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Friday, May 30, 2014

Amusement 4.0 (And Some Thoughts On Adulthood)

We're on Amusement 4.0 already?  Wow.  If you don't know, it's become something of a tradition around here.  Every year, on May 30th (because it's my birthday), I alienate whatever non-fandom readers I have left post whatever random amusing pictures I happen to have found across the internet.  No, it has nothing to do with writing or book reviewing.  It just happens because I find it entertaining.

"You know nothing, Jon Snow."  (Actually, Jon Snow knows exactly two things.  And neither will help him win Jeopardy.)
Honest Les Mis captions.
You keep using that phrase.  I do not think it means what you think it means.

All I can think of is Steve innocently buying him this shampoo, and bringing it home, and not understanding why Bucky had to violently throw it out the window.

I...I've been playing Pokemon wrong this whole time.

Rooftop laments in Paris get a little complicated when someone from another musical is in your singing space. 
The Winter Soldier: A summary.

Here's the deal: As of the time you are reading this point, I will be legally considered an adult.  When you turn 18, it's like there's supposed to be some magic switch that gets flipped and then you become responsible or something.  Except that I don't feel any different.  I don't feel like an "adult".  Whatever that means.  I just feel like myself.  I'm still looking like this when I think of actually financially supporting myself:

And doing things like taxes:

And doing something with my life:

While I'm still over here, just:
This is from The Backstroke of the West, which is a badly captioned, pirated version of Revenge of the Sith that someone bought, and then shared the screencaps.  It's hilarious, and somehow, I feel like this particular picture fits.  Somehow. 

Let's face it, though.  I may be a legal adult, but I still think Percy Jackson "dam jokes" are funny.  It's been seven years, but...still.  I use both kids' toothpaste and fluoride rinse because "adult" toothpaste is nasty (mint=nope).  I like How To Train Your Dragon far more than the average ten-year-old.  Earlier today, I spent five minutes of my life reading fanfiction about Steve Rogers Rickrolling all of the Avengers.  I make playlists that look like this: (Okay, this is more an Annie thing than a not-adult thing.)
But, since this is my day, and I'm here and am always looking for excuses to do this, here are some songs I've been really into recently:
  1. 'Alienation' and 'Born Alone' by Morning Parade.  I discovered Morning Parade a little over a week ago, and I already love them.  I don't even want to say how many plays 'Alienation' has accumulated in that short time.
  2. 'Hurricane' and 'Closer to the Edge' by 30 Seconds to Mars.  This Is War is such an interesting and multifaceted album, and while these two songs are very different, they still stay within the overall theme.  And I love thematic albums.   
  3. 'Lanterns' by Birds of Tokyo.  I rarely buy a song after hearing it just once, but this is exactly what happened with this one.  
  4. 'Raging Fire' by Phillip Phillips.  When I neither like nor dislike a song on the first listen, one of two things usually happens.  The first is that the more I hear the song, the more I start to hate it.  The second is that it slowly turns into a song that I love.  I had no opinion about this one at first, but it grew on me.
  5. 'Young Blood' by The Naked and Famous.  I first heard this live, actually.  The Naked and Famous opened for Imagine Dragons last March, and this song's beginning is too catchy to pass up.
  6. 'Just Give Me A Reason' by P!nk and Nate Ruess (of Fun.).  I'm not a fan of P!nk, but I just can't get enough of Nate Ruess singing mournfully about...anything.
  7. 'Never Let Me Go' by Florence + The Machine.  It's a sad song that doesn't really sound sad.  Florence Welch has an amazing voice.
  8. 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For' by U2.  This is a bit random, but I love it.
[Insert awkward transition to closing paragraph here] that I've let out all of what?  Is anybody else graduating high school this spring?  Are you ready, or are you sitting here thinking "How do I adult?"  What are your college plans?

Also, since I'm now on break, I'll have more time to write posts.  Which means that I'm open for suggestions.  What do you want to read about?  Is there a book you'd love to see me review?  Let me know in the comments!  I feel like a YouTuber, saying that.  If this was a video, I would most certainly be pointing down to the comment section right now.

Blog note: If you haven't noticed, I've added a "song of the week" feature to the bottom of the right sidebar.  I'm not quite sure where I'm going with it yet--I put it there because there are so many times when I want to share an amazing song I've found, but have no good place to do it.  If you have a comment about the song of the week, feel free to leave it on whatever post you happen to be on (I'll see it no matter what).  It would be cool to hear your thoughts!   I've actually thought about starting an entirely separate blog where I share songs I've discovered. Does anyone have thoughts about that? Tumblr or Blogger? Would you follow it?
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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Girl in the Clockwork Collar (Steampunk Chronicles #2) by Kady Cross

In New York City, 1897, life has never been more thrilling-or dangerous Finley Jayne and her "straynge band of mysfits" have journeyed from London to America to rescue their friend Jasper from the clutches of a devious criminal demanding a trade-the dangerous device Jasper stole from him...for the life of the girl Jasper loves. One false move from Jasper, and the strange clockwork collar around Mei's neck tightens and tightens. From the rough streets of lower Manhattan to elegant Fifth Avenue, the motley crew of teens follows Jasper's elusive trail. And they're about to discover how far they'll go for friendship. More than ever, Finley must rely on powerful English duke Griffin King to balance her dark magic with her good side. Yet Griffin is at war with himself over his secret attraction to Finley...and will risk his life and reputation to save her. Now, to help those she's come to care for so deeply, Finley must infiltrate the criminal gang. Only problem is, she might like the dark side a little too much....

Released: May 22nd 2012   Pages: 416
Publisher: Harlequin Teen    Source: Library

Sometimes, when I read a book that I enjoy, I go out and grab a copy of the sequel right away.  Other times, I enjoy a book, but I'm really slow at getting around to reading the sequel.  I read The Girl in the Steel Corset in August of 2011, and for whatever reason, I only bothered to read the sequel now.  I'm not sure why--after the initial excitement faded, I felt little motivation to continue the series.  More than anything else, I picked this up because I felt like reading some steampunk.

I love the setting that Kady Cross has created.  It's a familiar turn-of-the-century world, with just enough added steampunk flair to make it interesting.  Automatons and dirigibles always make everything more interesting.  And then there's the element of the Aether, which is how Finley and the others get their powers--it adds just a hint of fantasy to the books.

I love the group dynamic in these books.  It's a perfect example of how several different characters (and real-life people) can each relate to one another in separate ways.  For example, to Finley, Emily is a best friend and confidant; to Griffin, she has the skills that hold the team together; to Sam, she is a girlfriend.  Sometimes these relationships overlap and clash, and that creates interesting conflict.

Despite this, I got annoyed with Finley constantly fretting over her relationship with Griffin.  Um, hello, your friend Jasper's life is on the line, and you're brooding because you and Griffin aren't from the same social level?  Yes, this is an important plot line, but it got to the point where it became more important than everything else.  Then it became annoying.  I don't care much about Finley's relationship drama--I want to see them spying on people or executing a rescue or something.

Other than that, though, I enjoyed this.  It had enough plot twists to keep me alert, and left enough unanswered questions to keep me turning the pages.  It moved quick enough to not get dull or slow.  Some of the language seemed too modern for the time, but I noticed less problems overall with the writing than I did with the first book.  I wish I would've started making tally marks, though, every time Kady Cross referred to Emily's "ropes of hair".  It came up half a dozen times, at least.  All it did was make me think Emily has dreadlocks, because otherwise, how is hair "ropey"?  According to the cover of The Girl With the Iron Touch, though, Emily does not have dreadlocks.  So I'm not sure what's up with this.

I have nothing else to say about this, other than the fact that I'm in love with Mei's dress on the cover.  I didn't love it, but it's an enjoyable read, especially if you like steampunk.  I won't wait as long to read the third book.  Well, probably.  Hopefully not.  

Similar Books: It's in the same steampunk/fantasy vein as Stormdancer, Clockwork Angel and The Iron Thorn.

Blog note: If you haven't noticed, I've added a "song of the week" feature to the bottom of the right sidebar.  I'm not quite sure where I'm going with it yet--I put it there because there are so many times when I want to share an amazing song I've found, but have no good place to do it.  If you have a comment about the song of the week, feel free to leave it on whatever post you happen to be on (I'll see it no matter what).  It would be cool to hear your thoughts!   I've actually thought about starting an entirely separate blog where I share songs I've discovered. Does anyone have thoughts about that? Tumblr or Blogger? Would you follow it?

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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

I read somewhere that human beings are genetically predisposed to record history. We believe it will prevent us from doing stupid things in the future.

This is my history.

There are things in here: babies with two heads, insects as big as electric guitars, god, the devil, limbless warriors, rocket ships, sex, diving bells, theft, wars, monsters, internal combustion engines, love, cigarettes, joy, bomb shelters, pizza, and cruelty.

Just like it’s al
ways been.

Funny, intense, complex and brave, Grasshopper Jungle is a groundbreaking coming-of-age novel about two friends who accidentally bring about the end of humanity.

Released: February 11th 2014    Pages: 388
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile         Source: Library

First Look: ****This book is blinding. If the cover wasn't bright enough, the edges of the pages are lemon yellow. Because obviously, someone at Dutton Juvenile looked at the design of it and said, "You know what?  This book is a maniacal little package already.  Let's make it require people to have therapy and eye surgery."

Apart from this book's bioluminescence (Yes, bio.  I'm convinced that if I put this book under the right kind of light or zapped it with some weird lab ray, it would turn into a giant grasshopper and eat me.), I wanted to read it because it looked absolutely insane.  I loved the bizarre creepiness and mind warp that was The Marbury Lens and Passenger, so I figured Andrew Smith could pull it off again.  And I was right.

Setting: ****It's a small town in rural Iowa.  Not interesting, right?  Except that it was.  Andrew Smith turned a mundane little town into a place full of intriguing people, odd little quirks, and completely random yet somehow relevant tidbits.  It's all in the detail--he turned something ordinary into something that stands out, just by mixing the good with the bad, and making things seem believable.  The more the novel progresses, the more you realize that there's more to the town than appearances suggest, and that maybe there's something darker and more sinister going on.  And that always makes everything more interesting.

Characters: **** Andrew Smith did the same thing with his characters as he did with his setting: he made them feel real through his use of odd little details as well as larger pieces of information.  It's important to know that, say, Austin is confused about his relationship with his girlfriend.  These things define a person.  The bigger things of a person's life, though, are always surrounded by many smaller things--Austin's dog, his favorite place to skateboard, or his love for older music.  It's when authors balance these two things that they  create characters that are likable and three-dimensional.  While there are many levels on which I cannot relate to Austin or Robby, as I don't have their problems, I can still relate to him on a human or teenager level.

In the end, that's all that really matters in a character.  You don't have to be going through the same things.  You just have to be able to feel for this person, to understand their emotions.  Andrew Smith has again proved how good he is at this, just like in The Marbury Lens.   

Plot: ***** The first 100 pages or so of this book are deceptively normal.  It makes you think you're reading just another realistic fiction about two friends on the outskirts of high school society.  It's just about them trying to make their dumpy town into something livable, trying to figure out their little love triangle, etc.  Something in the back of your brain is telling you "No, wait for it.  Wait for it.  Don't get too comfortable."  And then it hits you.

Is this a possibly questionable GIF choice, considering this book's subject matter?
And then it gets weird.  Really weird.  It's this roller coaster of bizarre, scary, disgusting, cute, and funny.  It's "Why do I do this to myself?" and "This is awesome!" in the same moment.  Yes, this book is about all the "normal" things mentioned above.  But it's also about terrifying giant grasshoppers and the end of the world.  Except that it gets to the point where you aren't sure if the apocalypse is the grasshoppers or Austin's love life problems.  I love this strange juxtaposition.

Uniqueness: ***** When was the last time I read 388 pages of madness, f-bombs, and grasshoppers?

Writing: ****Austin's narration is up-close and personal.  It feels very raw and almost unedited, in a polished way.  It holds nothing back--every thought, whether it's embarrassing or not, is printed in these pages.  He tells a story is bigger than himself, but it never loses sight of his own personal stake in it.  It's a little omniscient at times, just enough to give out some juicy hint about what will happen later in the book.  I have nothing to criticize.  Andrew Smith can write, everyone.  Just so you know.  He manages to make a statement about so many things, from love to teenage life to the dangers of science, weaving it into the story so seamlessly that you'll hardly know it hit you.  This quote from Robby, actually, sums up the entire book nicely:

“I love how, whenever you tell me a story, you go backwards and forwards and tell me everything else that could possibly be happening in every direction, like an explosion. Like a flower blooming.”  

Likes: The ending did not, in any way, work out like I had expected, but it was still good.  I love when that happens.

Not-so-great: Do teenage guys really think like this all the time? *ducks behind door* *packs bags* *joins a convent*

Overall: This is an insane roller coaster of a book.  It starts out deceptively normal, but it quickly spirals into a madness that's both funny and scary.  The main character, Austin, feels so true-to-life.  His narration holds nothing back, resulting in a book that is raw and honest.  The plot is...well, giant grasshoppers that only want to do two things.  What else can I say?  If you want a book that is both disturbing and thrilling, realistic and fantastical, this is for you.  I almost wish there was a sequel, but the ending makes that a bit difficult.  I shall end with one last GIF describing my reading experience:

Similar Books: It has the same Andrew Smith weirdness as The Marbury Lens and Passenger.  It addresses themes of teen sexuality in a surreal way, like More Than This.  It also reminds me of BZRK, though I'm not sure why.

Blog note: If you haven't noticed, I've added a "song of the week" feature to the bottom of the right sidebar. I'm not quite sure where I'm going with it yet--I put it there because there are so many times when I want to share an amazing song I've found, but have no good place to do it.  If you have a comment about the song of the week, feel free to leave it on whatever post you happen to be on (I'll see it no matter what).  It would be cool to hear your thoughts!   I've actually thought about starting an entirely separate blog where I share songs I've discovered. Does anyone have thoughts about that? Tumblr or Blogger? Would you follow it?
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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Novelist's Approach To Essays Part 2: Essay Vs. Fiction

In my last post, I discussed the process by which I write academic papers.  It's a process that has been honed and perfected throughout my high school years, making essay-writing less inefficient, and possibly a little less stressful.  You can read the entire thing right here, complete with screenshots of each stage in the process.  Academic writing isn't noveling, but I've found that being a novelist gives me an advantage when writing for school.

What do essays have in common with novels, though?  Aren't they different?

Yes, there is a fundamental difference between the two.  A novel is a story, told in the voice of a perfectly unique character.  In other words, told however you, the writer, want to tell it.  It goes wherever you want, and its only limits are the ones you impose on it.  An essay is so much more restricted.  You have to use an academic voice.  You have to stick to an established storyline or topic, which you can't change on a whim.

Even so, being a novelist gives you an advantage when writing essays.  You're one step ahead of everyone else.  You've probably had more practice writing than most, if not all, of your classmates.  It's probably a little faster, a little more natural for you.  You've drilled aspects like show-don't-tell, active voice, using strong words, etc., into your novel writing, and now is not the time to abandon these things.  All these rules still apply to essays.

Just because it's a formal essay does not mean you have to abandon your creativity.  So many times, we think we have to use stuffy, formal, boring language in our essays.  The opposite is true.  You can still use fun, colorful words.  Novel readers don't want to read about anger, sadness, and happiness.  We want to read about wrath, melancholy, and elation.  The same applies to whoever is grading your essay.  Your essay can use the same varied and creative sentence structures, detailed word choices, and unique ideas as in your novels.

In a way, you're still telling a story.  Think of what you're doing when you tell a story: you introduce a character to your audience, put him or her through a series of tests, and bring them out on the other side, into some kind of outcome, positive or negative.  An essay is similar.  You're taking an idea, presenting it to your reader, proving that its logic is sound, and concluding it in a way that will resonate with people.

Don't be afraid of strong emotions in your essays.  Yes, you have to retain an academic level of detachment.  But it doesn't need to be dry.  Don't tell us that Aureliano is solitary.  Paint us a picture of Aureliano working alone in his laboratory, long into the night; living within a chalk circle that no one else may enter; shooting himself, but failing at even that.  Evoke something emotional in your audience.  Prove to them that you believe in what you're writing, and that they should, too.  Otherwise, what's the point?  Even if you have to fake the emotion, go for it.  You're a novelist, after all.  You specialize in conjuring emotions that do not technically exist.

You don't need to go into this with the goal of proving some stiff, dull academic thesis.  Have a goal of creating a clear image in your teacher's head of your ideas; of making them feel at least the tiniest hint of emotions.  If you can care, show it.  If you can't care, fake it.  In the end, your teacher doesn't care if you care.  What's important is your ability to make people think you care.

Throughout high school, I have learned that caring gets me better paper grades.  Last fall, I had to write a personal response to Dante's The Inferno.  I had strong opinions about the piece.  Most of them involved wanting to see Dante get a taste of his own medicine.  That particular assignment allowed me to express my indignation, so I let it all out.  In an academic style, of course, but you could say that I was still ranting, in a way.  And I got a perfect score on that particular paper.

No matter the topic, you can find something to go on, either to care or to fake-care.  Say you're proving that Piggy's glasses symbolize wisdom and clarity--unoriginal and boring, right?  But you're a writer, so wisdom and learning are obviously important to you.  And then, maybe, you've found a connection point.  Maybe you're writing about the role of fate in Oedipus the King.  How would you feel if you were fated to kill your father and marry your mother and inspire some truly strange Freudian ideas?  Channel some of this.  It's all in how you look at it.

Essay writing will never be as fun as novel writing.  That's okay.  You can make it better, though, by not keeping the two entirely separate.  Fiction writing techniques can carry over into academic writing.  You still want it to be engaging, even if you're writing about the symbolism of water in Crime & Punishment.  If nothing else, imagine that the Dead Poets Society boys are staring down at you like the GIF below while you write your essay, expecting something worthy of their reading.  I don't know why this might help, but I like the idea of it, it is.   

If you want to read a little more about essay writing, here's a fabulous article, literally titled "How To Write A Great Essay About Anything".  It uses ancient military tactics invented by the Spartans as an effective way to write an essay.  It is quite possibly the best essay advice I have ever come across.

How do you use fiction techniques in essay writing?  How do you make the process more interesting and enjoyable?  
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Saturday, May 17, 2014

A Novelist's Approach To Essays Part 1: My Process

When I wrote the first essay in my ninth grade Advanced English 9 class (on Peace Like A River), it took me over five hours to create a rough draft, and then another hour or so to edit.  I just finished my final essay of high school (100 Years of Solitude) in about three hours of drafting (but the essay is twice as long) and another two of editing.  And the writing is so, so much better.

Practice, trial-and-error, maturity, and time improved the quality of my essays.  Developing a solid system, one that works for me, improved the speed at which I complete them.  I'm a novelist, so I've had enough practice to allow me to write a little faster than others, but what helped me more than anything was streamlining my process.

First, I'll go through and discuss my process, from idea to final draft.  Then, in Part 2, I'll talk about how writing an essay and writing a novel are not completely unrelated, and how fiction writers can approach this type of nonfiction.

How To Write An Essay, The Annie Method

Step 0.5:

Step 1: Ideas
As with novel writing (noveling?), the first step is always to come up with your idea.  I like to jot down ideas as we discuss a book in class.  If there's an aspect that grabs your interest as you read, make note of it.  Tracking your ideas as you read makes it easier to gather your thoughts once you actually start to work on the paper.

Step 2: Outline
In middle school, I couldn't work with outlines.  I was a paper first, outline later (never if not if required) type of person.  Part of this was probably due to the fact that the outlines had to have certain things and look a certain way that didn't necessarily make sense to me.  Now, however, I can't write an essay without one.  I don't do anything fancy, format-wise.  I pull up a Word document and start a numbered list with Roman numerals.  From there, each numeral is a paragraph.  I then add extra details to the subheadings.  It's not polished--I jot down every detail that comes into my head.

Now is the time to look for quotes.  Textual evidence, if you want to be scholarly about it.  I go through the entire novel and locate any chapters or sections that are relevant to my paper.  For example, when I wrote my essay on Crime and Punishment, I was writing about two characters, Sonya and Dunya.  I found all the sections that they were in, and ignored everything else.  Yes, it involved paging through the entire book.  Yes, it's worth it.  Once I identified all the important sections, I copied any relevant quotes into my outline, to be used in the paper.  In some cases, I also used page tabs to mark the places where I found these quotes (for this, I used a different color tab for each character).  My copy of C&P ended up looking like this:
I realize that I inadvertently gave you a tiny view of the desk from which all of these blog posts have been written.  It's nothing magical--it's a desk with a laptop on it.  And a can of Cherry Coke Zero.  And a pencil cup with an absurdly feathery pen.  And a work schedule and a mailing from my university.  It's like a mini version of those "room tours" that YouTubers love.  (I always thought that would be fun, for some reason.) 
My outline for 100 Years ended up like this (it's not the whole thing--just the first page of the Word document):
Please don't use this without asking permission first.

Obviously, these are just bullet points rather than full sentences to be used.  The ideas are there, though, which makes it so much easier to flesh them out once I start the draft.

(Optional) Step 2.5: Second Outline
In some cases, my quote-gathering process gets a bit chaotic, and ends up with a huge, unorganized list of quotes instead of a neat outline.  When this happens, I start another outline, and paste each quote into the place I want it.  Sometimes, this is just easier than trying to rearrange the current outline.

Step 3: The First Draft
This is the lengthiest portion of the process.  However, I've found that having all my quotes gathered into an outline ahead of time makes it so much faster.  When I do this, I have two documents open in separate windows on my computer.  I open up the outline on one side, and the first draft on the other.  This lets me copy directly from the outline, and type while reading from it, instead of having to switch between windows, which is annoying.  It looks like this (click for larger image):
Please don't use this without asking permission first.
If the two windows don't quite fit on your screen, I'd suggest reducing the margins of each page, at least temporarily.  

Step 4: Print and Attack with Pen
After I've completed a first draft, I print out the essay so that I can make marks all over it with my editing pen.  Ideally, you should wait a little while before starting this, so the essay has some time to sit in your mind--a few hours, even a day.  Let's face it, though: you probably don't have that much time.  I've been there.  In that case, print it out and go right ahead.

Now, the point is to destroy everything you've written.  Your words are not carved into a stone tablet--in order to change them, all you need to do is hit the delete key.  When you read it through, pen in hand, mark anything that needs to be changed.  Watch for ideas that need fleshing out, paragraphs that should be rearranged, awkward wordings, passive voice, typos, MLA mistakes, etc.  Essentially, you're looking for the same things as you would when editing a novel, except that the rules here are stricter, and there are a few added things.  Don't be shy about marking it up.  The harder you are on yourself, the better the final draft will be.  My general rule is this: if I can't (at least faintly) smell the ink from the pen I'm using, my editing is not thorough enough.  (In other words, breathing possibly harmful fumes=good, in this case.)

Step 5: Final Draft
Now that you've made edits onto your printed copy, it's time to transfer these edits back into the digital document.  This also gives you the opportunity to do one last readthrough as you're making the changes, to catch anything that you might've missed on the print copy.  After you're satisfied that every word looks the way it should, you're done!

It's time to eat some chocolate.  Or throw yourself a mini one-person party.  Or cry, depending on your situation.  Maybe a bit of all three.

(When all else fails, go here and let someone else type your essay for you--kind of, not really.)

In this post, I've covered just the process.  In Part 2, I'll talk more about how fiction writing and essay writing aren't entirely separate, and how to appeal to your writerly strengths.

Part 2 is coming to a screen near you on some day in the near future that ends in y.  Part 2 is right here.

What is your essay process like?  Are there any steps you would add?  Have you tried these steps?  
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Monday, May 12, 2014

Allies & Assassins, Half A King, The City's Son, and Hunger Mini-Reviews

Allies & Assassins (Enemies of the Prince #1) by Justin Somper
Prince Anders, the ruler of Archenfield, has been murdered, leaving his younger brother, Jared, to ascend the throne. Sixteen-year-old Jared feels unprepared to rule the kingdom and its powerful and dangerous court, yet he knows he can rely on the twelve officers of the court to advise him. He also knows he can just as easily be at their mercy-especially when it appears that one of them may be responsible for his brother's death. Unable to trust anyone, Jared takes it upon himself to hunt down his brother's killer-but the killer may be hunting him, as well. Murder, betrayal, and intrigue abound in Justin Somper's thrilling YA series debut. Exploring the political machinations of the medieval court and the lives that hang in the balance, Allies & Assassins is a gripping tale of a teen torn between duty and revenge.
Released: May 27th 2014   
Pages: 496
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers   
Source: ARC received through Goodreads First Reads giveaway

Until I entered the Goodreads giveaway for this, I had never heard of it.  Still, it looked interesting--these types of YA high fantasy seem to be released less and less each year, so I always try to get my hands on as many as possible.  

We meet our main character, Jared, just as he is greeted with the news that his older brother is dead, thus making him king.  And so begins his struggle.  I liked Jared, as a character, and I found him believable.  Part of this connection was probably due to the fact that he reminded me so much of two other characters that are important to me--one being Jaron from The False Prince, who I love to death, and the other being Davi from my first novel, who I also love to death and a little beyond since I know how he dies sorry Davi actually not really it's my job to make you hurt but I digress.  

One thing I loved about this was that it genuinely kept me guessing.  Let's face it--it's getting harder and harder for books to do this to me.  The more I read, the more I figure out all the tricks that YA fantasy authors like to use.  Also, I'm an INTJ personality type, which means, among other things, I notice a lot, and analyze a lot.  Still, Allies & Assassins was a hard one for me to figure out, and I appreciate that.  

My only major problems were that it gets a little slow, and the typos.  It's almost 500 pages long, and at times, it dragged.  Still, though, it's not enough to knock it below four stars.  And then we have the typos.  It's one thing to have a few mistakes in an ARC, but this was excessive.  There was one probably every other chapter or so.  If a book has gotten to the ARC stage, shouldn't it be in a little better shape?

Overall, though, I enjoyed it.  It has likable characters and a plot that left me wanting answers (in a good way).  It gets a bit slow, and has so many typos, but these didn't detract too much from my liking of it.  

Similar Books: It features a main character thrust into an unwanted kinghood (is kinghood even a word?) like The False Prince and Half A King (I just linked a post to itself...I need to sleep.).  It also reminds me of Falling Kingdoms, The Demon King and even A Game of Thrones.

Half A King (Shattered Sea #1) by Joe Abercrombie 
“I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.”

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.

The deceived will become the deceiver.

Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.

The betrayed will become the betrayer.

Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.

Will the usurped become the usurper?

But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi finds his path may end as it began—in twists, and traps, and tragedy.

Released: July 15th 2014    Pages: 352
Publisher: Del Rey             Source: ARC received through Netgalley

This is a book that you can judge by its cover.  Yes, it's a YA fantasy cover featuring a weapon, and you might have noticed that I'm getting sick of those.  Still, this one stands out, and I love the stark contrast of it.  And now I'm having nightmares of sword-snowflake blizzards.

The inside of the book is even better.  Like the book I read right before it, Allies & Assassins, the story opens just as our main character, Yarvi, finds himself unexpectedly the king of an entire nation.  And chaos ensues.  The betrayals start happening right away, and they grabbed my attention almost instantly.  From there, the plot didn't let up long enough for me to get bored or distracted, and even at the end, I was left wanting more.  

The true gem in this book is Yarvi.  He's another character that has the advantage of reminding me of one of my own main characters, which always helps.  Even without that, though, he feels so raw and real.  I could feel his pain and the nuanced personality that allows these feelings to shine through.  It's been awhile since I connected this much to a character.  He goes through so much in this book, and now all I want to do is give him a hug.  If I was a hugging type of person, which I'm not.  But the sentiment is still there.  The side characters in this book were also fantastic.  Nobody felt tacked-on, unnecessary, or too similar to the other side characters.  Each one is unique and just as three-dimensional as the main character.

Overall, I loved this.  At first, I was planning on giving it four stars, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that four doesn't do the job.  Sometimes, I read a book and love it initially, but my excitement over it soon fades.  Other times, I really like a book, but don't love it right away--yet the more it sits in my mind, the more attached I grow to it.  Half A King is of the latter group.  It's lovely, exciting, well-written and plotted, full of awesome characters, and even with a few genuinely funny lines.  Highly recommended.

Similar Books: It features a main character thrust into an unwanted position of power like The False Prince and Allies & Assassins.  It also reminds me of Falling KingdomsThe Demon King and even A Game of Thrones.  (Yes, I realize that I basically just copied this section from Allies & Assassins.  It works, though.)

The City's Son (The Skyscraper Throne #1) by Tom Pollock
Running from her traitorous best friend and her estranged father, graffiti artist Beth Bradley is looking for sanctuary. What she finds is Urchin, the ragged and cocky crown prince of London’s mystical underworld. Urchin opens Beth’s eyes to the city she’s never truly seen-where vast spiders crawl telephone wires seeking voices to steal, railwraiths escape their tethers, and statues conceal an ancient priesthood robed in bronze.

But it all teeters on the brink of destruction. Amid rumors that Urchin’s goddess mother will soon return from her 15-year exile, Reach, a malign god of urban decay, wants the young prince dead. Helping Urchin raise an alleyway army to reclaim his skyscraper throne, Beth soon forgets her old life. But when her best friend is captured, Beth must choose between this wondrous existence and the life she left behind.

Released: September 8th 2012    Pages: 480
Publisher: Flux                          Source: Library

This one is all over the place.  It has a cool premise, creating a mythology out of the dirtiest city streets and personifying everything on them.  Unfortunately, it doesn't follow through.  The worldbuilding comes at you too fast, leaving you a bit lost as to what is actually happening.  Some things that require explanations are explained, but often halfheartedly, and not really providing any answers.

The main character, Beth, would have been okay, if not for the fact that she didn't feel believable.  She adjusted way too fast to learning about the supernatural side of London, and joined the war against Reach for no obvious reason.  She takes everything in stride, simply accepting it as it comes along, as opposed to being appropriately shocked, as most people would be.  Urchin was a little more interesting, but I never felt like I got to know him well enough to connect with him.

The biggest problem I had with this book was the point of view switches.  Beth's point of view is in the past tense; Urchin's is in the present.  For no apparent reason.  It didn't help that the narration would occasionally become omniscient at any random point, breaking point of view rules whenever it felt like it.  For me, this made everything scattered, disjointed, and at times, just plain weird.  

This is more of a 2.5 star book for me, but I'm rounding up.  I didn't hate it, and it held my interest much of the time, when I wasn't trying to figure out what on earth was going on.  Still, Beth adjusted way too easily to everything, the worldbuilding was all over the place, and the different point of view switches were disorienting.  This looked so cool, but it didn't live up to my expectations..  I don't plan on reading the sequel.

Similar Books: It's an urban fantasy, with heavy emphasis on the urban, like Stoneheart.  It also reminds me of Touched, Wicked Lovely, and The Dark City, though I can't really say why, for any of these.

Hunger (Riders of the Apocalypse #1) by Jackie Morse Kessler
“Thou art the Black Rider. Go thee out unto the world.”

Lisabeth Lewis has a black steed, a set of scales, and a new job: she’s been appointed Famine. How will an anorexic seventeen-year-old girl from the suburbs fare as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

Traveling the world on her steed gives Lisa freedom from her troubles at home: her constant battle with hunger, and her struggle to hide it from the people who care about her. But being Famine forces her to go places where hunger is a painful part of everyday life, and to face the horrifying effects of her phenomenal power. Can Lisa find a way to harness that power — and the courage to battle her own inner demons?

Released: October 18th 2010    Pages: 177
Publisher: Harcourt Graphia     Source: Library

The reason I wanted to read this, more than anything else, was the fact that I'd seen this quote from this: "Thou art Famine, yo."  For some reason, I thought this was highly amusing at the time I added it to my to-read shelf (which was, admittedly, early 2011).  I still do find it amusing.

This book deals with some heavy subjects--anorexia, suicide, world hunger--and it handles them well.  It presents them in a realistic light without being heavy-handed or preachy.  I've never experienced an eating disorder, so I can't say if the characters were true-to-life or not, but their struggles seemed realistic to me.  I felt for them, and for anyone else with these issues.

You can interpret this book in two ways.  You could take it literally, in that an actual Horseman of the Apocalypse came to Lisa, and she became Famine.  Or, you could take her journey as a Horseman (Horsewoman?  'Horsewoman of the Apocalypse' is a mouthful.) as a metaphor for her struggle against getting help, and her thought process as she comes to this realization.  Or it's both.  Either way, it works.  It's a unique take on any of its topics, both anorexia and the Horsemen.  

I'm not sure how I feel about Lisa, the main character.  She felt real, but she also frustrated me.  I understand that maybe this was the point, to get the reader to feel Lisa's frustration with herself and others wanting her to get help, but still.  The side characters didn't stand out to me--they were there, and they served their purposes, but they weren't very likable or memorable.

This is a small nitpick, and has no bearing on my overall opinion of this, but the English rider in me has to say it.  The author seemed to make a point of specifying that Lisa mounted her horse (which was always referred to as 'it', by the hard is it to give the poor animal a gender?) from the right side.  It's standard to mount a horse from the left side.  Was there a reason for this, or was someone just misinformed?

I liked the book overall, for the most part.  It's closer to 3.5, but I'll round up.  Lisa frustrated me a bit, but I loved the concept of this, and it was carried out well.  It realistically depicts a real, current struggle among teenagers without holding anything back, while still putting a unique and interesting spin on it.

Similar Books: It smoothly blends reality and fantasy like Invisibility, Every Day, and Bruiser.

Note: The posting this month has been much more sporadic than I had expected, and I don't anticipate this changing until June.  (Which is why these are mini-reviews, and not full ones.)  I'm graduating at the end of May, so after that, the blog will (I assume) resume a more frequent posting schedule.  Please bear with me.  Until then, here's a GIF of the Barricade Boys on the barricade because...I don't know, I just wanted to post this GIF for no particular reason.  And because Barricade Boys.  And because it's currently the first GIF in my GIF collection.

Also, if there's anything you want to see me post about once summer comes, please let me know!  I'd love to hear it.  Or if you have any random questions...I have no idea what they might be, but go ahead and ask them in the comments.

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Monday, May 5, 2014

18 Thoughts and Reactions to Captain America: The Winter Soldier

If you think I can just let a Marvel movie come into theaters without seeing it, you're wrong.  Especially if it has Steve Rogers in it.  While people may be divided over whether Cap is the best Avenger, he's certainly one of my favorites.  I have mixed feelings about the first Captain America movie, The First Avenger, but my feelings about The Winter Soldier are not mixed at all.  It's awesome.  I loved it.  Here's why:
  1. Alternate titles: Captain America: The Non-WWII One, Captain America: He's Dead JUST KIDDING, Captain America: *flips middle finger to DC*, Captain America: The Bucky Feelsfest, Captain America: I Understood That Reference  (I just realized that this movie's title is literally Steve Rogers: James Buchanan Barnes or Steve: Bucky.)
  2. I'm pretty sure that 90% of Sebastian Stan's screen time is just him making this face:
    I don't blame Bucky for making the brooding face all the time.  If I had been brainwashed by Hydra, I'd be making it, too.  It's effective, though, because all I could think of was the smiling, fun, protective Bucky from The First Avenger.  There's so much contrast, and it just made me hate Hydra so much more.   
  3. Hail Hydra memes are the best thing to come out of this movie.*  The internet has responded to The Winter Soldier by creating a new meme, this time by taking pictures of a person whispering into someone's ear and adding the caption "Hail Hydra".  I do not foresee myself getting tired of this anytime soon.  It just does not get old
  4. WarGames reference.  I appreciate it.  For those of you who didn't catch it: in the scene where Natasha and Steve go into the bunker full of old computers, Natasha says "Would you like to play a game?" as the computers fire up.  Somewhere out there, I have to believe Ernest Cline is grinning about this. 
  5. I like how they acknowledged Peggy Carter without being all The Notebook about it.  Peggy Carter was a loose end that Marvel couldn't have left hanging.  At the same time, it was one of those things that could have easily turned into an unnecessary distraction from the main plot, if it got out of hand.  Instead, there was a nice balance.  We got to see Peggy and Steve interact, in their first reunion for decades.  And yes, it hurt.  But it was also sweet, and adorable, instead of being a sobfest just for the sake of a sobfest.  It was a solid way to acknowledge Steve's WWII past without being too heavy-handed with it. 
  6. I love Natasha.  Up until this point, Natasha Romanoff has been closed-off, calculating, and even a little cold.  The Winter Soldier showed us the human side that we all knew was there.  I don't recall her cracking a joke in any previous movie, but she had some nice lines in this one.  She's still integral to the plot, both as a spy/agent/bad-guy-puncher, but in this movie, she was also there for Steve in a way that almost nobody else could be.  She's been through the events of The Avengers in New York.  She knows exactly what Steve experienced then, which gives her and Steve a close relationship with an interesting dynamic.  Alone, she's also a fantastic character that just keeps developing, and I'm eager to see where Marvel takes her next.
  7. This movie is so different from the first.  The First Avenger can't help but feel nostalgic.  It's a comic book movie origin story, set in the 1940s.  As such, everything is lower-tech, with a patriotic bent.  And a little cheesy--but can you blame Marvel?  They're working off a comic book-based character, so it's already a bit over-the-top.  Then, you've got somebody called Captain America, which can sound slightly tacky and does not inspire fear into the hearts of...anyone.  And yet, Marvel overcomes this.  It manages to pay homage to the storyline's comic book roots without making it inaccessible to moviegoers who aren't into comics.  (I'm not, but I know enough Marvel background to set me apart from "casual" viewers, for lack of a better term.)  A Marvel movie will probably always be a bit over-the-top--that's okay.  We got with it, because Marvel is nothing if not escapism.   At the same time, it still feels fresh and modern, especially The Winter Soldier.  It's the fast, snappy action movie that modern audiences love, but with the larger good vs. evil and superhero identity themes that come from original Captain America stories. 
  8. It's timely.  The Winter Soldier manages to hit on a huge concern: government surveillance of citizens.  (Are they knocking the NSA a little?  Possibly.)  A major theme of this movie is the difference between freedom and national security, and where the line must be drawn.  Has there ever been a time where this issue was more hotly debated?  And here we have sketchy agencies like SHIELD and Hydra basically spying on citizens.  Don't tell me Marvel didn't do that on purpose.
  9. (vaguely spoilery)  With books, I follow a "They're not dead unless you show me a body" rule.  With Marvel, I follow a "They're not dead.  Ever." rule.  You almost had me, Marvel, but not quite.  You'd think, after Loki in The Dark World, I would have figured it out.  With Loki, though, you expect that sort of thing from him.  He's the trickster god, after all.  But in The Winter Soldier...I don't want to say too much, but... *claps for Marvel*  You almost had me.  I almost believed it.  I didn't want to believe it, but the body looked pretty convincing.  And yet, some part of me kept saying, "Nope, wait for it.  Wait for it."    
  10. Somehow, my friend and I ended up being the only two people in the entire theater who stayed for the final scene at the very end of the credits.  Your ignorance is showing. 
  11. This scene: "Prep him."  "But he's been out of cryo for too long."  "Then wipe him."  EXCUSE YOU.  WHO GAVE YOU THE RIGHT TO DO THIS.  If I was Bruce Banner, I would have been Hulking out during that scene.  Spoiler: I am not Bruce Banner.  I have no PhDs and I remain at a constant non-green state of 5'1".  Like I talk about a little more in reaction 16, I have a lot of feelings about Steve and Bucky, and they aren't going away anytime soon.
  12. What is Loki's staff doing in the mid-credits teaser scene?  (Read more about it here.)  I noticed that he didn't use it at all in The Dark World, which is partially understandable, since he spend much of it as a prisoner.  Still, though, if Marvel had wanted it to happen, there was ample opportunity for him to get his hands on the scepter again.  Does this mean we'll see Loki again?  I hope so.   
  13. Marvel has once again created a movie where all we want to do is hug the bad guy.  Well, one of the "bad guys", anyway, who isn't really a "bad guy" at all.  Marvel has a marvelous knack for creating both villains that we love and villains that we hate.  You have probably noticed: I love Loki.  He's a villain (well, actually, I have an entire blog post basically debating this, but I'll go with it for argument's sake).  Then again, there's Justin Hammer from Iron Man 2, who makes me want to throw something at the screen.  In The Winter Soldier, Alexander Pierce is the one I hate, and Bucky is the one I love.  (But then again, Bucky's not really a villain, either.)  It's all a matter of making the villains believable, giving them human qualities.  And Marvel is brilliant at it.        
  14. Hydra snipers shoot like Stormtroopers.  How many times can they miss a point-blank shot?  Steve should probably be dead so many times over, even with the shield.  Then again, most movie snipers seem to be awful shots.  Are we not going to talk about that one awful sniper in The Great Game?
  15. People like to say that the most indestructible thing in the Marvel cinematic universe is not Captain America's shield or even Mjolnir, but the Hulk's pants.  I disagree.  The most indestructible thing thing in the Marvel universe is the bun in Maria Hill's hair.  It never moves.  It never falls apart.  She never has to stick extra bobby pins in it throughout the day.  What sorcery is this? 
  16. All this adorable yet awful Steve/Bucky fan art keeps breaking my heart but I can't stop loving it.  *"You can be addicted to a certain kind of sadness," sings Gotye, muffled, in the distance*  Right now, Pinterest and Tumblr are full of The Winter Soldier fan art.  You can't escape it.  And I love it, because it's adorable, but at the same time, FEELS.  Ouch.  Two weeks after going to the theater, and I'm still hurting a bit about Bucky.  Again, I commend Marvel for this.  I actually love when books/movies can get to me like this, because it means they made me feel something.  Isn't that the whole point of fiction?  I want fiction to make me feel, and if it does, I'm glad of it.  And I have the fandom mentality, so I'm bound to experience "feels" anyway.  Yay, examples: this, this, this (it isn't sad but I like it), this, this, and this.
    Um, excuse me, who gave you permission to make this?  (From this Tumblr.)
  17. I don't care what you say, Captain America is HARDCORE.  People can complain about Cap being the most useless, most boring, or most whatever else Avenger.  That's fine.  They're wrong.  Cap jumps off skyscrapers and out of planes on a regular basis.  He stood up to Loki.  He's been proven worthy of holding Mjolnir, he can flip the Hulk, and he can run a 40-yard dash in 3.82 seconds.  Source.  Argument=invalid. 
  18. I leave you with this GIF.  Do I laugh or cry? 

Did you see The Winter Soldier?  What did you think?  Am I the only one who can't get over Bucky?

*For some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to Google "vladimir putin hail hydra" (because, you know, why not?).  Children, do not try this at home.
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