Saturday, May 31, 2014

Tea Time: The 5th Wave

**Warning: Spoilers May Abound**

The 5th Wave, Rick Yancey

After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

 Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up. (source:goodreads)

Cover-I kind of love the dual-tones and how it's used to convey light and dark. Symbolic? Probably. The point is that it stands out, thanks to the fact that it's either really bright or really dark; the bold contrast just kind of drew my eye, particularly to the center: girl (who's in shadow so you can't see her very well, which I kind of love) and title. And the more you look at it, the more you see the city in the background, then the smoke, then the fact that the girl is walking away from the audience and not toward them.

Okay, maybe I'm looking way too far into it, but I love covers like this that make me want to stare at them for ages until I see everything there is to see. There's no real word I can use to describe it, but hey, maybe it's just me.

★★★★★

Narrative-This was really interesting for me, another of those books that made me really study the way the author was using narrative. The book is told in both third person and first person POV. The first person encapsulates Cassie's POV and also another character who you learn to call "Zombie" (he actually has a real name, and I love the way it ties together). The third person POV, if memory serves, shows up once, in the span of just a few pages, under a third character. It's the only time we're ever in his POV, but it really helps to tie in details later (as in when I figured it out I was giddy with smugness).

Cassie's voice is fantastic. She's sharp and sarcastic, nostalgic, extremely sad, but also capable of looking forward and realizing there might be a chance, which all showed through really well in word choice and the tangents she went off on. Her humanness is captured extremely well, in my opinion; it was never a dull moment from her perspective, and when the novel shifted to Zombie I was always a little bit eager to get back to this girl.

Zombie was a bit different, which I would blame simply on the fact that he's in a much different situation than Cassie. It was kind of wonderful because, through him there's this aspect of, Huh?, where, as the reader, I was really trying to decipher what was happening in the novel as a whole through his perspective.

I might have delved slightly into character, here, but oh well. Bottom line is that I think Yancey did a good job with telling a story through the eyes of two people who were in widely different situations, with widely different perspectives on what was happening around them, while also capturing the voice of teenagers well (which I feel like I can say because I am, technically, still a teenager).

I also want to point out the way in which Yancey gave us the history of Earth's past few months (well, Cassie's back story, at least) and he somehow made it not be an info-dump. I'm still trying to decipher how he did it, but seriously. Wow. I'd give him an applause.

★★★★☆

Plot-Alien invasions are some of my favorite things to read about. Not conspiracy theories or anything, but one of my favorite shows is "Falling Skies" and one of my favorite movies is "Independence Day." So I had really high standards for this book.

The plot centers around two things: Cassie is trying to save her little brother, Sammy, who she last saw on a bus on his way to a safe zone, and the mysterious "5th Wave." As far as the alien's attempt at eradicating human life on earth, the "Waves" were pretty interesting, and include an electromagnetic pulse that took out anything electronic (electricity, transport, phones, iPods, etc), and goes as far as a disease that kills anybody who catches it (which is most people). The 4th wave has already hit, so the question remains: what's the 5th and final weapon that the alien invaders are using?

I have to admit, it was diabolical. It's easiest to figure out through the eyes of Zombie, and I admit that most of what was happening on his end was me going: "Okay, there's something really bad about to happen, and there's something really wrong about all of this. But what is it?" There's definitely clues everywhere; as the reader, you're the one trying to figure it all out before the big reveal, and it's one of those things that made me constantly doubt myself because it's simple yet complex at the same time and my brain was practically folding in on itself trying to get it all straightened out.

Like mysteries? You'll probably enjoy trying to figure this one out.

On the other end of the plot spectrum is Cassie, trying to get to her brother, which involves staying out of sight of alien drones, other people, and the feared "silencers" whose only purpose is to kill the humans. Then she meets Evan, and she's trying to figure out if he's one of them or one of the humans, both of which could get her killed. So there's another mystery, but on her end is the more "survivalist" notion that draws me to many books: on her own, doesn't even know how to shoot a gun properly, trying to survive.

Overall, it was slow at points, but a pretty good thriller-type of book.

★★★★☆

Characters-Back to characters. I already gave kind of a low-down on Cassie and Zombie (sorry, my bad; go back up to the Narrative section if you need another read).

Basically: I loved Cassie. Like, I wanted to be her best friend. Her insights that were written in her "diary" felt real and true, and that's sort of what drew me in. Then, when she meets Evan, there's all these little clues that surround them, and you want to yell at her because it's so obvious, but again her humanness shows through: there's some things that she doesn't want to believe, because she can't tear the one good thing that's happened to her away.

Zombie was a little more "eh" on my end, but I honestly couldn't put it into words on my end. Personal tastes? That "eh" is definitely not on Yancey, though. He's just as well portrayed as Cassie was, and just as well-rounded with his own history and what the initial Waves of the alien invasion were like. He's made mistakes that he'll never have a chance to make right, and while there's that moment of "he's an ass" and "how the hell could he manage to do that?" I couldn't make myself hate him because he obviously felt a tremendous amount of guilt. And I mean, hey, it's human nature. Fight or flight, y'know? Anybody can criticize him for what he did and say they'd act differently, but the fact is that once you're in the middle of a situation you really don't know how you're going to act. That's a point that I really liked about Zombie; he's the one who, in hindsight, made the wrong decision.

Evan: he's such a mystery. I kept trying to figure him out over and over again, believing one thing and then another, and there were times when I was just like, "oh, who cares, he's the perfect guy!" Other side characters include Dr. Pam (I guess she's a side character; she's recognizable, I guess), Vosch, Ringer (I seriously kind of loved her), Cassie's dad, and then Sammy/Nugget. Since it's a survivalist sort of book, it really does make sense that there's not a lot of characters, and I'm glad that the character list is overall kept short.

★★★★☆

To end this thing, I'm going to quote myself. This is my exact reaction to finishing the book, and as usual I apologize for cursing:




Yes, Rick Yancey, you did that to me. And that's really hard to do, because it means that I was more invested in a book than I originally thought, so that last and final page came as a legitimate shock.

Good thing the sequel comes out in September.

Final Answer: 4.25 / 5

Rae

Friday, May 30, 2014

Cover Reveal: Deadly Sweet Lies

Okay, so I know that today's post is slightly later than usual, but there's a good reason. Erica Cameron from Spencer Hill Press is coming out with a new book, Deadly Sweet Lies. Check it out!

Deadly Sweet Lies
The Dream War Saga, #2

Nadette Lawson knows when you're lying
Every night for the past two years, the Balasura have visited her dreams, enticing her to enter their world. And every night she's seen through their lies. Now, they're tired of playing in the shadows and they begin to stalk her in the waking world. It's no longer just an invitation; if Nadette doesn't join them, they'll take her family. Forever. She needs help, and the haven she's seeking may be just out of reach.

Julian Teagan is a master of deception.

To survive, he has to convince the world his mother isn't useless, that everything's fine, otherwise he'll lose what little he has left in this life. He knows the lying won't be enough to keep him and his mother in the shadows, but it's all he knows. The only light of truth is Orane, a Balasura who sees past Julian's facade and challenges him to face the darkness.

Then Orane is killed, and Julian learns his mentor was far from innocent. The Balasura have hunted children like him for centuries, and their next target, Nadette is his one chance at finally being a part of something real. If Julian can just convince her to trust him...

Meet the Author:

Erica Cameron knew that writing was her passion when she turned a picture book into a mystery novella as a teen. That piece wasn't her best work, but it got her an A. After college, she used her degree in Psycology and Creative Writing to shape a story about a dreamworld. Then a chance encounter at a rooftop party in Tribeca made her dream career a reality.

Erica is many things but most notably the following: writer, reader, editor, dancer, choreographer, singer, lover of musical theater, movie obsessed, sucker for romance, Florida resident, and quasi-recluse. She loves the beach but hates the heat, has equal passion for the art of Salvador Dali and Venetian Carnival masks, has a penchant for unique jewelry and sun/moon d├ęcor pieces, and a desire to travel the entire world on a cruise ship. Or a private yacht. You know, whatever works.

Her debut novel Sing Sweet Nightingale released March 4, 2014 from Spencer Hill Press. It is the first book in The Dream War Saga. (source:goodreads)

Find Erica on Facebook, Twitter, her website, or The Dream War Saga site.
 

Alright, ya'll. Cover time! And I've got the whole jacket for ya'll:


 Title: Deadly Sweet Lies
Author: Erica Cameron
Release Date: 2015

Add it to your Goodreads
What do ya'll think? And be sure to check out the first book in the Dream War Saga, Sing Sweet Nightingale.

Rae

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Thoughts on Doing "Nothing"

I have a jumble of things on my mind right now, and most of them include the following: I've done nothing the past few days.

Last week, I was on a legitimate roll. I reached 30 k in The Hollow Men and read four books (yup, four of them). And it was wonderful. Then Tuesday hit, and Wednesday, and I didn't even write this blog post until the last second. Want to know what I've been doing the last 48-hours?

I watched World War Z about 10 times on repeat and went to the gym once. It would have been twice (I try to go once a day, sue me), but the ID card reader that opens the door has decided that it hates me and won't let me in, which inspired me to do 40 crunches on my bedroom floor last night.

The only other thing I've done besides work is play on my new tablet (it's so shiny and gorgeous and has a keyboard that literally magnetizes to the case for easy carrying. Snazzy, right?).

On said new tablet, I have Microsoft Word, the perfect thing to have when you're 1) a writer, and 2) need to practice using a keyboard that's about half the size as the one you usually use. So I started writing a new idea that I got from World War Z (somehow, it's not even about zombies. Go figure, right?).

And 6.5 thousand words later, I'm calling it "nothing" and I have no clue what I'm doing. To be honest, I both feel like I've wasted the last 48-hours of my life and done the funnest thing ever: I'm experimenting.

There's that "rule" that says not to break the rules until you master them. I call (excuse the expletive) bullsh*t. Because everybody needs to break the rules in order to figure out where they fit and where their style is. So half of that "nothing" project that's not about zombies is basically me just tapping at the keys and hoping it makes sense, and I'm fairly certain that most of it doesn't.

It feels absolutely fantastic. Sometimes, you really just need to get the random writing ideas you have out of your system. Keep them, of course, but once you're done you tend to be a bit refreshed and can go back to doing "something." My something happens to be reading one book after another, getting my blog posts done on time (I'm only about an hour late, guys; that's still impressive in my book), and writing The Hollow Men.

Wait, one more thing: I'm also trying not to melt because it's about 100 degrees F  in Las Cruces right now and apparently my work knows absolutely nothing about this wonderful thing called air conditioning. That counts as "something," too, right?

For the most part, nothing feels kind of good sometimes, so long as you actually have time to spare. I wouldn't be caught dead doing "nothing" in the middle of the semester. Heck, I don't even get to go to bed as early as 10 pm in the middle of the semester.

Even if my "nothing" project that's not about zombies doesn't go anywhere, and I cringe just thinking about it, I have no regrets.

Stay Cool,

Rae

P.S.: the air conditioning literally just came on. Happiest person alive, right here

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

On Researching

Due to not only my own experiences but some friends' experiences, as well, I can say the following with a rather large amount of confidence (excuse the expletive):

You find some weird sh*t in a writer's search history.

Why? Well, it's simple: we need to know some weird and admittedly alarming things in order to make our books realistic. And I mean things that would make J. Edgar Hoover cringe if he was tapping our internet. For example, today alone I researched: how to make a fake I.D., what would happen (generally) if a nuclear bomb went off in the middle of a city (I found a really interesting video from the history channel where they go through the consequences of one hitting Washington, D.C.), and history's deadliest diseases.

Fake I.D., nuclear bombs, disease. Honestly, put a fresh pair of eyes on that and what would you think?

The word "research" makes a lot of people cringe, including me. Three weeks ago I was finishing up three different research papers that were making my head practically explode. Research is no friend of mine.

But to everything I say, there is usually an exception, and the exception to research is: I love researching when it's fun.

Kind of a no-brainer, right?

When you're writing a book, the reins are more than likely in your own hands. It's your plot, which means that you're more than likely writing about things that stand out to you, that interest you. To give you an example, take my book, The Hollow Men: it's about a futuristic world erupting into war, and it centers around espionage and human/machine hybrids, to put it bluntly. Right away, I can give you three things that are worth researching with these things in mind:

-past wars and military techniques (I'm drawing heavily on WWII for this novel)
-espionage (current laws and also ways in which people might get dragged into it, and also how they might hide their involvement)
-the theory of cyborgs and advanced prosthesis (I think that's the word; I had to look it up), and theories of how a human body could endure/survive in extreme circumstances

That's more like six or eight things, but hey. And the best part: I love learning about these things. Hence, why I write about them. So while I would rather just write and hope I sound smart, researching itself isn't too heavy a burden because I enjoy knowing what I'm talking about (for the most part; the internet only gets you so far).

Researching for your own books can be fun, honestly. And to give your mood a boost when you're just not feeling it, look in your search history and laugh away at the fact that if the government's watching, they probably want to figure out a way to arrest you because it's honestly a it concerning what writers tend to research.

Happy writing!

Rae

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Tea Time: The Pledge

**Warning: Spoilers May Abound**

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10637748-the-pledge?from_search=trueThe Pledge, Kimberly Derting

In the violent country of Ludania, the classes are strictly divided by the language they speak. The smallest transgression, like looking a member of a higher class in the eye while they are speaking their native tongue, results in immediate execution. Seventeen-year-old Charlaina has always been able to understand the languages of all classes, and she's spent her life trying to hide her secret. The only place she can really be free is the drug-fueled underground clubs where people go to shake off the oppressive rules of the world they live in. It's there that she meets a beautiful and mysterious boy named Max who speaks a language she's never heard before . . . and her secret is almost exposed.

Charlie is intensely attracted to Max, even though she can't be sure where his real loyalties lie. As the emergency drills give way to real crisis and the violence escalates, it becomes clear that Charlie is the key to something much bigger: her country's only chance for freedom from the terrible power of a deadly regime.
(source:goodreads)


Cover- For some reason, I'm incredibly drawn to this cover. Painting the majority of it one color (in this case, black) makes way for the girl to pop, but only in little bits (you get an arm and half a face, so). I mean, it's a pretty-girl-on-the-cover kind of cover, but it's not the kind that you normally see with this behold, all, I have the power kind of attitude. It's more like she's hiding, or at least that's the gist I get. Which fits in really well with the theme of, you know, hiding.

And the title is small, but not so small it's unreadable. I really love when cover designers manage to do this, when they don't have to shout the title to make themselves heard. It's small and simple, and I find the faded letters spelling out "pledge" in the background to be an infinitely subtle yet cool design choice.

★★★★★

Narrative-The point of view was really interesting. The majority of the book is told in first person from Charlie's point of view; occasionally, however, it slips to different people: the Queen, Max, or another character by the name of Xavier. Those three POVs are told from third-person. Together, it actually intrigued me. I'd read books before with different POVs, but it usually remained in either first or third-person, so it was really refreshing to read something that pulled these two together to tell a story. It was jarring at first, but it enabled me to keep Charlie as the focus, since hers was the only view in which I was directly in her head.

Kudos, Derting. Definite brownie points, there.

Besides that, I've really got nothing to say besides it was a smooth read. Unless I'm forgetting something. In which I sincerely apologize.

★★★★☆

Plot-Just a warning, I think this is one of those places where it starts to get dicey.

I love the idea of the world that Derting created: different languages for different classes and all that jazz. It's not even an uncommon idea; it wasn't too long ago in our own history where only those who could afford it (ie, the rich) could go to school and learn Latin and French and all that. And the magic mixed in? Totally cool, not even kidding. And not only does Charlie have this ability to understand any and all languages (even ones she's never heard before), her little sister has cool magic abilities, too.

Put frankly: I love the mix of magic and crumbling society. I loved Charlie's role in just wanting to remain quiet, and I love that, in the background, there's this need she feels to protect her own country against the rebellions suffocating her world. Her eventual inclusion into the underground rebellion was fantastic, too.

What got me was the pacing. I loved the plot (see above) but I feel like it was condensed, like there were things taken out that should have stayed, if only to make some of the transitions a bit smoother. So that made it a tiny bit of a jerky ride for me.

★★★☆

Characters-The characters were fantastic. Charlie was spunky, but knew how to survive in her world; the Queen was deliciously evil and wicked, and it wasn't overplayed to make it tacky; Brooklyn was the sweet best friend with a weird alter-ego; Max was that weird stranger who was also mysterious, that guy who you want to stay away from but you also want to be near at the same time.

Admittedly, Brooklyn's alter-ego was a bit like a switch. Like BAM this girl is somebody else. It kind of ties back into what I said about the plot, where I felt like something was missing, but I was willing to overlook it for the most part.

And tying on to that, I feel like there could have been more, overall, to the entire cast in terms of development. I mean, in the end it kind of became predictable how each character would act, which is both a good and a bad thing.

Regardless, I'm feeling generous:

★★★★☆

So I guess this wasn't the most brilliant thing I'd ever read, but it wasn't a complete let-down. I enjoyed it, which, above all, is the most important thing for a book. It's not necessarily at the top of my recommendation list, but I did like it.

As in, the sequel is already in my Nook library, waiting to be read.

Final Answer: 4 /5

Happy Reading,

Rae 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Creating History

This post is completely double-edged. Not only is history important in terms of the setting and plot, but characters as well.

So, triple-edged sword?

Setting

My friend, Hannah, wrote a post on her blog about a month ago, encouraging her readers to explore the history of their worlds. To put it in her words: "Every setting has a backstory. Every neighborhood sits with a silent--or not so silent--story, waiting to be heard."

And she's right. Like always.

Cities, countries, empires, etc. didn't just pop into existence from nothing, and neither did whatever setting you're working with. There were settlements by outside people, clashes with natives, wars-so many wars-and finally something that looks like peace (*snorts*) in the present-day United States. I just finished reading The Pledge, by Kimberly Derting, and we're given a mini-history lesson about why there's only queens, why there's no presidents or ministers or any male leader whatsoever within the countries that now inhabit the world.

The history of a place is important. While you don't have to spill every detail about it within the span of your novel, it's an important aspect of the author to understand so that they can create a world that's consistent with events that happened in the past.

Plot

History also has a huge impact on the plot. I gave an example above about The Pledge: at one time in the history of this world, there were royal families who lead their countries. Eventually they were brought down in favor of other leaders, which didn't work out too well. So, the people took them down, too, and reestablished the rule of queens which, for the most part, has worked out.

This history, and the fear of repeating it, is so strong that the people are adamant that, while the current queen must be brought down, there has to be another queen to take her place.

No parliaments or Congresses. No presidents, senators, or representatives. A queen.

History often acts as a lesson for the present and the future. It scares people into making laws and creating societal order that might crumble sooner or later, but it's better than what used to be. And when it does fall, then it, too, becomes a lesson. Understanding the history of your world can have a direct impact on the events that befall your characters, depending on how much of it the characters know and understand, and it can affect the way they think and the way they act, and thus somewhat dictates their actions.

This is actually a really great lead-in to:

Characters

The history of a certain character will legitimately shape their attitudes and the way they see their world when they're older. For example: in Cinder, the main character has been raised under the awfulness of her step-mother/guardian and the prejudices of everybody else who knows she's a cyborg. So she's kind of bitter, and hardened. And because people don't tend to pay attention to her, the moment somebody does (like the Prince) she finds herself willing to think about them in different ways.

Characters who are brought up around money with parents who give them everything they've ever wanted will tend to be a bit more on the bratty and privileged side, while those raised around money with parents to expected perfection out of them in return might be more stressed, even quiet, and probably a bit more rebellious.

Was your character ever abandoned by somebody, or betrayed, or they've spent most of their lives alone? They probably don't trust easy.

This might border more on psychology, as well, but the experiences that face a character during their lifetime shape them; their histories make them who they are and determine their thought processes and instincts. So knowing your characters' histories, as well, is an immensely important aspect of a novel, even though the majority of it might never be read by your audience.

Thoughts or questions? Let me know!

Rae

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Tea Time: Cinder

I've come to the conclusion that if I read enough books during the week to warrant two reviews before the next Tuesday (the day normally reserved for reviews), then I'll post another on Saturday.

And I'm really excited that I need to post on Saturday, because it means that I'm reading a lot.

**Warning: Spoilers May Abound**

Cinder, Marissa Meyer (The Lunar Chronicles #1)

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. 

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future. (source:goodreads)

Cover-First, I just really want to point out that it's  the leg of a cyborg *squeals* I'm going to be squealing a lot in this review because it's the only way to accurately describe how excited I get just thinking about this book. IT'S A CYBORG, YA'LL.

Okay, I'm sorry, I just have a weakness when it comes to human/machine hybrids.

*squeals again*

Over all, the cover is somewhat simple, which allows for rather descriptive text that has both a futuristic and a fairy tale feel at the same time. Combined with the iconic symbol of the shoe, it really speaks to the fact that it's basically a science-fiction retelling of the classic tale, Cinderella, with little changes here and there.

The one thing that kind of put me off was that nowhere in this book did a red pump (no matter how gorgeous) pop up. I was watching for it and it never actually happened, unless I'm missing something. In which case, I sincerely apologize.

I can't overlook the fact that this cover is basically stunning, though.

★★★★

Narrative- Third person POV, jumping between Cinder and Prince Kai. This was a very smooth read in regards to the author's style of writing. I mentioned a few books ago that people have told me that the signs of third-person done well is that you don't even notice that you're not directly in the character's head, and this was one of those exceptional reads where, halfway through, I had to stop myself and really pay attention to answer the question of : is this first or third?

A lot of that has to do with distance, too, but that's a conversation for another time.

Extremely well done. Meyer's narrative was fantastic and try as I might, I don't really have anything bad to say.

★★★★

Plot- I'm trying really hard not to start squealing again, but can we please discuss how fabulous this plot is? A futuristic, science-fiction retelling of Cinderella involving aliens (face it, the Lunars are freaky aliens) and cyborgs. My mind is seriously exploding. I walked into this more for the cyborg part of it than the aliens, and admittedly I was a bit wary (I always get wary when it comes to aliens), but seriously. I still can't wrap my mind about how intense this book was.

There's a plague. Cyborgs and androids (Iko stole my heart). Princes, Princesses, and Queens. Aliens who can read minds and influence thoughts. A conspiracy theory regarding the lost Lunar princess. A Cinderella story completely turned on its head. Not to mention that I'm not entirely sure there's a real love story; if it's there, it's subtle and I loved it.

Okay, there was infatuation and flirting. And a kiss. But then after that ending? Who knows what's happening. And there was a cliffhanger.

I want to go out on a limb and say that the pacing was phenomenal both in terms of the reveal of information and the action. I was never actually bored, and while at times I wasn't exactly surprised with answers that were given and the outcomes of events, it was always enough to put me on an emotional roller coaster and keep me reading.

In short: if you like science-fiction and fairytale re-tellings, you're probably going to like this book. It's dramatic, intense, suspenseful, heartbreaking (Iko! And that's all I'm saying about that), and best of all it's a puzzle. I hate books that I can predict what's happening by page fifty (and it's one of those predictions from a bit of a cliche plot point). I love books that prove me wrong.

Even more: I love books that I predict and wind up being right, but throughout the whole middle of the thing make me second guess myself and make me think that I was wrong.

Oh yeah, and there's inter-stellar (inter-galactic?) warfare being threatened. Could this get any cooler?

★★★★

Characters-The main character, Cinder, feels very well-rounded to me. I would probably venture to say that she's one of my favorite protagonists that I've read in a good while: she's quick-witted, and while her personality has been shaped by the prejudices set against her for being a cyborg, she's not completely bitter. I mean, yeah, she's angry and all that, but she doesn't let it shape her: she's got dreams and ambitions, and even when she meets Prince Kai she's just as vulnerable to his charms. Not because he's the Prince, but because he's noticing her.

Maybe that's what made her so convincing to me: she didn't fall head over heels for him purely because of good looks, fame, or that strange "magnetic pull" that seems to drive a lot of romances; instead it's this aspect of having somebody see her, and treat her fairly, as another human being instead of a cyborg. She's not invisible to him.

Prince Kai, himself, is fairly complex. He's forced to grow up too fast. He needs to keep the Lunar Queen from waging war on earth while also attempting to find a cure for the plague, so he's fairly stressed for the entire novel (understandably so). Even so, he's diplomatic about it, not taking his angers out at the wrong people, and even manages to show himself as a kind and fair ruler.

Basically, he really is a prince charming.

Other, smaller, characters include Adri, Cinder's step-mother (guardian), and Adri's two daughters, Peony and Pearl. Contrary to the typical fairy-tale, at least one of these three is sweet and kind and actually likable: the youngest of them all, Peony. She's bubbly and just downright adorable, particularly with her adoration of Prince Kai. Adri and Pearl, however, live up to the term "wicked."

The Lunar Queen can be rightfully considered wicked, too, actually. She's downright evil, but because of her mind-altering abilities, the kind of power she wields is fascinating and made her an interesting villain.

Dr. Erland is a character all on his own: at first I hated him due to his eccentric coldness, but oh my word if he isn't the epitome of surprises and mystery.

And lastly, there's Iko, the android. Due to a "faulty" personality chip, she's smart-mouthed, sweet, sarcastic . . . a fantastic supporting character to Cinder in the way that she balances out Cinder's in-capabilities to be obsessed with the superficial things in life, such as the Prince's good looks or a beautiful dress to wear to the ball.

Overall, a wonderful cast of characters that I couldn't get enough of.

★★★★

I feel like this book review is inadequate because it basically gets a perfect score from me, but I feel like it's been a long time since I've read a book that was so well rounded, in terms of plot elements and setting, characters and style.

Final Answer:  5 / 5

Rae

Friday, May 23, 2014

Finished a Draft; What Now?

A.K.A.: Beta Readers

I can almost guarantee you that you will never find a writer who published a book without a BETA reader. Most have more than one, as well.

Because here's the thing: you finish one draft of your book. Odds are, you're going to go through another, and another. Maybe figure three or four drafts, with nobody's eyes on it but your own. (Note: I'm just generalizing. Some people give their draft away the moment they finish, or they want to do ten drafts before somebody else reads; that's okay. It all depends what you, the writer, are most comfortable with).

After a time, though, it's as perfect as you can personally make it. You've read and edited your manuscript so many times that you can't find anything wrong.

That's where Beta's come in. They're a fresh pair of eyes. They're not just getting snippets, you're not just bouncing ideas off them. Instead, this is when they get to completely read your book from start to finish and get the full effect, as if they're reading an actual published book. Then they come back to you with (hopefully) a report of some sort: what did they like, what did they not like, what jarred them, what needed more, what needed less, etc.

This kind of feedback is priceless. It'll help you, as the author, look at your manuscript with new eyes, which will allow you to make changes to plot, characters, setting, etc that will ultimately make your novel stronger.

Beta readers are essentially the greatest things in the world.

So how do you find one? Well that's where things get interesting because you can find them basically anywhere. I lucked out. Four years ago (god, that was a long time ago) I joined the writing community, Inkpop, hosted by HarperCollins. Not only was I able to really grow as a writer, but I met the people who are currently some of my best friends, even though the site's been shut down for about three(two?) years now. These are my writing group, and a few of them I've grown to trust with anything, so they're who I bounce ideas off of, ask for opinions and, eventually, send my completed manuscripts to.

I guess that means that writing communities are one way. You can also use social media like Twitter and Facebook to send out a call and ask for people, or you can use your friends or family. Maybe a teacher or a professor?

Here's the catch, though: you need beta readers that are going to be completely and brutally honest.

This is a two-way street. On the reader's side, they need to be critical and pay attention, not just read for enjoyment (although they can do both at the same time). They need to take notes, and tell you everything that they liked and didn't like, etc (see the list I gave way up at the top of this thing). This means that parents probably aren't a good idea, since they have a tendency of, "Oh, it's lovely, sweetie." You could possibly choose a brother or sister, since (in my experience) they aren't as afraid of hurting your feelings. Same kind of thing goes for friends: make sure they're not only interested in taking this seriously, but that they'll give you honest feedback instead of trying to be supportive.

Because, above all, whoever beta's your book should be supportive. If they're trying to pull you down then they're kind of useless. But you need somebody who is supportive and wants to see you improve.

On your side, you need to be able to take criticism. The literary world is harsh. Rejections abound, and you need to be ready for them. You also need to be able to take what notes your beta's give you with a grain of salt. Distance yourself from your own manuscript and hear your beta's out. Try to see it from their point of view. They aren't attacking you; they want to see you succeed and should be giving you an abundance of areas in which you could clarify, reword, etc your manuscript. Don't be afraid to ask questions, either.

And guess what? After you get replies from your betas, you get to begin editing again. And so the writing world turns.

Rae


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Reading Helps Writing

If you're a writer, you've probably heard many times that the best way to improve your writing is to 1-keep writing no matter what, and 2-read.

I'd like to really examine that second one.

Reading is great, okay? I'm one of those advocates who says to give a kid a book instead of a television screen. Heck, give them a book instead of sending them outside to play in that bright, hot thing called sunshine. Even if you're just a reader and not a writer, as well: reading is the most fantastical thing in the world, in my humble opinion.

Writers are encouraged to read because, frankly, it broadens their horizons. They can begin picking apart styles, seeing what authors do and don't do and why, and it makes them pay attention to things like plot, characters, setting, pacing, world-building, and a whole slew of other things that extremely important in the craft of writing.

Personally, this is one of the reasons I review books. When I think critically about something that I'm reading, it helps me pick out what I liked and what I didn't like, and it kind of helps me shape my own style, particularly when I take a sentence from the book and figure out how I would have written it, to see the difference between how it would work with the rest of the text. In this way, every single book I pick up is research in some way, as well as the opportunity to escape life for a while.

Something else to think about, however, can be seen when you read books that are the same genre as you write. While paying attention to the craft-aspects of the novel is still interesting, what I've found recently is that the broader spectrum is more useful in that you can see if your own bases are covered.

This is particularly what I've found so interesting recently.

I just finished reading Cinder, by Marissa Meyer. It's fantastic, and part of what drew me to it in the first place was the use of cyborgs within the fictional world that Meyer created; heck, the main character, Cinder, is a cyborg, herself. Given that The Hollow Men also has a main character who's half-human and half-technology (albeit different technology) I was really interested to see how Meyer pulled it off.

What I got was an extensive checklist in my head, particularly in considering how the inner-workings of my own bionic people should work. As Cinder would think about different parts of her own mechanical body, it made me more eager to come up with answers for Ronnie, from THM.

Note: I'm not saying to copy what the author does. That's bad, and I would never consider it. What I'm saying, though, is that you can use the more broader aspects of a book to think critically about your own. So as I read about Cinder, I though a lot about Ronnie and how her inner-workings would combine with biological flesh to create a working body that's not completely made of organic flesh.

This is something I just thought was fascinating, because I thought of my own characters in ways I never had, before.

Another example could be from reading The Hunger Games (by Suzanne Collins). I admit it's been a while since reading it (years and years, actually), but exploring the way Collins set up the political and geographical spectrum of Panem tends to make me consider the way I have cities, towns, and governments set up-or at least positioned-within my own writing. Or it could inspire me to think about entertainment and news sources, and how pop culture works.

Just a few thoughts, but the more I think about it the more fascinating it is, and it reminds me of how exciting reading a new book can be, because of how many things it makes you think about.

Rae

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Emotion Thesaurus

This last weekend I was honestly a writing machine. As in, I wrote 8 k in one day. That's a lot.

But this is regardless of the pace I write.

I wrote a scene and it felt a little off. So I enlisted the help of one of my fabulous writing friends who are always super honest with me no matter what, and asked her to read the scene for me and tell me what she thinks. Her response: it was good, but it lacked emotion.

I realized I'd heard this before. When I was writing my first (second?) draft of The Hollow Men, there was another scene that I wanted make sure was just right. I sent it off to a different friend, and her response was largely the same: the scene and story told were good, but it needed more emotion.

So once I came to this realization, I started thinking about how adding emotion into the narrative of my writing is yet another weak point for me. I freaked out a little bit, too, and kept asking everybody: how the heck do I add emotion into my writing?

Then, miss Sarah from Birds of a Writer gave me a link to this fantabulous thing called an Emotion Thesaurus, showcased on the website Writers Helping Writers.

I seriously haven't geeked out so much since I figured out how to use a semicolon properly.

This thesaurus is so amazing because it takes emotions and tells you, in a simple-to-read list format, the kinds of physiological responses humans have to emotions. This means that you can use your character's movements and actions to relay the kind of emotion they're feeling. Many of them I'd known already, but it was nice having them organized there, and when I went through and edited that first scene I was telling ya'll about, I kind of saw a difference.

Not trying to sell ya'll anything, I promise. It was just the most recent thing I've fangirled over and I find it completely fantastic.

So here's my question for ya'll: what're your writing weaknesses and how do ya'll overcome them?

Rae

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Tea Time: Dracian Legacy

**Warning: Spoilers May Abound**

Dracian Legacy, Priya Kanaparti

At seventeen, Ren Pernell knows the meaning of tragedy.

But then, a year after losing her parents, Axel Knight walks through the door and changes everything. Strange creatures start to appear, her best friend suddenly finds her irresistible, and an undeniable, unexplainable bond with Axel threatens to drive her insane. She knows he’s the key. There’s something he’s not sharing, and she’s determined to find out.

Demanding answers, she finally learns the truth: everything she ever believed is an illusion. Caught in a centuries-old blood feud between races she never knew existed, Ren discovers her true destiny. She’s the chosen one, the Echo, preordained to end the bloodshed.

There’s just one catch--in order to save those she loves and a homeland she’s never seen, she’ll have to die.

With the clock running out, she’ll have to navigate a new world of betrayal, lies and deceit. If she can forgive, finding love even in the darkest places, she just might be able to escape the prophecy. But how much is she willing to sacrifice for a cause she didn’t know she was part of? And what will it take for her to be free? (source:goodreads)

Cover- Overall, yes it's pretty. But it's been done a lot, that whole dramatic close-up of the MC. At least the eyes are important; that blue flicker really is a trait of only certain important people within the novel, so there's that. The text is laid out well, too, so that everything can be both seen and read easily by the reader.

I didn't go absolutely crazy, though, and honestly because the cover didn't grab my eye that's why I held out on buying it (because, yes, people actually do judge books by their covers).

★★★☆☆

Narrative- Dracian Legacy is told in the first person, from the POV of our main character, Ren. I would venture to say that Kanaparti did an absolutely fantastic job with most of the narrative. Ren's voice was captured extremely well and I feel like I was constantly assaulted by what was happening in her head . . . which is actually a good thing. It was a really smooth read; Kanaparti's style seems to be one that's easy to read and pay attention to, and even easy to get back into in the moments where I was interrupted or came back after a few hours.

The one downside: I don't like exclamation marks in narrative. At all. I apologize because I'm really biased, but yeah. These instances always came up when we were given a direct thought from the main character, and I feel like it took away from the effect. I don't need to feel like the character is screaming at me to get when she's excited; the words, themselves, convey that. So this was probably the biggest (albeit petty) downside.

★★★★

Plot- Last week I divided my thoughts into what worked and what didn't, and that helped loads, so I'm doing it again:

What Worked:
-I'm a sucker for romance (*coughs* done right), and Axel and Ren were totally swoon-worthy, so I loved their relationship
-The action. Oh my lord, the action was phenomenal, especially in the last half of the book ("the last half" -> keep an eye on that phrase, it'll pop up a lot). Ren's being basically hunted, and it's revealed that the majority of precautions that the Dracian's take in different situations is all for her. Understandable, and I'm so glad somebody finally realized that the super-important main character needs protection. Of course, that didn't stop Ren from breaking the rules (I'm thinking of Chicago, here), but that was totally human. I'd want to sneak out, too. And then the ending sequence was a fantastic battle in which Kanaparti did a really great job of showcasing multiple characters, not just Ren and Axel and Ren's brother, which I honestly thought was cool (and here I'm thinking Trinity). Once the paranormal part of the plot really got going, I was for the most part extremely sucked in (as in, I lied to my friends and told them I was writing when in reality I was reading).

What Didn't Work:
-The first half of the book, I almost put it down. Once Axel came into the picture, it was an overplayed love triangle between Ren, Axel, and Ren's friend, Dean. Ren and Dean's back-story was fantastic; I love that aspect of "I made a mistake and I want to fix it," especially now that Ren knows who she is. I just think that it was over-dramatized in areas, which made the first half of the book feel like a soap opera in novel form.
-I sort-of alluded to this in yesterday's post about plot flow: this book was a bit jarring in spots. When it came to the main plot points (ie, everything happening within the Dracian world) it was pretty smooth, although the Chicago scene I felt like could have been led into a little better (if you want to know what happened in Chicago, read the book *wink*). What got lost was what was happening in the human world. Suddenly there was a football game Ren went to (not actually in the story, but it was mentioned and I thought it was random), and then the Chicago trip (yes I'm back to Chicago). The first we hear of it is when Ren asks her brother if she can go to Chicago for "Pey's big day" (Peyton being Ren's best friend), and I had absolutely no clue what she was referring to. A little more detail would have been fantastic. So yeah, I think this one's actually more of a smaller pet-peeve than the first point, here, but it had to come up.

Okay, so truthfully it was the second half of the book that pulled me in and got me to continue reading. This is probably because I'm more of a paranormal fan than a romance; this book plays heavily on both. I'm a romantic at heart, but not when it's overplayed, so the first half of the book made me roll my eyes a little bit.

Overall, though, I thought about the book for a good few hours after I'd finished, and in a good way. I kept thinking about the action, and kept wondering oh my god what the freak is going to happen, like freaking eh. To put it simply, I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach, which always happens whenever I'm invested in a plotline.

Seriously, though. That ending.

★★

Characters- There is one thing I would like to point out before going further and saying how much I actually did love the characters: teenagers are not that horny. Some of the couples were constantly going at it with their tongues down each others throats, and I wasn't exactly buying it. As I pointed out above, the first half of the book has a somewhat of a focus on romance (well, it felt like that to me), so it all kind of fit. And consider that this book comes with a tag of 16+, so I expected a bit more of that kind of angle.

But no. Just no.

Despite that, I want to say that these guys kind of stole my heart. The Dracian guys were hilarious, Peyton was truly what a best friend should be, Ren was realistic (which is especially good since I was trapped in her mind for 250 pages), and Axel was totally swoon-worthy (and reminded me of why I'll never have a boyfriend, because nobody can possibly live up to the expectations that he set the bar for). The brother, Joshua, seemed a bit bipolar at times, but I'm attributing that to being super protective (the ending totally made up for it, though; he's fantastic).

I mean, I could try to come up with a monster list of criticisms, but the bottom line is that I laughed when reading a lot of their dialogue with each other; in a good way. Ultimately, they were all teenagers,  given tremendous responsibility but also able to just have fun once in awhile and lighten the situations. Put simply, I wish I was best friends with all of them.

★★★★

I definitely had my ups and downs with this book, and in some instances more downs then ups. While it played on more romance than I would have liked (and that love triangle that made me shudder), overall it was a pleasing read. I think the ending saved it. Like, my god. When's the second one coming out, anybody know?

Final Answer: 3.5 / 5

Rae

Monday, May 19, 2014

Creating Flow

While on my reading spree, I've come across a certain aspect of plot that seems to have been undermined, and that is the aspect of flow.

So before I start, I'll run through the way in which I define plot. When looking at the five W's (who, what, when, where, why), I tend to see plot as the what and the why. It's the events that take place, the actions of the characters (yes; this kind of overlaps with characterization), and the reasoning behind everything.

Things happen, and that's, essentially, the plot in its most basic definition.

Plot points are essential, and personally the individual plot points are what I tend to try and come up with first when I write: Bob goes to the store; Bob sees an old friend; Bob and friend go on a date; Bob's date goes badly. If a novel was a body, I think these plot points would be the the bones; they're the scenes in which big and important things happen.

And here's what I want to get at: those bones need joints and sinew to connect them. The plot points need to lead in to one another smoothly or else you're going to jostle your reader, and more than likely not in a good way.

Back to Bob: if I give you a scene in which Bob sees an old friend, and then immediately switch to a scene in which Bob and said friend are on a date, there's a bit of confusion and the flow is just nonexistent. That's where you have to create the filler and build on that skeleton. Bob has to actually talk to his friend and ask them out before they can actually go on a date.

See what I'm saying?

That's a really basic example, and maybe this all seems rather simple, but it's important. The plot of your novel can't be jumpy; you can't just spill something on the reader and leave them going, "Wait, what?" which is something that I've done with the last few books I've read. Don't be afraid to add a little bit more detail so that the reader can follow your characters from point A to point C without getting lost.

While I'm on the subject of detail: as a writer, you have to be the one to judge what's important for the reader to know and what can be brushed aside. I'm getting a little bit ahead of myself, here, with an example from tomorrow's review, but I'll use it anyway: the reader doesn't absolutely have to know what character or design is on your character's clothing. However, if there's a pretty important detail, like the fact that the character discovers that they can wield magic, put the reader in the moment. Putting the reader in the moment is another aspect of flow, and can also provide a major plot point that could turn rather memorable for the reader, but only if you allow it to.

Here's a test: break down your novel's plot into just the plot points. Not filler, which can include character development scenes and dialogue; just look at what happens. Write each scene down on an index card, and place them in the order you want them to go in.

Now, you've got yourself a pretty reliable road map.

The next step is to take your first two scenes and ask yourself: what needs to happen in order for the characters to get from the first, to the second? When you've got some ideas, and scenes, and dialogue, that's your filler. You're creating your flow. See how it works?

I'll give you another example, this time using The Hollow Men:

Point A: Ronnie and her partner break into a government agency to steal information
Point B: Ronnie falls out the window

I'm not even kidding when I say that's what my general outline looked like. As the reader, you'd probably be extremely curious as to how the heck Ronnie got to point B when everything seemed to be going so well in point A, right? How'd she even get to that window int he first place, and why the heck was it open? And then you've got to wonder: what happened to her partner?

That's where filler comes in and where all that detail comes in handy. Because between A and B, the reader learns not only why Ronnie has the ability to survive that fall in the first place, but also the kinds of files she and her partner are trying to steal in the first place. They learn that Ronnie and her partner aren't alone and they've got other people communicating to them, and there's a small bit of dialogue in there, too. And the reader finds out that Ronnie's partner shoots the window out, and that's how it gets opened.

See how much information that is? And it's all in a smaller scene that's between two bigger scenes. Some of that detail within the smaller scene even becomes really important in the big picture of the novel as a whole.

So try the exercise, yourself. If you're confused as to how your characters got from one place to another, try to come up with some details that you can use to fill in the blanks. Your reader can jump over a few holes in the ground, but you can't expect them to clear the Grand Canyon.

Rae

Friday, May 16, 2014

Cover Reveal: Chasing Freedom

Today I've got another very special cover reveal for ya'll! Nicola S. Dorrington is releasing her newest self-published novel on June 15. Check it out:

Chasing Freedom

Chase Finn s being hunted, and if he ever stops running he's going to end up dead.

It doesn't matter that he's only seventeen. It doesn't matter that just a few weeks ago he was a normal teenager. All that matters is that he is a threat, and the Agents tracking him will stop at nothing to see him neutralised.

With the line between friends and enemies blurring, Chase discovers he is just a pawn in the middle of a war that's lasted for centuries, but he isn't going to let himself be used any longer.

Soon both sides of the war are going to learn that the most important thing about Chase Finn isn't that he's a werewolf, it's the he'll sacrifice everything, even his own freedom, for the people he loves.

Meet the Author:

Nicola D. Dorrington is a 30 year-old writer from Englance, currently living in the Cayman Islands, where she procrastinates by staring at the ocean. CHASING FREEDOM is her second novel, set in a wet and mythical version of the country she left behind. her first novel, THE LAST KNIGHT, was published in 2013. She fully expects to one day be a crazy old cat lady - only with dogs.

You can find out more about Nicola on her blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter @NSDorrington.

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Ready for the cover, guys?

Are you sure?

Really sure?


Title: Chasing Freedom
Author: Nicola S. Dorrington
Release date: June 15, 2014
Available at: Amazon

Add it to your Goodreads

What do you think? Leave a message in the comments!

Rae