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Monday, April 28, 2014

The Red Pyramid (Kane Chronicles #1) by Rick Riordan

Since their mother's death, Carter and Sadie have become near strangers. While Sadie has lived with her grandparents in London, her brother has traveled the world with their father, the brilliant Egyptologist, Dr. Julius Kane.

One night, Dr. Kane brings the siblings together for a "research experiment" at the British Museum, where he hopes to set things right for his family. Instead, he unleashes the Egyptian god Set, who banishes him to oblivion and forces the children to flee for their lives.

Soon, Sadie and Carter discover that the gods of Egypt are waking, and the worst of them —Set— has his sights on the Kanes. To stop him, the siblings embark on a dangerous journey across the globe - a quest that brings them ever closer to the truth about their family and their links to a secret order that has existed since the time of the pharaohs.

Released: May 4th 2010       Pages: 516
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion   Source: Library
First Look: ***** I had mixed feelings about this, even before I read it. I love Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, and I like Heroes of Olympus.  Even so, I had heard that the Kane Chronicles are not up to par with Riordan's other series.  I wanted so badly to love this, but I had my reservations right from the start.
Setting: ***** It's close to the spunky, chaotic, strangely entertaining god-filled modern world of Percy Jackson, but it lacks a bit of sparkle.  I'm not sure how to definite what it lacks, but there's something missing.  Part of the reason I love the Percy Jackson series is that it manages to incorporate Greek gods in a way that blends with the modern world, while at the same time clashing with it and making it seem...well, boring.  The gods and mythological creatures in The Red Pyramid aren't as clever or funny as I'm used to from Riordan.  They lack depth and uniqueness, which makes the entire worldbuilding fall a bit short of the mark.

Also, I wish the magic system made more sense.  I'll grant that the demigods' powers in PJO and HoO are loosely defined, but there is at least some semblance of a rule system.  I didn't get this sense from this book.  Sadie and Carter develop their powers rapidly and sometimes inexplicably, and I just wish there was a bit more logic to it.
Characters: ***** Sadie does not come across as a realistic almost-thirteen-year-old. She's too stereotypical in her personality and way of speaking.  Her constant annoyance with her older brother got on my nerves.  It felt forced and unnatural.  I grew to like her more as the book progressed, but I wished the focus had been on making her a realistic person, not an authentic teenager.  (Yes, there is a difference.)

I had an easier time connected to Carter, for whatever reason.  His need to protect his younger sister is believable and relatable.  His relationship with his father has depth, and it makes him slightly more compelling than his sister, even if he is a bit of a Gary Stu.  Still, I think that the next books in the series will develop both of these characters further, possibly addressing some of these issues.

It feels a bit wrong to keep comparing this to PJO, but here's another: the gods in this book were nowhere near as unique, entertaining, and three-dimensional as the ones in PJO.  I actually had trouble keeping track of which god was which.  I'm used to gods from Riordan that are funny, scary, quirky, varied, etc.  Like, well, actual people.  I didn't get this from The Red Pyramid.

Plot: ***** The plot is the most solid aspect of the book, though it has its flaws.  For much of the book, it lacks direction, and I wasn't sure what the heart of the conflict was.  Also, it felt like it was dragged on for a lot longer than was necessary.  This book could have been cut down to 400ish pages and been just fine.

Overall, though, the plot was enjoyable.  It's action-packed, and while it may be repetitive, there's enough magic-flinging and godly smashing of mythological figures to satisfy PJO fans, as well as fans of middle grade fantasy in general.  The dragging feeling comes more from the lack of direction and repetitiveness than any pacing issues; it's certainly a fast-paced book.    

Uniqueness: ****Even compared to PJO, it has its own separate twists.  There's more magic involved here than in PJO, and the whole mythological system is different enough to make this not feel like a mere rehash of Percy's adventures.  Compared to middle grade fantasy in general, it has many familiar tropes (which is not necessarily a bad thing), but stands out enough to feel fresh and different.

Writing: ***** The voice feels clunky and awkward. It has the same problem, overall, that I have with Sadie Kane--it feels like a forced, over-stereotyped version of a young teenager's voice, not an authentic one.  It's one of those occasions where authors try too hard to be authentic, and end up sounding condescending.  And at times, it actually did feel condescending.  I kept thinking, "Is this how adults really view teenagers?  Ugh."  The narration is choppy, so much so that it made me think of Albert Camus' The Stranger (which I did not like).  Also, most of the lines where either Sadie or Carter interrupts the other's narration to add a comment feel unnecessary at best and unfunny at worst.

Likes: Let's play a game: Reference or No Reference?
"I cut off her head?"
"I got better."

Knowing Rick Riordan, I'm going to say...reference.

Not-so-great: "In fact, I've been in more museums than I like to admit--it makes me sound like a total geek."  Carter, don't act like that's a bad thing.  Flaunt it, buddy.

Overall: Even though I'm mostly criticizing this book, it wasn't bad, by any stretch.  It was enjoyable, for the most part, but I'm being hard on it because I know Rick Riordan can do better.  I wanted the the roller coaster ride of wit, lovableness, sass, epic godly smackdowns, and dam jokes that I know Riordan is capable of, but I didn't get it.  Sadie and Carter were decent but unrealistic-feeling characters, the narration felt forced, and the plot dragged longer than was necessary.  We'll see about the rest of the series--I haven't decided yet as to whether I should continue with it.

Similar Books: It certainly holds appeal for fans of Rick Riordan's other series: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and the Heroes of Olympus.  It combines mythology/fantasy and the modern world and is on the line between MG and YA, like The Alchemyst, Artemis Fowl, and Loki's Wolves.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Odd/Amusing Search Terms Collection

When you run a blog, you have the opportunity to see exactly what people type into the Google search box in order to reach your site.  Most of the search results make sense.  I get hits for various character development searches, book reviews, and plot diagrams.  (People are still coming to me for Hunger Games plot diagrams that I do not have.)  But then there are some weird search terms, ones that are either amusing, inexplicable, just plain strange, or a combination of all three.  Here are some of the best ones that I have collected from this blog's stats:
  • "Did Loki killodin?"  How does one conjugate the verb "killodin"?
  • "Galbatorix death explosion"  I love how this person summed up the last 200 pages of Inheritance in three words.
  • "The villain in Eragon is Loki?"  I NEED THIS.  If someone writes (or has written) this fanfiction, point me in the right direction and I will read it. 
  • "will marvel ever put make loki love athena"  All your base are belong to us.  (Also, it looks like you need to read up on Greek and Norse mythology, because you are really far off base here.)
  • "Loki and Darcy kissing"  I ship it too, Random Search Engine User.  I ship it too.
  • "Bobby Pendragon relation to astral projection"  I have no idea what Bobby Pendragon's relation to astral projection is, but I really want to know.
  • "why I love Loki" don't know?  Can't you figure that out for yourself?
  • "can a character wants and needs"  And here we have more grammar strangeness.  For some reason, phrases like this make me think of "THEN WHO WAS PHONE?"
  • "can u help me write a letter from bronte to bruiser"  ...No.
  • "d barkley briggs and liam hemsworth"  I would pay to find out the connection between those two.
  • "epicandawesomeblogg"  Ann intriguingg searchh termm.
  • "feelings for best friends girlfriend"  1. How on earth does that get you to my blog?  2. Um, I can't help you with that.  Sorry.
  • "game of thrones is awesome and you don't know what is going to happen"  Well, I suppose...but I read A Storm of Swords.  The Red Wedding was highly un-awesome.
  • "how many pages are in the book called passenger sequel to marbury lens"  You, sir, are incredibly inefficient at finding out information on the internet.
  • "rangers apprentice burning bridges free book" 
  • "i hate your book"  I hate your book, too.  I'm glad it's mutual.
  • "i'm with the band inkpop"  Inkpop is a band?  Oh, I wish.  If someone is looking for a story on Inkpop called "I'm With The Band", because they think Inkpop still exists, I'm so sorry.  I'm so, so sorry.
  • "not sounding condescending when mentoring at -risk teens"  How on earth does that get you here?  I tried Googling that.  This site wasn't in the results.  
  • "thoughts and reactions to the "desolation of smaug" annie"  That is...oddly specific.  (Turns out, this one was my brother.)
  • "trust no one variant by robison wells book report"  Public Service Announcement: I am not here to do your homework.
  • "bodistealer" 
  • "did odin love thor more than loki?"  Someone at Marvel Studios is crying right now.  And it's not Odin.
  • "how to do the plot mountain"  That sounds like a dance move.  Slide to the left!  Slide to the right!  Bring it back now, ya'll!  One plot mountain this time!
  • "o'rant from dragonspell what are they"  I don't know.  I read the entire book (and the glossary), and I still don't know.
  • "piccolo chaotic evil to neutral good"  I've never considered my piccolo's character alignment before, but yeah, I'd definitely say that it's chaotic evil.
  • Thor 2 spoiler: "fan reaction to loki's death"  I will gladly oblige.  My reaction: 
  • "how to wash the final descent july"  The Final Descent is a book, and I don't recommend washing books.  Especially not in July.
  • "plot line resolution climax etc"  I love how this person can't be bothered to type out all the other pieces of a plot.
  • "nobody exist in my life"  What kind of trippy life do you even have?
  • "inkpop shutting down"'re over three years too late for that particular piece of tragic drama.
  • "sad person crying alone"  Did you mean...John Watson?  
    Too soon?
Does anybody recognize their search term?  Care to explain?  If you're a blogger, what's the weirdest thing someone has searched to get to your blog?
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Saturday, April 19, 2014

15 Thoughts and Reactions to Frozen

Until last weekend, I had not seen Frozen.

*waits for collective gasps, tomato-throwing, and general rage to die down*

Much of my relationship with popular media is a constant battle between "I don't trust the opinion of the masses" and "I just want to satisfy my curiosity and see what everyone is talking about".  I had barely heard of Frozen until right before it came out, and since then, I've been hearing about it everywhere.  I had little desire to actually see it until I kept hearing people raving and raving about how amazing it is.  Ultimately, it was more a matter of curiosity than anything else.  (Besides, I still haven't seen Brave.  I know.  Don't judge me.)
  1. It's so pretty.  The animation is lovely.  The landscapes are gorgeous, the clothing is colorful, and the magic powers are awesome.  The movie certainly has its flaws, but the visuals are not among them.  It's full of purples and blues and whites that make the whole thing seem more magical than it already is.  (But why are Elsa's eyes so big?  I understand why Disney gives their protagonists disproportionately large eyes, but it's getting a bit extreme.) 
  2. It's so sparkly!  Speaking of magic, this movie just...sparkles.  I didn't think a movie could sparkly, but apparently, it's possible.  It's not quite at an Anastasia level of glitter, but it's getting close.  
  3. But so overhyped.  I enjoyed it, but it's not as good as people say it is.  I have only seen two movies of the five that were up for the Oscar this year for best animation, but between this and Despicable Me 2, I would have given the Oscar to the latter.  As Disney movies go, there are plenty that I like more than this.  
  4. Speaking of Oscars...'Let It Go' is also overhyped.  Let's do a Disney lyric comparison:
    "Gotta keep one jump ahead of the breadline
    One swing ahead of the sword
    I steal only what I can't afford (That's everything!)
    One jump ahead of the lawmen
    That's all, and that's no joke
    These guys don't appreciate I'm broke"
    -'One Jump Ahead', Aladdin

    I understand that I'm comparing two dissimilar things, but my point still stands.  Disney songs like 'One Jump Ahead', 'Reflection', 'Colors of the Wind', etc., are either clever, meaningful, unique, or a  combination of all three.  But 'Let It Go' doesn't meet this standard.  Here's the refrain:

    "Let it go, let it go
    Can’t hold it back anymore
    Let it go, let it go
    Turn away and slam the door
    I don’t care
    What they’re going to say
    Let the storm rage on,
    The cold never bothered me anyway"
    -'Let It Go', Frozen

    The lyrics are what I like to call "sloshy"--lyrics that sound a bit generic, and lack substance.  It's not bad, but I don't see what the big deal is all about.  Is this really Oscar-worthy?  I think not.  (Also, doesn't it sound familiar?  Right--that's because it is.  Disney and Demi Lovato have done this before.)
  5. Elsa's sudden attitude change that precedes this song in the first place is not prompted by...anything.  One minute, she wants to hide her powers and keep it contained.  The next, she's singing 'Let It Go' at the top of her lungs.  There was no visible cause of the attitude change, which made it not make sense.  I'm sure something was happening internally, and some thought caused her to realize this, but in that case, you have to show the audience.   
  6. This is not possible: 
    Alright, now I'm nitpicking, but I'm just going to go ahead with it because that's what I do around here.  Elsa's coronation hair involved no braids.  (For reference, here's what it looks like.)  And now she's suddenly pulling it down into a french braid?  That doesn't happen.  I'm just very interested in your hair and the magical qualities it possesses. 
  7. Another problem with a movie this popular is that spoilers are everywhere.  (Including this paragraph.)  I already knew the major plot twist (that Hans is bad news) before I saw it.  Instead of looking at Hans and Anna and thinking, "That's so cute!", I was sitting there waiting for the revelation to happen.  Then again, I spent the whole time looking for foreshadowing of his betrayal, so I don't feel deprived.  By the way, that's how writers watch movies.  We pick out the foreshadowing and other storytelling tricks.
  8. Pacing: LOL, what's that?  The day after watching this movie, I quickly jotted down some notes in this post so that I could later expand on them.  Most of my notes have become the bolded headings, but with less caps lock, and written so that they make sense to someone other than me.  This one, though, I kept how it is, because that's word-for-word what I was thinking during the beginning of this movie.  For me, the beginning was hard to get into, mostly because of the pacing.  It starts out with a song about ice, and then snowman-making, and then BAM! major plot point and then BAM! suddenly they're orphans.  The parents' deaths felt so glazed-over.  Things started happening quickly, and for me, it didn't work.    
  9. Excuse me...nobody told me that Alan Tudyk is in this.  Well, briefly.  But he's still in it.  Okay, carry on.
  10. Is that Gondor in the background of 'Let It Go'?  I'm pretty sure that's Gondor. 
  11. Yay for movies about sibling relationships.  I feel that this is an underused topic, especially when so many movies (even Disney movies) put more of the focus on romantic relationships than family relationships.  [Insert Jaime/Cersei Lannister joke here]  While Frozen certainly has its share of romance, in the end, it's about Anna and Elsa's relationship.  And I appreciate that.  I appreciate a movie like this that spends time establishing and developing this relationship.  I like how it lies at the very heart of the movie.  
  12. For some reason, all I could think of when this happened... 
    ...was this: "Some day, all this will be yours."  "What, the curtains?"
  13. I love Kristoff.  I love the initial apathy.  I love the reluctant way he befriends Anna.  He's the most down-to-earth person in the entire movie.  He was raised by trolls.  And besides, he has a lot of feelings about ice.  What's not to love?
    "I might cry."
  15. I saw it.  I liked it.  Can we all please stop talking about it?  Even though I'm nitpicking it, mostly because of the hype, I still enjoyed it.  It's cute, pretty, enjoyable, and has a good message.  But I don't think it's the most amazing thing to ever hit theaters, even though so many people are still raving about it, months after it came out.  Maybe I'm contradicting myself by writing about it, but...isn't it time to tone down the hype?  Just a little? 
What did you think of Frozen?  Am I the only one who likes it, but doesn't love it?  Or am I in the minority? 
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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Skin Map (Bright Empires #1) by Stephen R. Lawhead

It is the ultimate quest for the ultimate treasure. Chasing a map tattooed on human skin. Across an omniverse of intersecting realities. To unravel the future of the future.

Kit Livingstone's great-grandfather appears to him in a deserted alley during a tumultuous storm. He reveals an unbelievable story: that the ley lines throughout Britain are not merely the stuff of legend or the weekend hobby of deluded cranks, but pathways to other worlds. To those who know how to use them, they grant the ability to travel the multi-layered universe of which we ordinarily inhabit only a tiny part.

One explorer knew more than most. Braving every danger, he toured both time and space on voyages of heroic discovery. Ever on his guard and fearful of becoming lost in the cosmos, he developed an intricate code--a roadmap of symbols--that he tattooed onto his own body. This Skin Map has since been lost in time. Now the race is on to recover all the pieces and discover its secrets.

But the Skin Map itself is not the ultimate goal. It is merely the beginning of a vast and marvelous quest for a prize beyond imagining.

The Bright Empires series--from acclaimed author Stephen Lawhead--is a unique blending of epic treasure hunt, ancient history, alternate realities, cutting-edge physics, philosophy, and mystery. The result is a page-turning, fantastical adventure like no other.

Released: August 31st 2010   Pages: 448
Publisher: Thomas Nelson     Source: Library
First Look: ****This was one of those cases where a book "recommended itself", so to speak.  I loved Stephen R. Lawhead's Dragon King trilogy, so I figured this would be just as awesome.  And besides, I always love a good time travel or parallel universe book.  However, the cover could be improved by getting rid of the unnecessary disembodied eye.

Setting: ***** 
I found it hard to keep track of the characters' location at any point throughout the novel.  For the first half or so, I was fine, but then the number of point of views starting increasing, and people starting jumping around in time.  At that point, I had mostly lost interest, but my statement still stands.  It took me a minute to reorient myself at the beginning of each chapter, trying to figure out where the characters had gone now.

Other than that, I have no specific comments.  It was cool to read about the old-fashioned time periods and places, but it lacked anything to make me truly love it. 

Characters: ***** 
Kit, the main character, lacks personality and dimension.  He's a passive protagonist who doesn't make anything happen by himself.  The plot is more him reacting to things than him taking action.  And, after 448 pages, I'm still as clueless about his personality as I was when I started.  Is he introverted or extroverted?  I don't even know, and that's something I should be able to figure out fairly soon, given a non-flat protagonist.  He just goes along with everything, reacting way too calmly to accidentally traveling through time.    

Another major character, Mina, has more personality.  She's driven, outgoing, and sensible.  And yet, she didn't strike me as realistic.  While a normal person would react to accidentally being transported back a few centuries by freaking out, panicking, going into shock, etc., she stays mostly calm, like Kit.  Instead of focusing her energy on getting home, she puts all her energy into starting a bakery, and when that fails, a coffeehouse that (somewhat randomly) becomes a nationwide sensation almost overnight.  Er...okay?  I had no idea what to make of this, because it seemed so random and unnecessary.  On top of all this, she seamlessly and instantly adjusts to an unfamiliar era with no showers, wi-fi, running water, or plague-free medical care.
Plot: ***** While this might have been a little better with more compelling characters, I was still bored by the plot.  How does a plot that involves time travel in alternate dimensions get boring?  My main problem is that it lacks a definite goal.  At first, it just seems like Kit only wants to get back home, but suddenly he gets sucked into all sorts of things that I lost track of, and it all spirals from there.  

That's not even counting the fact that probably a hundred or so pages of this book are devoted to Mina's quest to run a successful coffeehouse.  I learned more about how to run a coffeehouse in Prague in the 1600s, or whatever year it was, than I ever wanted to know.  It distracted me from the actual time travel plot, and didn't seem to fit.    

Uniqueness: ****It's a unique take on both time travel and ley line mythology.  While some elements felt a little overused, overall, it didn't feel like it borrowed heavily from other, similar books.

Writing: ****Stephen R. Lawhead can write.  His style feels sophisticated, yet readable.  It's elegant.  I remember noticing the same things while reading his Dragon King trilogy.  Still, I wish there weren't so many different points of view in this book.  It introduces new characters late into the novel, and none of it seems to truly connect (though this might work itself out in the later books in the series).  The different points of view jump around enough to be confusing.  I wish this book would've just focused on one or two characters--that way, it would have felt more focused.

Likes: The cover is pretty.

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

Overall: I spent much of this book glancing at the page numbers and wishing it would start getting interesting.  It's written in a lovely and elegant style, but it just didn't capture my interest.  The main character, Kit, has little to no personality.  Another major character, Mina, is a little better, but she adjusts to time travel too quickly to make sense.  The plot doesn't have much direction and focus, which isn't helped by having several point of view characters.  A major part of the plot is actually focused on Mina running a coffeehouse, which feels really random.  Overall, I didn't hate this, and I liked how it was written, but I just couldn't get into it.  I don't plan on continuing with the series.

Similar Books: It involves ley lines like The Raven Boys.  It features time travel/interdimensional travel, like The Obsidian Mirror, The Reluctant Assasin, and is written by a Christian author, like House of Dark Shadows.

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Character Alignment And How To Use It

I like sorting my characters.  I like figuring out their Meyers-Briggs type, their favorite songs, and everything else.  Character forms are something I actually enjoy.  Since not all of these methods work for everyone, I'm going to introduce yet another way to sort characters and get a better grasp on their personalities and roles in the story: character alignment.

Character alignment has its origin in Dungeons & Dragons.  Since I've never played it, I don't know how it factors into the game.  I do know, however, how I use it in my own writing.

Essentially, character alignment places a character into one of nine categories.  These categories range from Lawful to Chaotic, and from Good to Evil.  We end up with Lawful Good, Neutral Good, Chaotic Good, Lawful Neutral, True Neutral (Neutral Neutral), Chaotic Neutral, Lawful Evil, Neutral Evil, and Chaotic Evil.  Here's a closer look at each type:

Lawful Good: These are the stereotypical "good guys".  They want to do the right thing, and they want to do it within the boundaries of the law or other moral code.  They believe in order above all else because they believe that order is inherently good.  If you want to read more, TVTropes has you covered.  Examples: Clark Kent, Steve Rogers, Ned Stark, Aragorn, Greg Lestrade, Hermione Granger (in the earlier books)

Neutral Good: These people are still want to do good above all else, but they're less concerned with maintaining absolute order and authority.  They're willing to break the law to do what is right, but they don't turn into all-out rebels, either.  They will ally with whoever they must (even an Evil type) in order to accomplish this.  Read more.  Examples: Hermoine Granger (in the later books), Will Turner, Gandalf, John Watson, Thor, Jon Snow

Chaotic Good: While these characters strive for good above all else, they have little care for law and order.  They readily (and often) break rules if it enables them to do the right thing.  They are considered "free spirits", and play by their own rules while still working for the greater good.  Read more.  Examples: Tony Stark, Westley (from The Princess Bride), Mary Morstan, Bruce Wayne, Robin Hood, Holly Short, Peter Parker

Lawful Neutral: Where Lawful Goods value good higher than anything (even the law), Lawful Neutrals value order more than anything else.  They will do whatever it takes to preserve this order, whether it be Good, Evil, or neither.  They follow their own code of "order", independent of any sense of "greater good".  Read more.  Examples: Stannis Baratheon, Zoe Washburne, Foaly, Mycroft Holmes, Boromir, Reyna Ramírez-Arellano

True Neutral: True Neutrals are perhaps the hardest to explain, because, by their very definition, they lack a standard set of characteristics.  A True Neutral will ally with anyone, Good, Evil, or Neutral, for whatever cause.  They might waver between opposing forces, pick the winning side for victory's sake, or pick a side for no real reason whatsoever.  They are likely looking out for themselves and no one else (which does not restrict them from caring about others).  Read more.  Examples: Tyrion Lannister, Han Solo (at first), Dom Cobb (from Inception), the Ents, Diana (from Gone), Angela (Eragon)

Chaotic Neutral: The Chaotic Neutral isn't pure enough to be Good, but they aren't dark enough to be Evil, either.  They obey no laws (unless it suits them).  Essentially, they do whatever is in their own best interests in whatever way they see fit.  They might swing between sides like a True Neutral, but they're much more unpredictable about it. Read more.  Examples: Bruce Banner, Lady MacBeth, Jack Sparrow, Hamlet, Arya Stark, Sherlock Holmes (both the Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downey Jr. versions), Daenerys Targaryen, Murtagh

Lawful Evil: A Lawful Evil's moral compass clearly points away from good, but they're organized about it.  They follow a strict set of rules (their own), and can be expected to behave in predictable patterns.  They can often be found establishing themselves as a dictator or other type of lawful ruler, forcing their own rules onto the people.  Read more.  Examples: Darth Vader, Two-Face, Dolores Umbridge, Lucius Malfoy, Queen Gertrude (Hamlet), Galbatorix, Artemis Fowl (in the earlier books)

Neutral Evil: Like the Lawful Evil, the Neutral Evil's morals are questionable at best and nonexistent at worse.  What separates them is the fact that they have less need for law and order.  They don't follow a strict code, internal or external, like a Lawful character will.  They will follow laws that suit their evil plan, but breaking rules doesn't bother them.  Where Lawful Evil character still care about imposing order (as long as its their own order), Neutral Evils are just looking out for themselves.  Neutral Evils often tend to be former True Neutrals who have sunk down the scale.  Read more.  Examples: Petyr Baelish, Bane, Cersei Lannister, MacBeth, Irene Adler, the Scarecrow

Chaotic Evil: These characters are probably the first to come to mind when someone mentions "evil".  They are the embodiment of the line "Some men just want to watch the world burn" (The Dark Knight).  They are the classic villain.  In most cases, they're evil simply because they enjoy it.  They have no rules, they're unpredictable, and they follow no logical path.  They often destroy for the sake of it, and they revel in chaos.  You might be able to reason with a Lawful or Neutral Evil, but if you come up against a Chaotic Evil, you should probably just start running. Read more.  Examples: The Joker, Loki, Mal's projection in Inception, Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott's version), Joffrey Lannister Baratheon (though I might argue that he wants to be CE but never quite gets there), possibly River Tam

In all of this, it is important to remember the distinction between Good and good, Evil and evil.  An Evil character is not necessarily "bad" to the core.  Often, it's more that their methods are questionable, rather than that their goal is morally wrong.  Lowercase evil implies an intrinsic badness or wrongness; uppercase Evil is more about sketchy morals than anything else.

It's also important to remember that assigning character alignments can be subjective, and that alignments can change throughout a book, series, movie, etc.  Many characters could be interpreted different ways, and some walk a thin line between two alignments.  As such, my alignment placings are partially based off my own opinions and interpretations, and are therefore not set in stone.  I welcome debate on the subject, and I'm open to rearranging characters if a convincing reason is presented.  I am not, however, going to tolerate comments that say that a placing is just plain wrong with no supporting evidence.

Why is this important?  What can I do with these alignments?  Ultimately, an alignment is less about one specific character in themselves (though this is important) and more about this character's relation to others.  If you know the alignments of your characters, you have already laid out the skeleton of their relationship and interactions.  For example, my current work in progress has two point-of-view characters: a Lawful Good and a Chaotic Neutral.  As such, these characters constantly clash.  My LG prides himself in being honest, rule-abiding, orderly, and morally sound.  My CN's main traits are unpredictability, impulsiveness, and lack of a concrete rule or moral system.  This creates friction between the two, since they tend towards opposite ends of the Order/Chaos scale, and since one works for the common good (about which the other couldn't care less).

Even between characters on the same end of the Good/Evil axis will clash if they sit at different places in the Order/Chaos range.  A good example of this is the constant clash between Harry and Ron's Neutral Good and Hermione's Lawful Good in the first Harry Potter book.  Harry and Ron have no problem sneaking into the library, breaking curfew, etc., while Hermione is the only one concerned about the rule-breaking.  ("We could be killed--or worse, expelled!")  A Lawful Evil might be frustrated with his Chaotic Evil henchman's inability to follow orders.  The possibilities are vast, and they're fun to play with in your stories.  It's just a matter of finding the differences, and exploiting them.   

For reference, here are some alignment charts that lay out the nine alignments and assign roles to characters from a specific book/movie/whatever: Firefly, Harry Pottercountries (just go with it...), The Princess Bride, Sherlock, Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy

How do you use character alignment in your writing?  What alignments are your characters?  Are there good examples of a certain alignment that I didn't mention?

Side Note: While I was thinking of examples for each alignment, I started wondering how certain biblical figures would fall on the scale.  For example, when I first thought of Jesus Christ, my immediate reaction was "Lawful Good.  Obviously."  The more I think about it, though, the more I'd actually type Jesus as Neutral Good.  Yes, he's working for order and good.  But actions like flipping the tables in the temple and going against the Roman government enough to attract negative attention are not the actions of a Lawful Good.  Still, he's too much of a pacifist to ever come close to Chaotic anything.  So, Neutral Good.  Thoughts, anyone?

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Monday, April 7, 2014

White Space, Steelheart, Dualed, and The Magicians Mini-Reviews

White Space (Dark Passages #1) by Ilsa J. Bick
In the tradition of Memento and Inception comes a thrilling and scary young adult novel about blurred reality where characters in a story find that a deadly and horrifying world exists in the space between the written lines.

Seventeen-year-old Emma Lindsay has problems: a head full of metal, no parents, a crazy artist for a guardian whom a stroke has turned into a vegetable, and all those times when she blinks away, dropping into other lives so ghostly and surreal it's as if the story of her life bleeds into theirs. But one thing Emma has never doubted is that she's real.

Then she writes "White Space," a story about these kids stranded in a spooky house during a blizzard.

Unfortunately, "White Space" turns out to be a dead ringer for part of an unfinished novel by a long-dead writer. The manuscript, which she's never seen, is a loopy
Matrix meets Inkheart story in which characters fall out of different books and jump off the page. Thing is, when Emma blinks, she might be doing the same and, before long, she's dropped into the very story she thought she'd written. Trapped in a weird, snow-choked valley, Emma meets other kids with dark secrets and strange abilities: Eric, Casey, Bode, Rima, and a very special little girl, Lizzie. What they discover is that they--and Emma--may be nothing more than characters written into being from an alternative universe for a very specific purpose.

Now what they must uncover is why they've been brought to this place--a world between the lines where parallel realities are created and destroyed and nightmares are written--before someone pens their end.

Released: February 11th 2014    Pages: 560
Publisher: Egmont USA            Source: Library

I'm not sure how to talk about this book because I'm not even sure what this book was.  I know that it made way too many references to The Matrix and Inception. One or two references is fine, but this just made me feel like the author was trying to hit me over the head with a "Hey, my book is like these movies!  Don't you dare forget it."  I know that this book creeped me out, and I know that the twist was cool.  

The problem is that the first 300 pages make no sense.  It leaves you completely in the dark, and gives no hints as to what is actually going on.  (And trust me--hints are needed.)  I spent those 300 pages like this:

And then the explanation comes.  Kind of.  Except that it still didn't make that much more sense.  I had long ago stopped trying to understand it, anyway.  I have such mixed feelings about the whole thing.  It's compelling, in a weird, disturbing way.  The characters aren't that interesting, but I still wanted to keep reading, for the most part.  It was certainly well-written.  

Overall, this is a compelling, strange, creepy book that doesn't even try to make sense until after page 300.  I didn't hate it, but I'm disappointed, and I probably won't bother with the sequel.    

Similar Books: It has creepy, weird, disjointed alternate realities like The Marbury Lens and My Favorite Band Does Not Exist.  It also reminds me of More Than This and The Obsidian Blade.

Steelheart (The Reckoners #1) by Brandon Sanderson
There are no heroes.

Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics.

But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his wills.

Nobody fights the Epics... nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.

And David wants in. He wants Steelheart—the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David's father. For years, like the Reckoners, David's been studying, and planning—and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.

He's seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.

Released: September 24th 2013   Pages: 384
Publisher: Delacorte                   Source: Library

Between this and The Rithmatist, Brandon Sanderson is proving himself to have one awesomely clever mind.  Steelheart pleasantly surprised me in a few different ways, one of them being how the premise was carried out.  It's The Avengers, except that the Avengers themselves are the villains.  And it's so much fun.

I love the plot.  It was compelling, unique, and exciting.  It addressed its own philosophical issues in a way that made me question my beliefs about the rightness or wrongness of the characters' ventures (the same questioning the characters themselves underwent).  I never once felt that the pacing was off.

My only problem is the characters.  David was decently likable, but I wanted more depth from him.  I guessed the major plot twists regarding two of the other characters, and the rest were flat.  That being said, I liked the group dynamic of the Reckoners, which as an almost Avengers-esque feel to it.

Overall, this book was just plain fun to read.  It wasn't perfect, but it was enjoyable and had an awesome premise, and I'm looking forward to the sequel.

Similar Books: It blends dystopia and sci-fi like The Pearl Wars, BZRK, and Proxy

Dualed (Dualed #1) by Elsie Chapman
In the city of Kersh, everyone must eliminate their genetic Alternate twin, raised by another family, before their twentieth birthday. West Grayer, 15, has trained as a fighter, and has one month to hunt and kill her Alt. A tragic misstep shakes her confidence. Guilty, grieving, she feels unworthy, runs from her Alt and from love - both can destroy her.

Released: February 26th 2013   Pages: 292
Publisher: Random House         Source: Library

I loved the premise of this--the idea of everyone having a twin, but only one can survive to adulthood.  Like an odd sort of Hunger Games.  I assumed that, in the book, this premise would be explored and explained in a way that made sense.  But, nope.  It actually makes no sense.  The government genetically manipulates pairs of babies so that they're identical (Alts), so that the twins know to fight each other for survival-of-the-fittest purposes, to populate the city with only the best fighters.  Couldn't you just forget the whole Alt thing and use your technology to genetically manipulate babies into prime fighters?  It would save so many resources, eliminate the PTSD that at least half of all surviving Alts probably develop, and eliminate accidental civilian killings.  But then again, that would make actual sense, so....

The main character, West (She could totally be related to North West.), frustrated me.  Once she gets her assignment (the official notice giving her the okay to kill her Alt), she does everything in her power to put it off.  In principle, I do not blame her for this.  In the novel, though, it just made everything feel like it dragged out far longer than was necessary.  It's like those movies where the hero has ample opportunity to kill the villain, but only does so at the last second, leaving the audience going, "Come on, just shoot him already!"

Other than that, I'm feeling "meh" about this entire book.  The romance was a little overbearing, but not awful.  The side characters weren't all that interesting, but I didn't hate them.  The plot stayed interesting enough to keep my attention, but it still felt longer than necessary (and the book isn't even 300 pages).  If the setting had made more sense, I might feel more generous towards this book, but since not, it gets three stars.

Similar Books: It has the teens-against-teens aspect of The Hunger Games.  It also has dystopian elements that remind me of Divergent, Shatter Me, and Inside Out.

Quentin Coldwater is brillant but miserable. He's a senior in high school, and a certifiable genius, but he's still secretly obsessed with a series of fantasy novels he read as a kid, about the adventures of five children in a magical land called Fillory. Compared to that, anything in his real life just seems gray and colorless.

Everything changes when Quentin finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the practice of modern sorcery. He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. But something is still missing. Magic doesn't bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he though it would.

Then, after graduation, he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real.

Released: August 11th 2009   Pages: 402
Publisher: Viking                   Source: Library

Forget the back cover description.  I can sum up this entire book in two GIFs:

Harry Potter angsting.  Harry Potter drinking.  That's all you really need to know.  If you took Draco Malfoy, upped the angst level, made him the main character of the Harry Potter books, added huge amounts of alcohol, drugs, and promiscuity, and threw in a bit of The Chronicles of Narnia for good measure, you'd get The Magicians.  It manages to be completely irreverent to both series from which it was inspired.

This book started out promising.  Quentin felt realistic, the magic system was interesting, and I was intrigued by the plot.  It quickly fell apart, however.  After several chapters, I realized that the plot wasn't going anywhere.  It chronicles the lives of Quentin and his fellow students, but there's no overarching conflict.

Quentin quickly spirals into a massively unlikable character.  He's miserable, and absolutely determined to stay that way.  And he wants to drag everyone around him into misery, as well.  I can't like or respect a character like that.  He did nothing to improve his own situation.  All he did was drink and drug himself into oblivion.

The book did have some interesting ideas--how people are never satisfied with what they have, what happens when a person is suddenly thrust into their dream world--but they were overshadowed by the overwhelming message of "People can't handle this kind of thing.  It's all depressing, but that's how the world is.  Even your dream is tainted.  Enjoy."

It had its good points, but overall, this book annoyed and frustrated me.  It's more of a 2.5 star book, but I'm rounding up to three.

Similar Books: This book is the well-written version of My Immortal.  It has a depressed and pessimistic main character, lots of profanity and alcohol/drugs, and is blasphemy to the ears of diehard Harry Potter fans.  It has obvious similarities to the Harry Potter and the Narnia books, and is the basically the PG-13 version of Charlie Bone at the same time.

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Thursday, April 3, 2014

The 100, The Future of Us, and Avalon Mini-Reviews

Well, here I am.  I'm back.  I actually spent last week on a cruise ship in the Caribbean, which was awesome, and also part of the reason for my blogging break.  (That ship that broke a propeller and had to stay in San Juan three extra days?  I was on it.)  I've returned to snow and cold, though, and also back to posting reviews.
This is possibly the wrong GIF to use.  No, I do not care.
When I returned, though, I realized that I had managed to set a new record for myself.  I've been three reviews behind, even four.  Somehow, I found myself sitting here, seven reviews behind.  There was no way I could put out seven quality, full-length reviews, so I went for mini-reviews instead.  (Though I have a few books that I would've liked to take the time to express my full annoyance.)  Without further ado, here is the first set of mini-reviews.

The 100 (The Hundred #1) by Kass Morgan
In the future, humans live in city-like spaceships orbiting far above Earth's toxic atmosphere. No one knows when, or even if, the long-abandoned planet will be habitable again. But faced with dwindling resources and a growing populace, government leaders know they must reclaim their homeland... before it's too late.

Now, one hundred juvenile delinquents are being sent on a high-stakes mission to recolonize Earth. After a brutal crash landing, the teens arrive on a savagely beautiful planet they've only seen from space. Confronting the dangers of this rugged new world, they struggle to form a tentative community. But they're haunted by their past and uncertain about the future. To survive, they must learn to trust - and even love - again.

Released: September 3rd 2013    
Pages: 323
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers  
Source: Library

There was nothing about this book that didn't look awesome.  100 death-row teenagers running around on an uncolonized planet with no adult supervision?  Um, hello, yes.
In the first few chapters, this was so promising.  The characters' motivations were compelling, and the plot actually felt like it was going somewhere.  Pretty soon, though, it started spiraling downward.  First, the setting is never fully explained--but the main twist about their home spaceship is entirely predictable.  So predictable that I'm not even going to mark this spoiler.  The spaceship is quickly becoming uninhabitable?  Wow, I would've never called that, because I've never read a sci-fi novel before.

Also, let's talk about the act of sending a hundred teenagers down to Earth.  You pull all these teens, who fully expect to be executed on their eighteenth birthday, out of prison cells, throw them right onto a spaceship, and wave goodbye.  You don't give them any training or any guidance.  You don't give them a way to communicate with you.  How could anyone ever expect that to work?  How does this make sense?

My main complaint, though, is the overbearing romance of this book.  Apparently, kissing is more important to these characters than survival.  All four main characters sat and moped because of their romantic problems.  There was insta-love that made no sense, and characters making dumb decisions because of it.  I signed up for Lord of the Flies in space, not this kissing-fest.  

Overall, I'm disappointed.  While I didn't outright hate this, I certainly don't recommend it.  If you're looking for a modern, sci-fi sort of Lord of the Flies, go for Gone instead.
Similar Books: It involves teenagers alone in space, like Glow.  It's a spaceship book with a romance focus like Across the Universe and Starglass, and it has the sci-fi Lord of the Flies element of Gone.

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
It's 1996, and Josh and Emma have been neighbors their whole lives. They've been best friends almost as long - at least, up until last November, when Josh did something that changed everything. Things have been weird between them ever since, but when Josh's family gets a free AOL CD in the mail, his mom makes him bring it over so that Emma can install it on her new computer. When they sign on, they're automatically logged onto their Facebook pages. But Facebook hasn't been invented yet. And they're looking at themselves fifteen years in the future.

By refreshing their pages, they learn that making different decisions now will affect the outcome of their lives later. And as they grapple with the ups and downs of what their futures hold, they're forced to confront what they're doing right - and wrong - in the present.

Released: November 21st 2011    Pages: 356
Publisher: Razorbill                    Source: Library

I wish I had more time to review this, because it deserves a full-out, GIF-laden rant, which I just can't do right now.  I'm disappointed.  I have anger I need to vent about this book, and I get great satisfaction from ranting with GIFs every so often.  Going into this, I was expected an interesting exploration of how knowing the future affects actions of the present, the ripple effect of changing the future, etc.  Instead, I got 356 pages of relationship drama that never once addresses the massive time paradoxes it creates.  Seriously--these paradoxes put the ones in The Prisoner of Azkaban to shame.  (I'll let the people over at Cinemasins point out all the issues with PoA's time travel for you.)

Both point of view characters frustrated me.  Emma never stopped to think about the implications of how carelessly she manipulated her own future.  Josh spent too much time ignoring the obvious problem created by seeing his future Facebook profile.  Both of them did too much moping and brooding about their crushes for my liking.

But wait--it gets better.  The plot of this book literally ends because Emma's future self deleted her Facebook profile.  The characters themselves resolve nothing.  It's just "Oh, my profile's gone.  I must've deleted it in the future.  Well, that was fun."  End of book.  Are you kidding me?  Deleting a Facebook profile is something that is rarely done out of maturity.  It's just another way for people to get attention, and most deleters end up back online in a few weeks anyway.  And then, there's the fact that Emma saw on Facebook that her best friend would get pregnant at fifteen.  In order to stop this, she steals the (expired!) condom out of Josh's wallet (she knows it's there because...reasons?), takes his sweatshirt, puts the condom inside the pocket, and then lends the sweatshirt to her friend.  She's afraid her friend will go sleep with her boyfriend, so she makes a comment about how soft the inside of the sweatshirt pockets are, so her friend will find the condom.  Excuse me?  This isn't good friendship.  This is dishonest, rude, and just plain weird, and it won't solve anything.  This book is a giant "NOPE!" for me.  Not recommended.
Similar Books: It's a realistic novel with a minor paranormal or science fiction aspect, like Every Day, Invisibility, or Bruiser.

Avalon (Avalon #1) by Mindee Arnett
Of the various star systems that make up the Confederation, most lie thousands of light-years from First Earth-and out here, no one is free. The agencies that govern the Confederation are as corrupt as the crime bosses who patrol it, and power is held by anyone with enough greed and ruthlessness to claim it. That power is derived from one thing: metatech, the devices that allow people to travel great distances faster than the speed of light.

Jeth Seagrave and his crew of teenage mercenaries have survived in this world by stealing unsecured metatech, and they're damn good at it. Jeth doesn't care about the politics or the law; all he cares about is earning enough money to buy back his parents' ship, Avalon, from his crime-boss employer and getting himself and his sister, Lizzie, the heck out of Dodge. But when Jeth finds himself in possession of information that both the crime bosses and the government are willing to kill for, he is going to have to ask himself how far he'll go to get the freedom he's wanted for so long.

Avalon is the perfect fit for teens new to sci-fi as well as seasoned sci-fi readers looking for more books in the YA space-and a great match for fans of Joss Whedon's cult hit Firefly.

Released: January 21st 2014   Pages: 432
Publisher: Balzer & Bray        Source: Library

I'm going to throw eloquence out the window in favor of adapting a slang term for my own reviewing purposes: DAT COVER.  I don't even know what that thing is on top, but it's fabulous.  When I first saw this book, I didn't even care what it was about.  I just knew I needed to get my hands on this beautiful piece of art.  Then I read the description, and I needed it even more badly. 

I love how the description calls this "a great match for fans of Firefly".  It should be more like "this book is basically Firefly.  With teenagers."  (Apparently the author has a daughter named Inara, so don't tell me Firefly wasn't the main inspiration for this.)  So many of the characters match up.  Jeth is Mal.  Lizzie is Kaylie.  Celeste is Inara, possibly.  The little girl...I'm completely drawing a blank on her River.  Her adoptive older siblings, whose names also escape me, are Simon.  Shady is Jayne.  Flynn is Wash.  And so on.  I bring this up not to complain about lack of originality, but just to point out how accurate the comparison in the description is.  Also, is nobody going to talk about the fact that Jeth's full name is Jethro?  Hello, Colin Morgan, anybody?  

While I didn't fall in love with this book, I still really enjoyed it.  The plot is compelling and never gets slow.  The characters are dynamic, real, and interesting.  This is one of those books that, while I liked it, I have little to say in a review.  I don't have any specific criticisms, either.  Overall, it didn't disappoint, and I'm eager to read the sequel.   

Similar Books:
It features lots of spaceships, and teenagers flying and/or in spaceships, like Glow and A Confusion of Princes.  It also reminds me of Black Hole Sun and Airborn.

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