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Monday, June 30, 2014

Flame (Sky Chasers #3) by Amy Kathleen Ryan

In the thrilling conclusion to the Sky Chasers series, Waverly, Kieran, and Seth struggle to survive on-board the New Horizon—and take down their enemies before it's too late.

Waverly and the other members of the Empyrean have scattered, and their home ship has been destroyed. Their mission to rescue their parents didn't go as planned, and now they're at an even greater disadvantage: trapped with their enemies on the New Horizon, trying to find a way to survive. Kieran has been pulled under Anne Mather’s wing, but is she really trying to make peace, or just using Kieran to build her own power? Meanwhile, Waverly is taken in by a mysterious old man who wants to help her bring Anne Mather down—but the more Waverly cooperates with him, the more dangerous her position is, and the more at odds with Kieran she becomes.

Seth's situation is even worse. After setting out from the Empyrean on his own, with only a vague strategy to guide him, he is a fugitive aboard the New Horizon. He's doing what he can to challenge the power of Anne Mather, but he's badly hurt, and getting sicker.

Will Seth ever see Waverly again? Will his health hold out long enough to help her topple their enemies? And will Waverly find a way to unite with her friends before they all fall? Nothing is sure and every moment is a risk in this explosive finale of the Sky Chasers series.

Released: January 7th 2014         Pages: 336
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin       Source: Library

It's been awhile since I read Spark, so I'm not sure what my expectations of Flame even were.  I do know, however, that Flame messed with, and even (slightly) exceeded these expectations.

My review of Spark is almost entirely devoted to criticizing Waverly and Kieran for being near-sociopaths.  While it's true that I spent most of that book annoyed with them and losing track of their motives, I have since then realized that it isn't so much about likable characters--it's about characters who have human feelings that we can relate to.  Characters that make sense.  Characters that are, well, like real people.  

Then again, we're walking a fine line here.  Even if you write an incredibly three-dimensional character who makes bad decisions on a regular basis, you run the risk of turning readers off, so to speak.  I think sociopathic characters are often fascinating, and apparently I'm not the only one, because Sherlock exists.  Sherlock is an excellent example of someone you wouldn't want to know in real life.  He's arrogant, socially clueless, and tactless to the point of being downright cruel on a regular basis.  And yet, on screen, we love him.  It's a fascinating character study.  But if you took it too far, we'd just hate him.  If he had no human qualities, if he was too far removed from normal for anyone to relate to him, his character wouldn't work.  My problem with Spark was that I was losing track of the humanity of Waverly and Kieran.  I started losing the ability to relate.

Flame starts out with a bit of the same problem, but here my frustration was more about the fact that all Waverly does for at least a hundred pages was mope around in her room.  The focus is not on moving the story forward--it's about going over, coming to terms with, or otherwise dealing with past events.  The first half of the book doesn't go anywhere, and I felt like I was just reading a summary of Spark.  Focusing on these past events is important to the book, but I still wanted forward motion.  

The second half of the book is so much more engaging than the first.  Finally, the story moves on.  There's more action, more suspense.  Kieran, Waverly, and Seth actually do things.  I regained a bit of my lost respect for Waverly and Kieran.  Both are put into increasingly impossible and morally ambiguous situations, but they react like real people.  They make both good and bad decisions, which makes them feel authentic.  

And then there's Seth.  He never lost my respect, and in this book, he only gained more of it.  His past and his somewhat divided role in the series makes him the most fascinating character of all.  He has so much courage, even when his situation is more difficult than that of the other two, combined.  His love for Waverly made me feel for him, and I wanted to see him succeed.  I want a spinoff series about him.

The second half of the book also upped the intensity a few notches, and I loved it.  It's darker, and its ideas of right and wrong become even more muddled.  There is no black and white in these books--it's all in shades of gray.  This, of course, always makes for the best stories.  It makes you think and question your beliefs.  The physical action of it becomes darker as well, adding more suspense and tension.  If the entire series had riveted me as much as the last several chapters of Flame, I would have given it all five stars.

After Spark, I was reluctant to finish this series.  Flame, then, reminded me why I enjoyed Glow so much in the first place.  It's an intense sci-fi series full of intensity, realistic characters, and of course, lots of spaceship action.  Spark may suffer from being the middle of the trilogy, but Flame ends it with a bang.  It's a satisfying end, even though I'm still wishing for more of Seth's story.

Similar Books: It's a YA sci-fi novel that takes place in space or on a spaceship like Across the Universe, Inside Out, A Confusion of Princes, Starglass, and Avalon

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Friday, June 27, 2014

13 Thoughts and Reactions to The Fault In Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars will go down in history as the book that caused irreparable emotional damage to thousands, and probably millions, of fangirls (and boys...and everyone else and probably their dogs and imaginary friends as well).  What's the next logical step, then?  Make a movie, and profit from people's tears!  Of course!

And, of course, fans of the book, like me, had to go see it.  I paid money to feel sad, and it's not like that was unexpected.  Then again, that's the whole point, right?  If it makes you feel nothing, why bother?  In that case, here are my thirteen semi-coherent thoughts:

It's spoiler-free, assuming you've read the book.
  1. This is not a roller coaster that only goes up.  This is a roller coaster that only goes down.  You probably should've gotten off, but now it's too late.  Story time: There's an amusement park near where I live.  It's over a half hour drive to get there, but I've been there often enough to be familiar with every ride.  My problem is that I love roller coasters, but hate drops.  I don't know about you, but I don't enjoy the feeling of my internal organs trying to rearrange themselves as we head down the first hill.  There's one roller coaster there that begins with a huge drop.  The rest of it is fun, but the drop is a little much for me.  And yet, every time I go there, I go on that coaster.  I'm not sure if I forget the drop, or if I just hope that it'll be different this time, for some reason.  Each time, I remember that drop when the car is chugging up the hill, when it's too late.  That is exactly how I felt while I sat in the theater, waiting for the movie to play.  Maybe this time, it'll be different.  Maybe it won't hurt.  Maybe this was a bad idea.   
  2. Ansel Elgort is perfect.  I don't know much about him, and I've never seen him in anything else, but I don't think anyone could have found a better Augustus.  He gives the character the wit and charm needed to make the movie work.  He doesn't tone down Gus's pretentiousness at the beginning--people like to criticize the character for his arrogance.  Yes, he's arrogant, but that's part of the point.  He changes, and becomes more down-to-earth, both through his relationship with Hazel and his own illness.  Ansel Elgort's portrayal reflects this.  
  3. It's faithful to the book.  It would've been so easy for this movie to abandon the book and start doing its own thing.  People who only see the movie are less likely to accept an unhappy ending than readers, in my experience.  "You can't kill a main character!" screams everyone who has never been in a fandom.  While I don't think a movie company would have gone as far as to eliminate Gus's death--that would change the entire structure of it--I wouldn't have been surprised if they sugarcoated it.  If they made it easier to take, somehow.  They could have made his death somehow heroic, even through the cancer, maybe even with a major redemption from Van Houten.  While Van Houten gets a little more redemption here than in the book, the movie still stays on track.  It does cut a few things out, but then again, it's a movie and it's limited in ways that books aren't.  
  4. They didn't include the quote that forms the title.  It's one of the loveliest quotes from the book: "But it is the nature of stars to cross, and never was Shakespeare more wrong than when he has Cassius note, 'The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves.'"  If you haven't read the book, how is the title going to make any sense without that quote?
  5. I love how they did Hazel's voiceover.  This book has so many iconic lines, and the movie did an excellent job of including as many of them as possible.  We hear many of them narrated by Hazel, and most are lifted directly from the book.  It does the book homage while still translating it to screen in a way that makes sense.  
  6. It's not afraid to show the effects of Hazel and Gus's cancer.  Like I said earlier, it would've been so easy to sugarcoat this movie, to maintain the image of healthy, perfect characters.  It's toned down a little from the book, but it's still there.  A perfect example of this is the gas station scene, where Gus starts throwing up over his steering wheel and has to call Hazel for help.  We could have just seen it from Hazel's end of the phone call, but instead it showed everything.  Of course, this scene is so much harder for anyone who read the book first.  If this is your first experience with tFioS, it's "Oh my gosh, I hope Gus is okay", but if you know what's coming, it's more like "NOPE NOPE NOPE I'M NOT READY FOR THIS".  
  7. Um...hello...John Green's cameo? While many fans were eagerly awaiting John Green's cameo in this movie, it never came.  The scene didn't make the final cut.  I can see why--it serves almost no purpose except to say, "Look, here's John Green.  Yay, everyone!"  And he's a bit awkward in it.  Still, it's John Green, so I'm disappointed that it wasn't included.  You can watch the cameo here
  8. This moment.  There are plenty of moments in this movie that make you go, "Oh, it's okay, I didn't need my feelings anyway."  One of the worst, in my opinion, isn't the funeral scene.  It's not the very end.  It's this, when Hazel goes into the hospital.  I could only find this GIF, but look at Gus in the background.  He looks so helpless.  The girl he loves might be dying, and they won't even let him in.  It's a tiny shot, but it's one of the most powerful in the entire movie.
  9. The soundtrack has some awesome songs on it.  Throughout the movie, you hear bits and pieces of various soundtrack songs, including artists like Ed Sheeran and Grouplove.  I said the same thing in my review of How To Train Your Dragon 2, but here it is again: I could keep talking about the soundtrack, or you could just go listen to it.  It's all here on YouTube, and you can hear most of it on Spotify.
  10. It's a bit less irreverent than the book.  The book is more cynical, and has a bit more (rightful) angst.  It has more anger at how they have to deal with so many things that aren't their fault, hence the title.  When Hazel speaks at the funeral, she gives a speech about how hard Gus fought, and how he maintained his sense of humor until the end, when she believes none of it.  This scene is present in the movie, but it felt more sad and resigned than anything else.  In the book, it came across as more angry, which suits the story better.  
  11. Brace yourselves.  Pain is coming.  It's The Fault in Our Stars.  What do you expect?  Everyone who has read the book will know exactly what's coming for them.  Maybe some people can get through it unscathed, but I'm not part of that crowd.  Then again, isn't that the point of fiction?  If it doesn't make you feel something, why bother?  My friend and I made some observations about this on the drive home from the theater--we noticed that there's a reason people who tend to consume a lot of fiction gravitate toward sad things.  My theory is that people who connect deeply with fiction are exposed to so much of it that they become desensitized.  No matter what emotions it evokes, it becomes harder and harder to feel anything.  At that point, it takes something full of strong emotions to cut through to that person.  In most cases, this feeling is sadness.  Nobody likes to be sad, and yet, anybody who values fiction knows how amazing it is to have something impact you that strongly.  Sad things are able to do this.  Thus, we're into sad things.
  12. This: 
  13. My friend and me at the end: "Whyyyy?"  "Now what?"  "What is life?"  "I can't."  "What am I supposed to do with this?"  "Nope."  And so on.  I'm sure we sounded highly intelligent, but we were the only ones left in the theater and we didn't know how to cope.  I'm still not sure if I'm handling it.  We knew what we were getting into, but that didn't make it easier.  
Overall, The Fault in Our Stars is an excellent adaptation of the book.  It's not perfect--no adaptation ever is.  Still, it captures the essence of the characters and John Green's message, and that's the most important part. 

What did you think of The Fault in Our Stars?  Did you bring a box of Kleenex to the theater?
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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

SYLO (The SYLO Chronicles #1) by D.J. MacHale

Does Tucker Pierce have what it takes to be a hero when the U.S. military quarantines his island?

Fourteen-year-old Tucker Pierce prefers to fly under the radar. He’s used to navigating around summer tourists in his hometown on idyllic Pemberwick Island, Maine. He’s content to sit on the sidelines as a backup player on the high school football team. And though his best friend Quinn tells him to “go for it,” he’s too chicken to ask Tori Sleeper on a date. There’s always tomorrow, he figures. Then Pemberwick Island is invaded by a mysterious branch of the U.S. military called SYLO. And sitting on the sidelines is no longer an option for Tucker, because tomorrow may never come.

It’s up to Tucker, Quinn, and Tori to uncover the truth about the singing aircraft that appears only at night—and the stranger named Feit who’s pushing a red crystal he calls the Ruby that brings unique powers to all who take it. Tucker and his friends must rescue not just Pemberwick Island, but the fate of the world—and all before tomorrow is too late.

#1 New York Times bestselling author D.J. MacHale brings his brilliant plotting and breathless pacing to SYLO, the first in this ultimate end-of-the-world adventure trilogy.

Released: July 2nd 2013    Pages: 407
Publisher: Razorbill          Source: Library

First Look: ***** I wanted to read this because D.J. MacHale wrote it.  He wrote the Pendragon series, which is one of my all-time favorites, and Morpheus Road, which I really enjoyed, so I'll read whatever he puts out, at this point.  Because of that, I had high expectations--probably unreasonably high.  If D.J. MacHale wasn't the author, I would have bypassed this one.  The premise is all too familiar, and a dystopian/sci-fi novel like this has to have a very unique premise before I'll pick it up.

Setting: ****
If Pemberwick, Maine was a real place (I checked, and it's not), I would be willing to move in.  It's small, quaint, somewhat isolated, and by the ocean.  What more could you want?  MacHale does an excellent job of getting you to care about it through Tucker's love of the place.  It maybe have been a bit heavy-handed, but it then leads you to care when the quaintness of it is threatened.  This is one book where the setting truly shaped the story, and I appreciate that.  It was more than just a backdrop.  

Characters: ****
For the most part, Tucker is a three-dimensional and dynamic character.  At times, he could be a bit frustrating.  For example, why did he keep going after Olivia when it was clear she only went for whatever guy happened to be the best at football at any particular moment?  Yes, she's pretty, but she's obviously shallow, so why bother?  Apart from that, I liked him.  He's resourceful, determined, and genuine.  I just wish his personality had been even more distinct, especially since I know MacHale is capable of incredibly real-seeming characters.

His best friend, Quinn, made little impression on me.  His personality is much less defined, which makes him a mostly flat character.  Tori, another side character, was far more interesting.  She may have had even more personality than Tucker, and I'm eager to see how she develops in future books.  

Plot: ***** I have mixed feelings about the plot.  It took a long time to get moving--before that, it was slow and filled with too much football.  Here's the thing with extended descriptions of football games: as soon as you start talking about yard lines and fumbles and whatever else, you've lost me.  You've lost me even faster than you would if you started talking about cars.  To some extent, the games were important to the plot, but it didn't need to take up so much of the book.  Less football, more sci-fi weirdness and actual action, please.

After things started happening, though, the plot got interesting.  It moved along at a quick pace, and left me with so many questions that I didn't want to stop reading.  It may lack some originality, but I was still interested and invested.   And, of course, the ending leaves you with more questions that it answers.

Uniqueness: ***** This area left the most to be desired.    We have an "average" teenage guy who sees something suspicious, a quarantine, a secret government plot.  It's not a dystopian novel, but it used many similar tropes.  It does have some unique elements that reveal themselves towards the end, but I wish it stood out more from other books overall.

Writing: ***** I forgot how much MacHale loves choppy sentences and awkward phrasing.  Occasionally, I would stumble over an oddly worded passage, and sometimes it didn't flow like it should.  Still, the narration does a decent job telling the story.  For the most part, it stays out of the way, and gets you into Tucker's head.  It allows the story to take center stage, rather than the writing itself.  Tucker's voice could have been more prominent, but it didn't feel flat, either.

Likes: Nothing not already mentioned above.

Not-so-great: I kind of wanted a Pendragon reference like in Morpheus Road, but I didn't get one.  Then again, Morpheus Road lends itself better to that sort of thing.

Overall: For the most part, I enjoyed this.  It has its flaws, including a lack of originality, some awkward phrasing, and a slow beginning.  Still, it has a setting that I want to live in.  Tucker is an interesting and likable character, and I think we'll see him grow even more in the next book.  As side characters go, Quinn is too flat for my liking, but Tori had a distinct personality.  It moves along quickly, with plot twists that keep you guessing.  It's a 3.5 star book, but I'll round it up, and I'll most likely check out the sequel to see where the story goes from here.

Similar Books: It's a science fiction novel with dystopian overtones like The Lost Code and Variant.  It also reminds me of Virals.

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Saturday, June 21, 2014

How To Keep Track of Query Letters Using A Spreadsheet

When you start sending out query letters to literary agents, things can get jumbled and confusing surprisingly fast.  After all, how do you keep track of all the agents that rejected you?  People like to cite J.K. Rowling as an example of persevering through countless rejections--she was rejected twelve times before a publisher bought her work.  Twelve whole times.

I'm sorry, Ms. Rowling, but I have no sympathy for you.

The reality is that most writers send out many, many more query letters before they land that contract.  Dozens, at least, but probably higher.  I've heard average numbers in the hundreds.  It's just not realistic to expect an agent (or publisher) to bite after just twelve tries.

Because of that, you need a way to keep track of which agents you've queried.  If you only send a few queries, you can do this in your head.  Sooner or later, though, your memory won't be able to handle it.  That's why you need a good ol' Excel spreadsheet.

Your query tracker spreadsheet can, of course, include whatever information you want.  It's up to you.  If you want to keep things organized, though, it's going to need a few key things:
  1. Name of the agent you have queried, or would like to query.  This one is rather obvious, but it does ensure that you don't embarrass yourself by querying the same agent twice. 
  2. Date query letter was sent.  Some agents have a policy that if you don't hear back on your query within a certain amount of time, you should resend it.  Or, if you haven't heard back, no response equals a no thanks.  Check the website for their policy.
  3. Website link.  This makes it easy to double check submission requirements, if needed.
  4. Email address.  This isn't as necessary if you're looking through agents one at a time, but I tend to gather information about potential agents in groups, and then send out a bunch of queries at once.  This way, I don't have to go back to the website and search for the email in order to send it.
  5. Status of query.  Is it still waiting in the slush pile?  Has it been rejected?  Did you get a bite?  Is the agent closed to queries until a certain date?
  6. Items needed in submission.  In my experience, few agents require only a query letter.  Many times, they request a query letter, synopsis, or even the first few chapters of your work.  This way, you can make sure you aren't missing any pieces, because this in itself might cause an agent to pass on you.
These are the vital pieces of the spreadsheet, but I've found it helpful to include a few other things:
  1. Other relevant books represented by this agent.  A great place to start looking for people to query is to find out who represents your favorite books, or books similar to yours.  If your book is similar to something an agent already represents, you can mention this in your query, to give you a boost.
  2. Genres the agent represents.  Sometimes it's helpful to know what specific genres the agent deals in--is it YA, YA high fantasy, just high fantasy in general?  If you know this, you can tailor your query to it.
  3. Anything specific that the agent has requested.  If you read the agent's blog or follow them on Twitter, you might have seen them post something along the lines of "I'd love someone to send me a book about fire mermaids who live in the lava of Mount Doom".  If they request something that describes your book, you've hit a golden opportunity.  Mention this request in your query.  It will highlight the fact that your book fits the agent's specific interest, and it will let them know that you've made the effort to get to know them by checking out their social media.  There's a Tumblr that collects all these requests and puts them in one place for you.
When you have it laid out and filled in, the spreadsheet will look something like this:

Click for larger image.
The only major difference between yours and my sample is that on yours, all the genres, specific requests, and books represented will be related to your book.  Otherwise, there's not much point in recording the agent's information, or querying them, for that matter.  But obviously, you'll be querying people like Bucky and Gandalf.  No, I didn't get carried away when making this.  Why would you ask that?

That's all there is to it!  Making a query tracker spreadsheet isn't hard, but it'll keep you organized.  Plus, it'll allow you to avoid blunders like querying the same agent once, twice, or even three times.  Because that could get awkward.

If you want to read more about creating the query letter itself, has you covered (since I haven't written a post on that subject yet).  To learn about writing a synopsis (and my own experience with synopsis-writing), go here.  You can also read about my experience of sending my first query letters, or my list of what not to do in a query letter.

How do you keep track of query letters?  Is there anything you would add to the spreadsheet?  Any fun/interesting querying stories?
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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

16 Thoughts and Reactions to How To Train Your Dragon 2

Few pieces of fiction, no matter the medium, make me as happy as How To Train Your Dragon.  Ever since it first came into theaters, it's been one of my top five movies, maybe even top two (it can fight it out with The Return of the King).  It has so many awesome things: dragons, Norse settings, awkward people, a bittersweet ending, dragons...  I have been eagerly awaiting the sequel ever since, and after seeing the awesome trailer, I had high expectations.  Without further ado, here are my thoughts:

Note: There are major spoilers in numbers eight and nine.  There are vague spoilers in six and seven.  You have been warned.
  1. Alternate titles: How To Train Your Dragon 2: WHYYYYYYY, How To Train Your Dragon 2: On Your Left, Pixar*, How To Train Your Dragon 2: Toothless (And Some Other Characters, But We Know What Your Priorities Are), How To Train Your Dragon 2: Jon Snow Rides Dragons
  2. My little Hiccup grew up!  For the record: I have been in love with these movies since the first once came out in theaters in 2010.  Therefore, I am allowed to call Hiccup "my little Hiccup" because that's how fandoms work.  He's older than me now, but we'll ignore that.  In the first movie, he's awkward in an adorable way, unsure of himself, just trying to find his place.  It's the beginning of a coming-of-age.  In this movie, he's still all of those things--Hiccup will never not be awkward.  He's still not sure where he fits with the rest of his village, but he has more confidence.  He's gained a role, even if he's unsure it's one he wants.  It's even more of a coming-of-age story than the first.  (Also, did we just get Neville Longbottomed by an animated character?)  
  3. I'm disappointed in Astrid's role in this movie.  In the first movie, Astrid is an awesome fireball of sass, confidence, and curiosity.  She's more comfortable with herself than Hiccup, which intimidates him.  And yet, the end of the movie sees them developing a cute relationship that works despite their somewhat opposite personalities.  Five years later, and they're still together.  They're super-comfortable with each other, which would make sense if they've been a couple for several years.  Astrid still has so much more confidence than Hiccup, but we didn't get any moments where Astrid completely steals the show.  She never tells Hiccup off like she does in the first movie (and there are times in both where it's deserved).  She isn't a damsel in distress--she does her fair share of dragon riding and fighting--but she seems so much more passive.  She proves her strength by going off to rescue Hiccup, but I feel like her character development took a backseat.  
  4. That being said, I'm glad that there is no relationship drama.  So many movies (and books)  that establish a relationship feel the need to mess with it in the sequel.  Many times, this is more annoying than anything, and comes across and forced and unnecessary.  In HTTYD2, there is no relationship drama between Astrid and Hiccup, and I appreciate that.  While their relationship is an important part of the story, there are bigger things to worry about.  (Also, at one point, Stoick refers to Astrid as his "future daughter-in-law".  This leads me to wonder...are they engaged?  Or is Stoick just making an assumption?)   
  5. It's so visually interesting.  It's full of color and action.  The characters look cool, and so do the landscapes and everything in between.  Even if it had no plot or even sound, it would still be interesting to look at.  I know about as much about animation as I know about performing brain surgery, but it seems to me that someone at DreamWorks knows what they're doing.  And they do it well.  
  6. I love Hiccup's mom.  I was wary of this particular plot point, since there were so many ways it could go wrong.  Fortunately, it was handled so well.  Her reunion with Hiccup is just the right mixture of emotions: confusion, awkwardness, joy, regret.  She's afraid that Hiccup won't accept her, but he does.  She's impressed by his skill with the dragons, and he's impressed by how much he has left to learn.  It's a relationship that has so much room for growth in future movies.  Her reunion with Stoick was handled equally well, if not better.  But it hurts, since it was so short-lived. 
  7. KIND-OF SPOILER: This movie took a dark turn.  It isn't uncommon for sequels to get darker, but it's often unexpected in an animated PG movie.  It's no Order of the Pheonix or Mockingjay, but it deals directly with a death caused by a main character, imminent destruction of a home, and more.  It's sadder, and maybe even a little bit angrier.  It was a risk, but I think it paid off.  It adds interesting layers of character development while still leaving space for another sequel.  Even if it does mean I'm in another sad fandom.
  8. SPOILER: Zombie Toothless is scary.  Toothless is my favorite part of these movies.  I don't know how you can see him and not want a Night Fury.  He's friendly and loyal like a dog, but smarter.  And can fly.  What more could you want?  When he was under the control of the alpha dragon, all of that cuteness suddenly became menacing.  Now, no matter how much you love Toothless, you'll always have that image in your memory.  Have fun with that.  
  9. SPOILER: I go about my daily life and I'm fine until my brain decides to remind me that Toothless killed Stoick.  Them I'm no longer fine.  This is a kids' movie.  It's rated PG.  But that...that's harsh, for any movie.  I think everyone in the theater was at least a bit shocked when this happened.  While I suspected that a major character was going to die (they dropped the Hiccup's-mom-is-alive spoiler bombshell in the trailer months ago, and there's only one reason to drop something like that so soon: you're hiding an even bigger bomb somewhere), I never expected this.  And then I just sat there, my brain going "DO NOT WANT".  Just when they had gotten the family back together, too.  The worst part, though, is when Hiccup pushes Toothless away immediately afterward.  It's such a hard moment because Toothless can't possibly understand what he's done or why Hiccup is angry, but Hiccup can't even bear to look at him.  
  10. Whoops, I accidentally joined a sad fandom again.  I don't try to do this.  It just happens automatically.  I wouldn't have considered HTTYD a "sad fandom" before, but now it definitely counts as one.  Why does this keep happening?  
  11. Jon Snow, what are you doing in Berk?  Get back to the Wall.  I'll admit that it took longer than it should have for me to take Eret, the dragon hunter, seriously.  He's voiced by Kit Harington, and, well, I associate Kit Harington with Jon Snow, for obvious reasons.  Is this a subtle message to Jon/Daenerys shippers?
  12. Ruffnut is basically Tumblr.  Her adoration for Eret is just like Tumblr's obsession with Benedict Cumberbatch or [insert male celebrity here].  I expect GIFs reflecting this as soon as the DVD comes out.
  13. The soundtrack is fantastic.  I own the first movie's soundtrack, so I was already familiar with the themes and style of the second movie's music.  While HTTYD2 used many of the same themes from its predecessor, it also built and expanded on them.  It will sound familiar to people who know the first movie's music, but it's not the same, either.  It's epic, majestic, haunting, or subdued, in all the right places.  I could say more, but why bother when you can just go listen to it yourself?  
  14. Dragons.  I love dragons, and books/movies about them.  I love these movies, Eragon (but please, the book...), A Song of Ice and Fire, etc.  I even wrote a book about dragons.  And the ones in this movie don't disappoint.  There are cute and awesome ones in the first movie, but there's even more variety in the sequel.  It's like Pokémon--there are just so many.  Even ice dragons.  How cool is that? 
  15. I'm skeptical about a third movie.  I love both these movies, and I will gladly go see the third.  The plot isn't begging for a third movie, but it left enough lose ends to make another possible.  The problem is that sequels have this nasty little habit of going downhill, and I would rather see this series end on a high note.  Maybe the third movie will be awesome, but I also think there's no point in making another just for the sake of it.   
  16. Ultimately, I still like the first movie better.  You know how I feel about the sequel, but overall, the first is still my favorite.  It's easy for that to happen with anything, since when you watch the sequel, the first has already become a long-time favorite.  Still, HTTYD has a bit more charm than HTTYD2.  I'm not sure what specifically makes it better, but at this point, I still like it more. 
    But Hiccup does have a fire sword in the sequel...
How To Train Your Dragon 2 is fun.  It's colorful.  It's surprisingly sad.  It's fast-paced.  It's so many things, but not a disappointment.  Also, it has dragons, so what's not to love?

Did you see HTTYD2?  How do you think it compares to the first movie?  How do you feel about That Thing That Happened? 

*Yes, I did just throw in a Winter Soldier reference.  I'm still not over Bucky Barnes.  Don't judge me.

PS: I saw OneRepublic, The Script, and American Authors live last night.  It was amazing.  Everything about it was just...awesome.  OneRepublic and The Script have been some of my all-time favorite artists for a long time, and it was so cool to get to see them live.
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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Kinslayer (The Lotus War #2) by Jay Kristoff

The mad Shōgun Yoritomo has been assassinated by the Stormdancer Yukiko, and the threat of civil war looms over the Shima Imperium. The Lotus Guild conspires to renew the nation’s broken dynasty and crush the growing rebellion simultaneously – by endorsing a new Shōgun who desires nothing more than to see Yukiko dead.

Yukiko and the mighty thunder tiger Buruu have been cast in the role of heroes by the Kagé rebellion. But Yukiko herself is blinded by rage over her father’s death, and her ability to hear the thoughts of beasts is swelling beyond her power to control. Along with Buruu, Yukiko’s anchor is Kin, the rebel Guildsman who helped her escape from Yoritomo’s clutches. But Kin has his own secrets, and is haunted by visions of a future he’d rather die than see realized.

Kagé assassins lurk within the Shōgun’s palace, plotting to end the new dynasty before it begins. A waif from Kigen’s gutters begins a friendship that could undo the entire empire. A new enemy gathers its strength, readying to push the fracturing Shima imperium into a war it cannot hope to survive. And across raging oceans, amongst islands of black glass, Yukiko and Buruu will face foes no katana or talon can defeat.

The ghosts of a blood-stained past.

Released: September 17th 2013      Pages: 432
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books    Source: Library

When the first book came out, you could only make two words out in all the noisy hype: Japanese steampunk.  Many people, myself included, forgave Stormdancer some of its flaws because the setting was just too cool.  

I'm not prepared to do the same thing for Kinslayer.  The setting alone can't carry this sequel.  Either that, or it suffers from some major middle-of-the-trilogy sagging.  One way or the other, I'm disappointed.

My biggest problem with this book was that I got bored after about fifty pages, and stayed that way until it ended.  There was a lot of talk of revolution, but it took forever for the revolution to actually happen.  Yukiko hardly did anything; she rode around on Buruu, got captured, and little else.  So much of the book read like filler, and I just wanted something to happen.  And even when things started happening, they still didn't grab my interest.

There are so many POVs in this book, and some of them felt unnecessary.  I thought Yukiko was the main character here, but it seemed like she gets the least attention of anybody, in terms of number of chapters.  Was it really necessary to show us Michi's affair with what's-his-name?  To give us a look at whatever Hiro is up to (not much)?  So much of this could have been cut out of the book, and it would have been more streamlined and plot-focused.  Instead, it meandered all over the place.  

Another problem is all the unfamiliar words thrown into the narration.  Things like foods, clothing items, weapons, etc. were given Japanese names.  That's fine, except that many of these were never explained in English terms, apart from the glossary.  I'm okay with books like this having a glossary, but not if the author relies on it to explain himself.  Let's face it--if I come across an unfamiliar term in a book I'm already annoyed with, am I going to look it up in the glossary?  Nope.  I don't mind glossaries in themselves, as long as the foreign term is explained at least once, or the author gives me some clue as to what this is.  But don't expect me to rely on a glossary in order to keep up with the terminology.

Don't get me wrong--this book's setting is incredibly awesome.  I love it.  It's unique, interesting, and gritty.  The steampunk elements are woven seamlessly with Japanese mythology.  On top of all this, it has a strong dystopian feeling, making it unlike anything I've read before.  If nothing else, there are fantastical creatures like Buruu.  I love his sass, and his constant love for Yukiko.    
The setting might be enough to save it from a two-star rating, but it's not enough to carry the entire book.  Overall, I was bored and annoyed by this.  Yes, I loved the Japanese steampunk aspect, but there were still too many POVs to keep track of, and there was still too much reliance on the glossary to explain the worldbuilding.  I'm not impressed by this, and I don't think I'll bother with the sequel.  

Similar Books: It combines steampunk and fantasy elements like The Girl in the Steel Corset and The Iron Thorn.  It combines steampunk and dystopian aspects like Incarceron.  It is heavily inspired by Asian mythology like Eon: Dragoneye Reborn.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Rebel Heart (Dust Lands #2) by Moira Young

It seemed so simple: Defeat the Tonton, rescue her kidnapped brother, Lugh, and then order would be restored to Saba's world. Simplicity, however, has proved to be elusive. Now, Saba and her family travel west, headed for a better life and a longed-for reunion with Jack. But the fight for Lugh's freedom has unleashed a new power in the dust lands, and a formidable new enemy is on the rise.

What is the truth about Jack? And how far will Saba go to get what she wants? In this much-anticipated follow-up to the riveting Blood Red Road, a fierce heroine finds herself at the crossroads of danger and destiny, betrayal and passion.

Released: August 2nd 2012                      Pages: 424
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books   Source: Library

Again, here is another example of me being horrible at getting around to reading sequels.  I read Blood Red Road in the summer of 2012, and I liked it, but...I don't even know.  Rebel Heart just wasn't on my radar since then, for some reason.  Part of it has to do with my book acquisition and reading style, though.  For example, my brother has to read a series back-to-back.  He's been known to not read books because the series hasn't all been released yet.  I can't pass up a shiny new release and wait that long.  That just isn't going to happen.  A friend of mine will get the entire series from the library at once and read them straight through, but I can't get more than the first book on one trip.  I plan library trips carefully, and why am I going to get the second two books in a trilogy if there's a possibility I'll hate the first?

Anyway, you probably didn't come here to read about my reading habits.  Which is okay.  I don't know why you'd care.

Rebel Heart carries the same intensity and rawness of Blood Red Road.  There's enough action and suspense to keep those pages turning.  There's a sweet yet troubled romance to add a softer side.  There's grit and adventure, and the ominous governing force at work in almost every YA dystopian novel.  There's an ending that leaves you wanting the sequel.

While all of these aspects are important parts of the novel, they aren't where its true beauty lies.  Moira Young's true talent is in taking a not-unfamiliar dystopian plot structure and making it incredibly personal for the main character, Saba.  And, by extension, the reader.  Saba has some desire to create a better world out of her ravaged homeland, but it's not her true focus.  At heart, all she wants is to keep her family safe and together, and to be with Jack.  Which just so happen to be the hardest things to accomplish.  This makes it so much easier to connect to Saba, even though she's prickly and hardened.  The focus is not on some overarching rebellion that is so large the reader can't take it all in; it's in things everyone knows.  Family, loneliness, love.

Moira Young makes all this seem personal with her unique writing style.  It's perhaps the main thing that makes this book stand out.  Saba is uneducated, and the narration reads like her speech.  It's messy and incorrect.  Instead of making it difficult to read, though, it just makes it seem rougher around the edges, which is exactly what Saba is like.  It does take some getting used to, but it's not difficult.  My only problem is with the lack of quotation marks around dialogue--this is a stylistic choice that I don't understand, and every so often, it threw me off.

Much of this book involves traveling, and that got a little slow.  I was never flat-out bored, but every so often I found myself wishing for a change of pace.  Also, the story tended to introduce multiple side characters all at once, making it hard to keep track of them all.  Still, neither of these issues prevented me from enjoying this.  It's not perfect, but I love how raw and gritty it is.  It's honest, and doesn't shy away from anything: Saba's conflicted emotions, the impact of a horrible past, the harsh reality of living in a dystopian environment.  This time, I'll try to not wait two years before reading the next book.
Similar Books: It's a dystopian novel that focuses on a sister relationship like The Hunger Games.  It's gritty like Ship Breaker and its companion The Drowned Cities, Railsea, and The Knife of Never Letting Go.

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Sunday, June 8, 2014

GIF Usage 101

If you haven't noticed by now that I am way too fond of using GIFs, you should probably work on your observation skills.  GIFs are incredibly versatile, and they can be so much more effective than words in certain situations.  You probably haven't been wondering how to become fluent in the use of the GIF, but I'm going to give you this introductory course anyway.
  • I have yet to come across a situation for which I cannot find an acceptable GIF.  Are you 100% done with this conversation?  There's a GIF for that.
      Do you like something that just happened?  There's a GIF for that.  
    Do you just have no idea how to respond?  There's a GIF for that, too. 
  • GIFs can clarify your words.  If I say "I'm sad", you have a general idea of what I'm trying to say.  But if I supplement that phrase with a reaction GIF, you'll get a better idea of my sadness.  Am I David-Tennant-ugly-crying sad ...
  • ...or Loki-my-eyes-are-constantly-watery sad? 
  • Start some sort of GIF collection.  Trust me; it'll be awesome.  I have one on Pinterest.  I'm not even going to tell you how many GIFs are in it because I don't want your judgement.  (No, you can't see it--it's a secret board because of reasons.)  If you have a GIF collection stored somewhere, you'll be able to easily scroll through and find the perfect GIF for your situation.  Then, if you ever come across a GIF that you don't want to lose, you can save it and have it forever.  
  • You know you want to make a fandom reference.  A GIF can do that for you. 
  • And you can also make a brilliant crossover reference. 
    Lestrade recognizes that the Council has made a decision, but since it's not his division, he's elected to ignore it.
  • It's a picture.  That moves.  Infinitely.  It's basically sorcery.  React accordingly.
  • You can use them to catch people's attention.  I could start out a blog or forum post by saying hi.  With text.  And as lovely as Times New Roman might be, how much more interesting would it be to be greeted by this?  
    If a picture is worth a thousand words, then what is the worth of a little snippet of video that keeps going forever, even after your wifi dies?  Human brains and eyes are trained to focus on movement and change.  When we first enter a website, our eyes are immediately drawn to any movement on the screen.  In this case, a GIF.  This automatically captures our attention.
  • Use them to punctuate your Goodreads status updates.  I do this all the time.  It's so much fun, and it's often satisfying to post a Hulk-smash GIF when something that just happened in a book makes you angry.  Or you just don't feel like using words, and anyway, GIFs tend to make everything funnier, if well-placed.  Here's an example of one of my status updates from when I read The Isle of Blood:
    Annie is on page 345 of 538
    "Conan Doyle's face was a study in scarlet."

  • High-resolution GIFs.  Use them.  How pretty is this?  There might not always be a high-quality GIF around for you to use, but if there is, go for it.*   
  • Express emotions that cannot be described using words.  Like this.  I'm not sure what to call this emotion, but it's an emotion, so...GIF. 
  • Where do you find GIFs?  Best place: Tumblr.  The GIF is the language, currency, and weapon of choice of Tumblr users.  Besides, if you're looking for a truly inexplicable GIF, or a fandom GIF, they've got you covered.  If all else fails, simply do a Google image search on "Hulk smash GIF" or "happy kitten GIF" or whatever you're looking for.  (There are some GIFs that I do not recommend searching for.  It's Tumblr.  You know what I mean.)  
  • GIFs can tell a story.  Remember that time I posted my retelling of Macbeth, in GIFs?  Okay, so I didn't post it here, even though I'm irrationally proud of it.  It's on Goodreads, though, and maybe someday I should put it here.  It proves that you can use unrelated GIFs to tell a story, in the same way that you can use words.  Maybe I should publish an entire series of Shakespeare plays retold in GIFs.  Why do I have a bad feeling that this will be my legacy on the internet? 
  • GIFs are the number one way of keeping the Leonardo-DiCaprio-can't-get-an-Oscar joke alive.  I know these things because science.  This is a joke that I don't think I'll ever get tired of, so why not immortalize it in a GIF? 
  • You can use GIFs to inflict feels upon your innocent readers.  Because why not?  Like this: 
    Or this:
    Too soon?  Nah.  Anytime you bring Reichenbach or 'Empty Chairs At Empty Tables' into anything, you're going to have someone sobbing and saying, "Too soon!"  Even fifty years from now.  
  • There's a legend on Tumblr that says that if you say "Supernatural" three times, the Supernatural fandom will appear with a related GIF.  Or they'll just infiltrate all your text posts.  This fandom, more than any other, is notorious for having a GIF for every single situation you could ever dream of.  And wielding them like Tony Stark with grenades on a sugar high.  Maybe you think I'm joking about this, but I'm not.  Proof.  More proof.  Even more proof.  There's actually a Tumblr that is devoted to keeping track of all these GIFs.
  • Some GIFs serve no purpose, but they're still fun.  For example, take this GIF from The Winter Soldier.  It doesn't really work as a reaction GIF for anything, but it's still amusing.  Some GIFs are not necessarily reaction GIFs, but that doesn't mean they're not worthwhile. 
I hope this introductory course to GIF usage has been enlightening.  Or entertaining.  Or even a little of both.

How do you use GIFs?  What's your favorite GIF?  Have fandom GIFs ever ruined your beautiful hipster text posts on Tumblr?

*While trying to find a GIF of space, I came across this GIF of Kili riding bacon through space.  I just thought you should know.
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