for me to care.  He's almost too perfect.  I had no opinions whatsoever about anyone else, except the president's son.  I can't remember his name for anything, I've already returned the book, and I can't find it online, so I just won't name him (unless someone wants to remind me).  Anyway, I didn't understand why Ruby hung around with him at all.  Every single thing he did was suspicious and made me uncomfortable.  And that was before he starting acting all rape-y, which I'll talk about later.  If I had been the main character of this story, and I met this guy, this would've been me:

Plot: ***** The plot felt promising in the first few chapters.  However, the setting failed to "ground" me right way, which distracted from whatever was happening with the plot.  And then I was bored for the next 300 pages or so.  The bulk of this book is a glorified road trip.  The characters drive somewhere, get out, and maybe something happens.  Each time, they just get back in the car and keep driving, and it feels repetitive.

The last 150-ish pages are the most interesting part of the book.  At this point, the entire book took a turn for the better.  If the whole book had been like that, it would have been so much better.  Unfortunately, this much-needed return of an actual plot comes far too late.  By that point, I was already beyond caring.

(This paragraph has a mild spoiler, but nothing huge.)  Then there's that "incident" with President's-Son-What's-His-Name.  His relationship with Ruby is nothing short of creepy the entire time, but the end of their relationship is so much nope.  Essentially, he takes control of Ruby's mind, starts kissing her (and it's more than just a peck on the lips), and forces her to like it, to want it.  And then, if I remember correctly, she passes out.  Can it get more rape-y?  But after it happens, it's mentioned, but the whole incident feels blown-over.  You can't just write a scene like this and then fail to acknowledge the implications of it.  For all I know, as a reader, this creeper raped her.  You can't just ignore that, but that's exactly what happens.  

Uniqueness: ***** Kids start developing supernatural powers when some sort of apocalypse happens, then are forced to fight against the powers-that-be on their own?  Been there, done that.

Writing: ***** The entire time, I felt that the writing disconnected me from the story. I never felt a connection to the characters; nothing made me care.  I felt detached, like I was watching a video of a movie playing on someone's screen.

Still, I have no other specific reason to dislike the writing.  Other than the fact that it distanced me from the story, the narration was decent.  If it had given me a closer connection with the characters, I would have even said the book was well-written.

Likes: ...Get back to me later on this one.

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

Overall: The Darkest Minds could have been a compelling, gritty dystopian novel, and it is praised as such by the majority of its online reviews.  I don't see why so many people love it.  The main character is flat and has no personality.  The side characters aren't much better.  Nothing happens for about three hundred pages, but by the time it gets interesting, I had already mentally checked out.  The narration gives the entire book a detached feeling.  I have absolutely no interest in reading the sequel.

Similar Books: It involved teens with powers in a dystopian environment like The Lost Code or even Gone.  It also has a feel similar to The Always War and Ashes.

*My link has tiny, cursory descriptions of each type and what they mean.  For much better, in-depth insight, go here.
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Friday, February 21, 2014

I Hunt Killers (Jasper Dent #1) by Barry Lyga

What if the world's worst serial killer...was your dad?

Jasper "Jazz" Dent is a likable teenager. A charmer, one might say.

But he's also the son of the world's most infamous serial killer, and for Dear Old Dad, Take Your Son to Work Day was year-round. Jazz has witnessed crime scenes the way cops wish they could—from the criminal's point of view.

And now bodies are piling up in Lobo's Nod.

In an effort to clear his name, Jazz joins the police in a hunt for a new serial killer. But Jazz has a secret—could he be more like his father than anyone knows?

Released: April 3rd 2012                       Pages: 361
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company   Source: Library

First Look: ***** If not for the disappointment that was Project Cain, I probably wouldn't have picked this up.  I wanted so badly to love Project Cain, though, and when I didn't, I needed to go find myself a book about a similar topic, in the hopes that I'd like it.  Thankfully, I Hunt Killers more than made up for my annoyance with Project Cain.  (Basically, I read this book as revenge against another book.  My guess is that this isn't normal behavior.)

Setting: ****
Though the setting didn't play as big a role here as in many other books I've reviewed, it still played a significant part in the novel.  I loved the small-town atmosphere of Lobo's Nod.  If this had taken place in a big city, it wouldn't be the same.  It was interesting to see how the town reacted to Jazz, and the culture that surrounds him.   

Characters: *****  
Jasper Dent (Jazz) scares me. I have never before read about a protagonist that I love and fear at the same time.  I could go from "You're fascinating and awesome and I love you" to "RUN AWAY RUN AWAY" in the space of a sentence or two.  The psychological aspect of this book is arguably the most interesting and well-written part.  Jazz has both nature and nurture working against him, and it messes with his brain in a way that is disturbingly believable.  Essentially, he knows that he has a serial killer buried somewhere deep inside him, due to genetics and his upbringing--the challenge is to keep it hidden, to make sure it never sees the light of day.  At times, it comes close to the surface, and Jazz walks a thin line between normalcy and insanity.  The best part is that Barry Lyga makes him seem so real.

Other characters were interesting and believable as well.  I can't help but admire Connie for dating Jazz--for multiple reasons, that takes a lot of courage.  I wouldn't do it, and I can't say dating him is a smart idea, but I like how she feels confident enough to do it.  Howie, while a bit annoying at times, added some humor to the story.  Billy Dent, Jazz's serial killer dad, was scary simply because he came across as a completely sane, healthy person.  

Plot: ***** 
The plot kept me guessing.  I thought I had figured out exactly who the killer was, but then it went and flipped all my expectations upside-down. But I figured out exactly who both the killer and the target were in The Sign of Three before Sherlock did, so I still win.  The main storyline is a murder mystery, but it's anything but standard.  We see it from such a unique angle--it's not the police or detectives solving the mystery for justice, it's a serial killer's kid solving it to prove he's not a killer himself.  It's a race to stop the killer at the same time as it's a race to not become a killer.  And that brings everything up to a whole new level.

The mystery/thriller aspect is interesting, but what's even better is Jazz's inner conflict.  Inner conflict is most often more important to a novel than external conflict--I Hunt Killers is proof of that.  The closer Jazz gets to uncovering the killer, the harder it is for him to convince himself he's not a murderer, not a sociopath.  Without this constant teetering on the line between sanity and insanity, the book wouldn't have been half as good.

Uniqueness: ***** I've never read anything like this.  It's an unusual take on a YA thriller.  

Writing: *****  Barry Lyga perfectly captures what it's like to be inside Jazz's head.  Jazz's thoughts and narration are interrupted on a regular basis with little "insights" from Billy Dent.  It gives a creepy sense of how much Jazz's brain has been messed with and how many things he wishes he didn't know.

Other than that, the narration mostly let the story tell itself.  Nothing distracted me from the the plot itself, and I don't remember coming across any awkward phrasing or typos.

Likes: I just watched a TED talk for my psychology class about the brains of serial killers.  It would've been interesting on its own, but the fact that I'd just finished this book made it even better.

Also, this quote from The Last Guardian just came to mind, and I think it's appropriate for this book (the boy in question being Artemis Fowl): “Either that boy is the sanest creature on Earth...or he is so disturbed that our tests cannot even begin to scratch the surface.”

Not-so-great: "To a killer's eye, the smallish frame and lack of obvious strength would have been attractive.... According to the report, Jane Doe stood no more than five foot one...a killer's dream victim."  I'm 5'1" and have no obvious physical strength.  Well, that's lovely.  I can never un-know that I'm a serial killer's dream victim.

Also, if you and your friend find a gold ring (with an inscription on it) in a stream, like Jazz and Howie do, you don't keep it. You take that thing and cast it back into the fiery chasm from whence it came.

Overall:  This book is so, so insane.  I love it.  It's a fascinatingly scary study in character development, with a character that has the potential to become a serial killer.  Jazz's inner conflict is messed up, but it feels so real.  The plot kept me guessing, and the narration perfectly captures what it must be like to be inside Jazz's head.  I Hunt Killers is somehow fascinating and unsettling--no, disturbing--at once.  In an awesome way.

Similar Books: I Hunt Killers is everything I wished Project Cain would have been--they both have similar protagonists dealing with the nature vs. nurture issue as it relates to serial killers.  It also reminded me of Boy Nobody and BZRK (though I'm not sure why that comes to mind).

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

One Thing That Will Improve Your Writing More Than Anything Else (Hint: It Starts With F and Ends With Inishing Things)

Every writer searches for that one piece of advice that will revolutionize their writing.  Just one lonely, single tidbit that will change the way they think about everything.  Something that will turn them from the form-letter-rejection writer into the six-figure-book-deal writer.  To turn the dingy, rust-tasting faucet drip of words into a fountain that sprays dozens of yards into the air, illuminated by changing colored lights, while a chorus of angels and Josh Groban sing the Hallelujah Chorus.  

I am not here to give you that tip.

I am here, however, to give you the advice I feel is crucial to any writer.  If you don't follow this tip, you'll never reach your full potential.  It's simple:

Finish what you start.  

I cannot possibly hit you over the head with this hard enough.*

I cringe every time I hear a writer talk about how they have dozens of half- or quarter-finished novels, but nothing complete.  "I just get distracted easily by new ideas," they say.  They're making improvement almost impossible.  Sure, they'll get good at writing beginnings.  Maybe even middles.  But what good is being able to write a beginning and middle if you never get experience writing endings?

And what about revision?  If you never finish a book, you never have an opportunity to learn how to revise.  In many ways, revision is a more important writing skill to develop than writing a first draft.  Your first drafts will always be a mess, but revision turns them into something readable.

Think of it this way: imagine a piano player.  She starts learning a song slowly, a few lines at a time.  When she masters a line, she moves on to the next, and so on.  Except that she stops halfway through the song, and starts working on a different piece of music, never returning to the first.  What has she accomplished?  Sure, she can play part of a song, but you can't perform half a song.  Writing is the exact same way.

How, then, do you finish what you start?

It's easy.  Trust me.  First, you start a book.  You keep writing.  When you get another, "better" idea, you write it down, and then leave it alone.  You don't start writing it--you keep writing the first book.  Whenever another new idea comes around, you repeat the process until you're done.

As I've said before, the thing about "shiny new ideas" is that they're rarely as good as you think they are.  Some ideas will seem awesome at first, but after you've mulled it over for awhile, you realize that it's not that interesting.  If you stick to your current work in progress without switching to the new idea immediately, you allow yourself that time.  You allow the new idea time to sit in your brain, and either fizzle out or solidify.  If it solidifies, great.  That's an idea you can use for your next book.  If it fizzles out, also great.  That's one more idea you don't have to worry about.

Working with the "I'm sticking with this novel all the way" mindset allows you to focus on one idea, thus giving it the attention and thought it needs.  Novels, in some ways, involve more thought than writing.  The more time you spend working on a novel, the more time your brain has to work through new plot ideas, patch up plot holes, and generally figure out where you're going with it.    

Committing yourself to seeing one novel through to the end forces you to be critical of your own ideas.  It forces you to weigh all of your promising ideas and choosing the one that resonates with you more than any other.  It makes you put every idea to the test.  This is another way to weed out bad ideas.  When you finally choose the one idea to stick with, you know that idea is stronger than the others.  If you know that, you're already a step ahead of anyone who abandons their current project for every flash of inspiration.

If nothing else, let's look at it from a publishing standpoint.  If you ever want to be published, you'll have to finish your book.  You an query an agent without a finished book, sure, but what happens when they want to read it?  You won't have a complete work to show them.  If you do get published, people will want another book.  Your publisher and your readers will expect more, and that means you'll have to finish another book.  And so on for the rest of your career.

I'm resisting the urge to go all caps lock on this.  I could just end this post by writing FINISH THINGS, PEOPLE!  Oh wait, I just did.  I can reason with you about this, but I also want to stand there like a drill sergeant and make you repeat it until it's so ingrained in your mind that you dream about it.  Go Nike on that book of yours.  Just finish it.

These past blog posts might help you:
How To Finish A Book
How To Battle Writer's Block And Emerge Victorious
The Shiny New Idea (And How To Hide It Under A Bushel Basket)

*Disclaimer: I do not actually want to physically hit you.  Or Hulk out and smash around some Norse gods.
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Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Shadow Throne (The Ascendance Trilogy #3) by Jennifer A. Nielsen

One war.
Too many deadly battles.
Can a king save his kingdom, when his own survival seems unlikely?

War has come to Carthya. It knocks at every door and window in the land. And when Jaron learns that King Vargan of Avenia has kidnapped Imogen in a plot to bring Carthya to its knees, Jaron knows it is up to him to embark on a daring rescue mission. But everything that can go wrong does.

His friends are flung far and wide across Carthya and its neighbouring lands. In a last-ditch effort to stave off what looks to be a devastating loss for the kingdom, Jaron undertakes what may be his last journey to save everything and everyone he loves. But even with his lightning-quick wit, Jaron cannot forestall the terrible danger that descends on him and his country. Along the way, will he lose what matters most? And in the end, who will sit on Carthya's throne?

Rousing and affecting, Jaron's adventures have thrilled and moved readers in
The False Prince and The Runaway King. Journey once again with the Ascendant King of Carthya, as New York Times bestselling author Jennifer A. Nielsen brings his story to a stunning conclusion with The Shadow Throne.

Released: February 25th 2014      Pages: 336
Publisher: Scholastic Press        Source: ARC received through NetGalley

I have a little bit of love for this series.  That is, if you define "a little bit" as enough to make me do this as I began reading: 

The thing about this series is that it's just so much fun.  It's genuinely funny in places.  So many characters are awesome and lovable.  At its heart, it's a story of adventure and coming-of-age, and it never loses sight of this in favor of overbearing romance or other angst like so many other YA novels.  Part of this is probably due to the fact that it straddles that line between middle grade and young adult novels, and so can have the best of both worlds.  

Even if it was an incredible amount of fun to read, The Shadow Throne is the darkest novel of the trilogy.  The plot stretched the main character, Jaron, to his limits.  I saw a new side of him.  In this book, he has the weight of an entire kingdom on his shoulders, and it affects him.  He constantly underestimates himself, but in reality, he's one of the strongest characters I've ever read about.  Why are girls so in love with fictional guys like Four/Tobias, Will Herondale, or the ever-present Edward Cullen?  I'd take Jaron over them any day.  

Besides, Jaron knows how to sass anyone and everyone, and he's hilarious about it.  Sarcasm is his defense mechanism, and his one-liners were some of my favorite things about the previous two books.  The Shadow Throne didn't disappoint:

"'As you were told, we immediately sent word of your death far and wide, along with an offer to your prime regent for peaceful surrender.'

'I'm glad you're offering,' I said. 'He'll happily accept your surrender.'"

Jaron has a spot on my list of favorite fictional people.  It's not just him that I love, though--so many characters in this series are just so fantastic.  More than once, I found myself thinking, "How does Jennifer Nielsen make everyone so flat-out lovable?"  Imogen and Jaron's relationship is adorable.  Tobias showed some surprising (but welcome) depth, and Roden was just...Roden.  

My only complaint is that the ending was predictable.  I won't believe anyone is dead anymore unless I see a body.  And, sure enough, I was right.  Then again, I can't complain too much, since I loved the ending anyway.  

I'm truly sad to see this series end.  It was truly a pleasure to read.  It's rare when an author can make me love a character this wholeheartedly, and get me to truly feel this character's pain.  And then add a little humor to make me laugh.  I loved trying to figure out how Jaron would escape the increasingly impossible situations he got himself into.  I highly recommend this series, and I'm anxious to read Jennifer Nielsen's next book (which looks awesome, by the way).

Similar Books: It has a very similar premise to Falling Kingdoms, has a plucky young teenage boy hero like the Ranger's Apprentice books and The Thief, and feels similar to The Girl of Fire and Thorns. It would be a fabulous read for someone who likes high fantasy of this sort but is too young for (or who just wants something tamer than) A Game of Thrones.
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Monday, February 10, 2014

Champion (Legend #3) by Marie Lu

He is a Legend.

She is a Prodigy.

Who will be Champion?

June and Day have sacrificed so much for the people of the Republic—and each other—and now their country is on the brink of a new existence. June is back in the good graces of the Republic, working within the government’s elite circles as Princeps-Elect, while Day has been assigned a high-level military position.

But neither could have predicted the circumstances that will reunite them: just when a peace treaty is imminent, a plague outbreak causes panic in the Colonies, and war threatens the Republic’s border cities. This new strain of plague is deadlier than ever, and June is the only one who knows the key to her country’s defense. But saving the lives of thousands will mean asking the one she loves to give up everything.

With heart-pounding action and suspense, Marie Lu’s bestselling trilogy draws to a stunning conclusion.

Released: November 5th 2013       Pages: 369
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile           Source: Library

The covers of these novels just keep getting better and better.  Legend's cover is pretty cool, Prodigy's is awesome, but Champion...these cover designers deserve some kind of award.  The rose is intriguing, but then you look closer, and you notice the fire.  And then there's the horribly appropriate bullet hole.  What really pulls it all together, though, is the splatter paint.  It makes the whole thing a little edgier.  (And, if you haven't noticed, I'm a little fond of the splatter paint look.)

Thankfully, this is one book where the contents are as awesome as the cover.  The sadness I felt at the end of Prodigy was no longer fresh, but it lingered long enough to carry over until Champion.  I don't remember the first book being as dark as the second, but I like the turn the series took.  It's hard to be happy underneath an oppressive regime when the world is crumbling, and Marie Lu captures this perfectly.

Prodigy left me with an immense love and respect for Day, and that respect only grew in this book.  He's a strong, three-dimensional character, but what really gets at me is his relationship with Eden.  Sibling relationships in YA novels are often underplayed or ignored, so I love reading about brothers or sisters that look out for each other.  I love Day's protectiveness over Eden, but I also love the way Eden manages to prop up his big brother.  When both of them were in the hospital together, all I could think of was that scene from the end of How To Train Your Dragon, where you see Hiccup's amputated foot matched up with Toothless' broken tail, and it just...hurts.

My feelings about June are still a little mixed.  My respect for her has grown since the start of the series, and she's become a more real and fleshed-out character, but I never truly loved her like I loved Day.  I suspect that some of my fondness grew more out of Day's love for her than anything else, but I'll take it.

There was also some nice development for the side characters.  Eden proved himself to be just as real as his brother.  I wish Tess would've gotten a little more "screen time", but I still like how she grew and matured.  Anden also proved to be a likable character, which surprised me.

At one point, I thought I knew where this finale was going.  I thought I had the ending figured out, but I was wrong.  I was afraid of the Augustus Waters ending.  It would've made sense, especially considering *highlight to read spoiler* the fact that Day had a brain tumor and was shot multiple times, which is not exactly a recipe for survival.*end spoiler*  Instead, though, we got the Donna Noble ending (I'm pretty sure it actually used the phrase "journey's end", at which point I was not okay at all), which actually hurt more.  I wasn't prepared for that, but in retrospect, I respect the way Marie Lu handled it.

Overall, this was a solid ending to the trilogy.  It left me in a mess of feelings, but it was satisfying at the same time.  Often, trilogy finales are either rushed, too predictable, or a mix of both.  Champion was neither.  It was gritty and sad, but hopeful at the same time.  It worked.  I'm a bit sad to see the series end. 

Similar Books: It's a dystopian novel with with dual male/female points of view like Frozen.  It also has similarities to Proxy, Under The Never Sky, and Shatter Me.

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Friday, February 7, 2014

Where Do Book Ideas Come From?

One of the questions writers hear most often is "How do you come up with ideas for your books?"  Whenever I hear it, I want to go like this:

Wouldn't it be nice if there was a straight answer to this question?  Wouldn't it be nice to be able to say something about how inspiring the world is and how the poetry of the galaxies gives you ideas?  Wouldn't it be nice if there even was an answer at all?  

I speak for many (if not most) writers when I answer this question: I don't know.  

Really, I don't.  I can count on one hand the number of story ideas I can trace back to a specific source of inspiration.  For me, story ideas just happen.  I can't explain it.  One minute I'm innocently standing in the shower, taking a physics exam, or walking a dog at work.  The next, I'm bombarded with this idea.  This idea may start as a little nagging at the back of my mind, but within a matter of minutes, it's capable of blocking out every other thought until it's all I can focus on.  And it comes out of seemingly nothing.  Ideas ex nihilo.  

It can get pretty distracting.  How am I supposed to focus on mundane things when my brain is going "DYSTOPIA.  HISTORICAL FANTASY.  INTER-DIMENSIONAL TRAVEL VIA NARWHAL.  MAKE IT HAPPEN."  (What's that?  Your brain doesn't think in caps lock?  I can't comprehend having a brain like yours.)  The writer's brain is fully capable of a disturbing single-mindedness when it comes to that flash of a new idea.  

Writer:  Brain, what are you talking about?  Historical dystopia isn't a thing.
Writer: And...narwhals.  Narwhals?  Really?  Narwhals are terrifying.*  Can't I just sleep?
Writer: What if I say no?

Now that your brain has decided to focus on a historical dystopia featuring inter-dimensional travel via narwhal, that's it.  You have no idea where that came from, but now you have to deal with it.  Trying to shove it away only makes it worse.  It's like saying "Don't think of elephants!", because as soon as I say it, you're thinking of elephants.

There's no logic to it.  There's no rhyme or reason.  It's madness without the method.  It would make more sense if the ideas actually came from a logical place, but nope, they don't.

Writer: *passes by an old, decrepit barn*  
Brain: Wow, maybe it's haunted.  That would make a cool setting for a horror novel.
Writer: Hey, awesome idea!

Writer: *passes by an old, decrepit barn*
Writer: ...what...  

Okay, now I actually kind of want to write about sentient pirate ships.  Idea: claimed.  But that's beside the point.

Some people like to call these random ideas "plot bunnies".  It makes sense, in a way, because novel ideas multiply like, well, rabbits.  Still, I've never liked the term "plot bunny".  "Bunny" implies that it's cute, fluffy, friendly, and easy to manage.  I can't remember the last time I had a plot idea that was cute, fluffy, friendly, and least of all, easy to manage.   

You may think I'm weird because my brain regularly bombards me with random ideas.  The truth is, I've never known anything else.  I don't know what it feels like to have a brain that doesn't start plotting novels in the middle of a physics exam.  And yet, I wouldn't want it any other way.  I don't want to live without a brain that decides it's plotting time when I'm trying to sleep.  How people live without it is beyond my comprehension.  

For me, it never quite feels like the stories are actually coming to me from somewhere.  It feels like they've been there all along, and something has now triggered them and brought them into the forefront of my mind.  I'm starting to believe that a writer is born with every story idea they'll ever have already embedded inside them.  Maybe some of those stories will never even come out, and most will be useless, but they're still there.  They've existed all along.  (I tried to come up with a good analogy for this, but the only one I could think of was weird and borderline uncomfortable, so I just didn't.)  

I love this way of thinking.  It's not that a writer is born an empty vessel, waiting to be filled with experiences that can be transferred into stories, poetry, or other words.  Instead, I like to think that a writer is born with the seeds of all the ideas they'll ever need, and experience teases these ideas out into the open.  Maybe this explains the apparent randomness of most ideas.  Science, I'm waiting for you to prove this somehow. 

Non-writers: the next time you ask a writer this question, you'll know why they're looking at you like the GIF below.  They may not understand it, but you'll know why.  It's okay; your writer friend isn't asking you to understand, just to be okay with the "How should I know?  My book ideas come from places that make no sense."     

Writers: Can you relate?'s not just me, is it?  What is your most random book inspiration story?

*Expectation: this.  Reality: this.
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Monday, February 3, 2014

The Final Descent (The Monstrumologist #4) by Rick Yancey

Will Henry and Dr. Warthrop have encountered many horrors together—but can Will endure a monstrumological terror without his mentor?

Will Henry has been through more that seems possible for a boy of fourteen. He’s been on the brink of death on more than one occasion, he has gazed into hell—and hell has stared back at him, and known his face. But through it all, Dr. Warthrop has been at his side.

When Dr. Warthrop fears that Will’s loyalties may be shifting, he turns on Will with a fury, determined to reclaim his young apprentice’s devotion. And so Will must face one of the most horrific creatures of his monstrumology career—and he must face it alone.

Over the course of one day, Will’s life—and Pellinor Warthrop’s destiny—will lie in balance. In the terrifying depths of the Monstrumarium, they will face a monster more terrible than any they could have imagined—and their fates will be decided.

Released: September 10th 2013    Pages: 320
Publisher: Simon & Schuster        Source: Library

While the first three books in this series made me so, so happy, despite all the darkness and gore (I explained this more in this review), this book just makes me distraught.  I can't think of a better word to describe how I feel about it.  Don't get me wrong--I liked it, but I'm just...grr.  It's like this book took all my emotions and put them in a washing machine, and now they're all sloshing around together and I can't tell what's what.

One thing that stood out right away was the lack of endearing wide-eyed, heartfelt 13-year-old Will Henry.  This book centers around 16-year-old Will Henry, who has lost many of the qualities I loved about his younger self.  The 16-year-old version is arrogant, reckless, and cynical.  It's like I was reading about a completely different character, and I didn't like the change.  I can't say it was illogical character development, since a few years running around with Pellinore Warthrop would put anyone over the edge and mess them up.  Still, I couldn't embrace this new Will Henry as much as I did the old.

Another thing that differentiates this book from the rest of the series is its odd structure.  It's not told in a straight-through, beginning-to-end narrative.  Instead, it jumps around between the story of 16-year-old Will Henry, 19 years later Will Henry, and even a little bit of Will when he first came into Warthrop's care.  (Can we even call it care?)  This is a little confusing, but I enjoyed seeing the adult Will Henry interact with old Warthrop.  The way their relationship changes and develops throughout their lifetime is complex and fascinating.

I have to talk about the ending.  The ending caught me off guard.  I should've been prepared for something like it, but I wasn't.  Here's what I wrote on Goodreads immediately after finishing:

Things I am after finishing this book:
1. Not okay
2. Confused
3. Mind-blown

Things I am not after finishing this book:
1. Okay
2. Sane
3. Emotionally stable
4. 100% satisfied

I won't say too much about the ending, makes sense, in a weird way.  And yet, it changes things.  It reveals a truth about Will Henry that makes you question things.  It showed a future for the characters that made me want more.  As in, I wanted more for these people, and I'm not completely satisfied.  I suppose it made sense for Will Henry and Warthrop to grow into a relationship where they simply yelled at each other all the time, but it's not the same relationship I grew to love.    

This whole book, actually, changes things for this series.  The Final Descent is not like the others.  It still has the same creepy creatures and gorgeous prose, the same damaged characters.  At the same time, I spent the entire book thinking that something was off about it.  It's a different type of story than I'm used to from this series, and a different Will Henry.  It's over a hundred pages shorter than the shortest book of the series.  It feels almost rushed, like many other reviewers have pointed out.  

Don't get me wrong--The Final Descent is still awesome.  It's still beautifully written, with complex characters and relationships.  It's creepy enough to satisfy fans of the series in that regard.  It's still a fantastic piece of literature.  My problem is just that it wasn't as good as the first three books.  

The true mastery of this entire series is, perhaps, the way that the "true monster" isn't the things Will and Warthrop fight.  It isn't the Wendigo or any of the other physical monsters.  No, the true monster is the thing inside all of us.  The darkness.  The darkness in this series doesn't come from the creatures--it comes from within the characters.  This series isn't afraid to show this side of humanity, which makes it raw, unsettling, and even frightening.  Anyone who has followed my reviews for awhile will know that I'm all for raw, unsettling, and frightening.  I like books that challenge my views, that make me think about things I'd maybe prefer not to think about.  I like books that delve deep into questions about human nature.  Rick Yancey's series has certainly done this, and I'm sorry to see it end.

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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