Friday, January 30, 2015

Reader Weakness: Special Powers

Happy Friday! Today I'd thought we'd look at another reader weakness of mine.

Reader weaknesses are things that make me pick up a book or keep reading no matter what. And big weakness of mine is special powers. A group of people that have cool supernatural powers will always get me jazzed up.

That said, I’m not talking superhero books. No, I like my super powers gritty and with complicated politics and battles and relationships. I don’t want one or two people with cool abilities. I want a group that plays off of each other. More X-men than Batman. I also love Avatar the Last Airbender and Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson.

I probably get a lot of this love for anime. One of my favorite animes, Darker than Black, has a lot of people with cool powers that our stigmatized because of it. These are really interesting talents different from the typical brand of special abilities and I'll probably do a Lessons from Anime post on it in the future. I like stories that can put a spin on super powers. And I especially like special abilities that have a cost or aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Its not a surprise that a lot of my own books deal with stuff like that.

Basically, if you have any good examples of books or TV shows where the characters have cool abilities, send them at me. I want ALL of them. And I have plenty of recommendations for you as well!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Edit 3: The Main Character

Back with the ‘How I Edit’ series, now with Edit 3: The Main Character. It goes without saying that one of the most essential ingredients to a novel is the main character. They are our view point into your world. They are the one we are closest to. This especially holds true if you’re dealing with first person. The reader is going to be in your main character’s head. So while editing, I dedicate a whole edit just to the protagonist.

This edit focuses on characterization, consistency and story arc. Before even diving into the edit, I map out what I want my character’s arc to be, I.E, where they begin, how their world is thrown of kilter, how they deal with it, and how they end up. In creating this map I can use it as a guide as I edit through the novel.

I also make a list of everything I know about my character: their fears, their hobbies, their dreams, their quirks, their favorite foods etc. For a main character, this should be a pretty hefty list. You might not use everything on it, but little details here and there help to make the MC more authentic.
With the arc and list made, I dive into the writing and focus only on my main character as I read. I make sure their thoughts and actions are in character. I look at how they react to certain situations. I make sure they remain consistent throughout the story. And I also make sure I’m not dumbing them down for the sake of the plot, which is something I could do a whole post on, and probably will at some point. To keep it short for now, you don't want your reader to do this while reading your book:

My current MS is unique in that it’s a sequel. My MC has already been introduced in the previous book and has already begun an arc that must span a whole series. This presents a new set of questions. Does the character have a fresh arc in this story? Do they backtrack rather than moving forward? What is their new internal conflict or are they continuing to get over the same internal conflict from the last book? None of these things are necessarily right or wrong if they make sense in the context of the story. But no one wants to see an MC learn the same things over and over again. They should be constantly growing from book to book.

This is a fun edit for me as I love my characters and I love spending time with them. This is a welcome break after that world building edit. What questions do you ask yourself when writing and editing your MCs? Let me know in the comments!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Book Reviews: The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor

There are some things I will pick off the shelf blind, no matter what the plot. And one of those things is Alice and Wonderland retellings. So when I saw this little beauty, you can bet I was at the library checkout in a flash, clutching it protectively in my arms. But does the Looking Glass Wars measure up to my expectations?

Plot- When Alyss Heart, heir to the Wonderland throne, must flee through the Pool of Tears to escape the murderous aunt Redd, she finds herself lost and alone in Victorian London. Befriended by an aspiring author named Lewis Carrol, Alyss tells the violent, heartbreaking story of her young life. Alyss trusts this author to tell the truth so that someone, somewhere will find her and bring her home. But he gets the story all wrong. He even spells her name incorrectly!
Fortunately, Royal Bodyguard Hatter Madigan knows all too well the awful truth of Alyss' story and he is searching every corner of our world to find the lost princess and return her to Wonderland so she may eventually battle Redd for her rightful place as the Queen of Hearts.
The Looking Glass Wars unabashedly challenges our Wonderland assumptions surrounding mad tea parties, grinning Cheshire cats, and a curious little blond girl to reveal an epic battle in the endless war for Imagination. (Plot according to goodreads)

Characters- This story features a huge cast of players, some adapted from the characters we all know and love (Like the Mad Hatter and the Cheshire Cat) and some completely new. Alyss, not Alice, is of course the main character. She is spunky and likable, starting out as a brat who matures into a leader. Dodge, her love interest, is equally likable, with a pension for revenge against the assassin who killed his father. By the way, that assassin is the Cheshire Cat. He is delightful in his new role, and the Red Queen makes an acceptably vicious and crazy villain. Shout out to my favorite character, Hatter Mattigan, who’s weaponized hat makes me squeal with delight.

The Good Points- The problem often times with making an Alice and Wonderland adaptation is keeping the crazy tone of the original in line with a new plot. Alice and Wonderland doesn’t really have a plot. So how do you keep the characters delightfully nutty in a war zone? Well, Looking Glass Wars manages this quite well, especially with the concept of Imagination. Imagination is a form of magic in Wonderland, which is a great idea and allows for a lot of crazy things. Many characters are distorted from their original form but they become their own beings and play well in this world.

The Bad Points- The climax was a bit rushed and I could have used more time in Wonderland as opposed to the real world. Fortunately, the real world is interesting and its fun to see how the two worlds parallel each other. And we got more Wonderland in the sequel. But that’s a review for another time.

All and all, the Looking Glass Wars is a fun, crazy ride, fitting the original story. I loved the characters and the world and, because it has so many things I loved, it has earned a rare perfect rating from me.

Final Rating: 5/5

Friday, January 23, 2015

Lessons from Anime: Attack on Titan

It’s been awhile since we’ve done ‘Lessons from Anime’. Better talk about something really big.

Oh… I know!

If you watch anime at all, you know about this anime. Its huge for its soundtrack (especially its opening theme) alone, as well as the well-choreographed fights scenes and intense actions. Also… character death. It’s the Game of Thrones of anime in that almost anyone can die.

Also Levi.

I love me some Levi :)

And while I'll probably come back to Attack on Titan later for examples of what it does right, today I want to talk about Attack on Titan in relation to pacing. Because as I was re-watching this show, when I should have been doing my homework, I realized one of the major draws of Attack on Titan. It’s so easy to watch because it is so well paced. You know how they say ‘give the reader a reason to turn every page’? Attack on Titan is the anime version of that. Every episode ends with some sort of cliffhanger or well-timed death that leaves you in desperate need of more. Attack on Titan gives you a reason to keep watching.

First let’s talk about what Attack on Titan isn’t. It is not an unpredictable show. While it does have a few good twists here and there, most of its turns are properly built up and foreshadowed. Usually, you can see where a certain thread is going a few episodes before it happens. So why then is it so very watchable? Because it’s not TOO predictable. It’s not insulting. It’s exciting to figure out the twists before they happen and makes us want to keep watching even more.

What makes Attack on Titan so good is how it plays with expectations. The first few episodes are tense and devastating for the main characters and the viewer as we are all shock dropped into a titan attack. These titans, might I remind you, look like this:

Of course they can also look like this:

But it’s a mixed bag of terror and derp.

But after these two episodes, it’s time to rebuild. We get to know the new recruits of the army and see their friendship. We get a real sense that the rest of the series is going to be about them learning to strike back.
Lol, nope
Just when we’ve had time to relax, the show kick starts us again into a desperate survival situation that none of the characters are fully prepared for. And then the death begins. But we keep watching because, no matter how many times the show breaks our hearts, it also gives us hope. We want to have hope that these characters will survive. We want to see them get through this. And so with every heart wrenching episodes end, we keep watching, hoping things will get better. And hey, sometimes they do… before they get worse.

Crushing your feels

It’s a never endless cycle of hope and despair, but its organized so well into a tightly wound mechanism of a show that it absolutely propels the viewer through from episode one until the last. This is a ‘watch in two days’ kind of show. And I can’t wait for the second season.

All the way in 2016…


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Edit 2: World Building

It’s week 2 of my editing so let’s talk about the world building edit!

Oh world building. Why must you hurt me so? I guess it’s my fault in the case of this book for making such an overly convoluted world. I never take it easy on myself when it comes to the world building, mostly because my favorite fantasy novels like Lord of the Rings, Mistborn and Game of Thrones all have extremely involved worlds. Heck, the world of my favorite books of all time, Harry Potter, has an incredibly intricate and complicated history. Even though its not always at the forefront, really good world building can MAKE a story.

But it’s hard. Oh is it hard. This is the edit where info dumping becomes a huge issue. You have to give enough info to make the story make sense, but too much info sounds awkward and forced. No one wants to read a history text book in the middle of their fiction.

I’ve talked about world building before here, and what I said there holds true. World building is a dragon, awesome if it works for you, deadly to your novel if it doesn’t.
That you do world building edit. That you do.

In the case of my current MS, there’s a lot of world building to be fleshed out. The devil is in the details, and those are what I need to focus on to make the world come alive. And then of course there’s those info dumps. But they’ll be meeting the delete key very soon.

Don’t think you’re off the hook with a world building edit if you’re not writing fantasy though. World building, of course, is an important element of every story, whether its fantasy or not. Even in the real world, you have to have your facts straight depending on the time period or place. So next time you’re editing an MS, take a look at the world building. Your readers will thank you for it later.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Book Reviews: Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl is one of those book I put off reading for a while. I heard it was good. It apparently got a terrible movie adaptation that I never saw. And I also knew it came out in the Twilight age of paranormal romance for young adults. But, hey, witches are cool, right? And it will be interesting to see the male perspective for once.

Such high hopes had so far to fall.

I should note that before I get into this review, this is going to be a negative one. I didn't like this book and several parts of it had me scratching my head or raging. Now, all that considered, this is my opinion. I make no judgments about people who like the book or even judgments on the authors. We all have our opinion and this is mine. So let's hop in.

The Plot- Is falling in love the beginning . . . or the end?
In Ethan Wate's hometown there lies the darkest of secrets . . .
There is a girl. Slowly, she pulled the hood from her head . . . Green eyes, black hair. Lena Duchannes.
There is a curse. On the Sixteenth Moon, the Sixteenth Year, the Book will take what it's been promised. And no one can stop it.
In the end, there is a grave.
Lena and Ethan become bound together by a deep, powerful love. But Lena is cursed and on her sixteenth birthday, her fate will be decided. Ethan never even saw it coming.
(Summary according to Goodreads.)

*Note- This is the vaguest blurb I have ever read in the history of ever and it tells me almost nothing about the book. So I guess it wasn’t the best start.

Characters- There are a lot of interesting characters in this book. No really. Tons. Lena’s family is very interesting. The villain is interesting. I have a particular fondness for her uncle Macon. I also enjoyed Ridley. But this book suffers from Twilight syndrome in that it focuses on all of its least interesting characters. That being the leads, Ethan and Lena. They are so very boring and they have the cardboard chemistry. I couldn’t bring myself to care about their dilemma at all. And since this book is mostly about the characters doing nothing for four hundred pages until the plot shows up, this kind of drags the book down.

The Good Points- The writing is well done and the setting properly gothic. The historical element was intriguing. I’m not one for historical fiction, but I can hardly fault the book for my personal preference. I also enjoyed several of the background characters who didn’t get nearly enough focus. Shout out to Macon. He was my favorite and he had all the best lines.

The Bad Points- Alright, this section will take a little longer. First off: pacing. The pacing in this book is pretty lagging. It’s a lot of nothing for several pages. I am a fast reader. In addition I am not easily bored by books. But one hundred pages in, I wanted to put the book down because I could not get into it. I didn’t put it down because I take that as a sign of defeat. But this book needed to be tightened. Then maybe pacing could have upped the enjoyment factor.

This book banks a lot on the small town mindset being intriguing at all. It portrays almost everyone in town as a terrible, cartoonish villain of a person. They don’t like Lena because she’s… pale. And that’s… weird.  I mean they have other reasons later, sure, but its so shallow. And not in a complex, well written way. I am one hundred percent done with painting popular kids as the cartoonish bad guys. It’s been done. It’s old. Worse than that, this kind of characterization is always horribly judgmental toward popular people. Ironic, because we’re supposed to learn not to be judgmental in this book. And we spend so much time on this high school conflict, its unbearable.

The main characters are dull and spend most of their time talking about the ticking clock leading up to Lena’s birthday. And yet no matter how many times they mention it, the book never seems to have any tension.

Here’s the thing: I get that this was written before a lot of these things became cliché (kind of). But the book is just so predictable and bland and, for lack of a better word, soulless. I didn’t hate it with a burning passion. Far from it. It was just a disappointing, nothing kind of book to me. And so...

Final Rating: 2/5 stars.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Reader Weaknesses: Symbolism!

Today, I'm introducing a new kind of post, as I tend to do a lot. Let's talk about reader weaknesses. The things that I, as a reader, go crazy for. I have a lot of them, but let's feature one at a time. Today's topic? Symbolism!

You know those obnoxious people who want to find meaning in every little detail. The ‘why are the curtains blue’ kind of people. Well… I may or may not be guilty of that. I am one of those readers who is just a die hard for symbolism. If a book doesn’t have symbolism, I will find it. And if it does, it makes me oh so happy.
There are lots of kinds of symbolism that tickle my fancy. I love color symbolism for instance. Being artistically minded, the color of a setting or house or piece of clothing means the world to me. I also love religious symbolism, especially the subtle kind. I’ll be the first to admit that my religion, Christianity isn’t very… subtle when it comes to music and movies. But when I find a book or film or show that has just a slight hint of Christian imagery without throwing it in my face, it makes me jump for joy.

That, I think, is the fine line symbolism walks. It gets annoying if its thrown at you or too obvious. Part of the fun of symbolism hunts is that it blends in well with a good story. Think of them as little treasures that make the journey more rewarding. I know not everyone is into symbolism, but it’s a reader weakness of mine. And if I like a book, you can be sure I’m writing up an analysis paper in my head.

English major problems…

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Edit 1: Plot and Story Structure

Well, since I just did a post about my 10 round editing system and I'm now implementing said system on my manuscript, I figure I might as well blog about it as I go. If I do one edit a week, my manuscript might be well edited by spring. And when it comes to the smaller edits, I can probably do multiple in a week. So let's get this MS into shape!

Today's edit focuses on Plot and Story Structure. As mentioned in my previous post, this is the most involved edit of the story. It involves adding scenes, deleting scenes, switching scenes around, and even restructuring the entire plot. How well the plot is thought out to begin with determines the difficulty of this edit.

In my case, this edit isn't as difficult as it could be, mostly because I'm a die hard outliner. I outline before I ever start writing and usually my plots stay about the same. I don't start writing unless the plot seems feasible and is well paced in my head. So I usually don't have to restructure a lot of the meat of the story.

With the exception of openings.

Oh openings. You devils you. I cannot for the life of me write you well the first time. There is nothing more difficult to me than writing an opening that is well paced and gives just enough information to hook in a reader. The only time that I have written an opening that I have liked from first draft to last is in HOUR OF MISCHIEF. I guess its no wonder that's the book that got me my agent.

I'd been hoping for the same magic with the sequel, but nope! It looks like I'm going to be doing a lot of fixing and restructuring on the first fifty pages. I guess I should be used to it by now.

Me guzzling water and pretending its alcohol. Cause I can't drink...yet
This edit will also involve me adding scenes because at only 58,000 words, the book is shorter than I want it to be. Adding is almost as difficult as cutting sometimes, so I'll be combing through and seeing where I can add scenes and character developing moments. Though I'll focus on the latter more in my character developing edit.

So what about all of you? Which parts of your manuscripts always need the most reworking when you edit? Anyone else hate openings like I do? Let me know in the comments and happy editing!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Book Review: Charming by Krystal Wade

After officially signing with Curiosity Quills, I of course ran straight to their website to find out what books they had published. I read the summary of Charming and bought it a few minutes later on kindle. I read it soon after. Did my impulse buy pay off? Well let’s see.

Plot- They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and that's great . . . as long as you don't die.
Sixteen-year-old Haley Tremaine had it all: top-notch school, fantastic family, and a bright future, but all of that changed when an accident tore her family apart. Now, an alcoholic father, a bitter younger sister, and a cold headstone bearing her mother’s name are all she has left.
Chris Charming has it all: a powerful CEO for a father, a prestigious school, and a fortune at his fingertips, but none of that matters when he lands a reputation as a troublemaker. Struggling to follow in his father’s footsteps, he reaches out to the one person he believes truly sees him, the one person he wants: Haley.
Little do they know someone's determined to bring the two together, even if it means murder.

Characters- This is a smaller story, so it doesn’t have a huge cast, but it fleshes out the people who matter. Haley is sympathetic. She has a backbone but she loves her family. You want her to stick up for herself but you know why she plays it safe. Child abuse stories are always really difficult to pull off, but Wade makes a great main character out of Haley. Chris Charming is not quite as brimming with personality, but he is likable and I was invested in his relationship with Haley. I also enjoyed the culprit behind these murders and Haley’s sister.

The Good Points- Effectively suspenseful and heart wrenching in all the right parts, Charming was a quick read full of thrills and moments that made me hold my breath. The conversations between Haley and the mystery psycho intrigued me quite a bit and kept me wanting to know who was behind this. And, of course, it’s a retelling of Cinderella. I’ve never liked the story of Cinderella very much, so giving it a psychological thriller makeover was a great idea. Love the idea and the concept.

The Bad Points- If I had to give it critique I'd say it took a little long to get into the meat of the story. I think some of the intro could have been cut down and more focus put on the mystery and suspense, which is where the story really shined. I also thought the back story could have been better woven in. It wasn't too distracting, but I think it could have been a bit smoother.

All and all, the good points outweigh the bad and the story served well as a suspenseful diversion from the classic Cinderella. Sometimes I like my retellings psychologically gripping and full of twists and turns, and Charming is just that.

Final Rating- 4/5 stars

Friday, January 9, 2015

How I Edit

I recently dusted off the first draft of the sequel to HOUR OF MISCHIEF. I always give myself about two months in between writing the draft and editing it because it helps to give me some space from the work before I really dive in. Today's post concerns the diving in.

I have a pretty efficient system now when it comes to editing my work. But I didn't always and I used to be VERY bad at editing. It was watching Ava Jae's video about editing, here, that I realized why.

I used to be a chapter by chapter editor. I would look at one chapter and try to fix all of the problems. But that was a one track way for me to miss a lot of errors. Simply put, I need focus in order to become a good editor. So I switched, eventually, to another method. I would go through the whole manuscript looking for one problem. That worked much better for me and improved my manuscripts greatly. In the end I ended up with 10 rounds of editing. Yup. Ten.

We all have our different ways of editing, so here's mine. I present: My 10 Rounds of Edits after the first read through.

Edit 1- Plot and Story Structure

This is the most involved edit as it often involves me rewriting or reordering whole sections of the manuscript. The first draft places the bare bones, but sometimes the bare bones are in the wrong place, or even unnecessary. This is the edit where scenes will be added, cut or moved around. In the case of my most recent MS, I will be completely restructuring the opening fifty pages to make them faster and more interesting. It definitely takes the longest but I don't worry about any specifics while I'm doing it. Just the plot and story structure.

Edit 2- World building

This is an essential edit to any fantasy manuscript. Worlds are made up of details and it can be tough to keep the details straight. In a world building edit I check for consistency in the world building, add more details to make the world more alive, and even flesh out existing concepts that need more focus. This is also the edit where I check for info dumping, to make sure I'm delivering the world building details in a natural way. This isn't as involved as the first edit, but its probably more difficult for me, especially for this MS.

Edit 3- Main Character

The third edit focuses entirely on the main character. What is their arc? Where do they start and where do they go? What do they want? What are their fears and quirks? And how do they react to the plot as it happens? This is the edit where I check for out of character moments and also flesh out the main character as much as possible. This is a much more involved edit when working with a new main character. In the case of my newest MS, its a sequel. I know my MC quite well so she's already fleshed out. But that doesn't mean she won't act out of character at some points, so this is still an essential edit.

Edit 4- Side Characters

After focusing on the main character, I turn my focus to the other characters. Each side character, no matter how small, should have a point or mini arc of their own, even if the reader doesn't get to see it. I read through focusing on each character and how they fit into the story. This is also the edit in which I might add or remove characters depending on the needs of the story. Its an involved edit, but definitely more fun than me. I love working with characters so I enjoy both edit 3 and 4.

Edit 5- Description

Edit 5 on the other hand, is the death of me. I have plenty of weaknesses when it comes to writing and one of them is my handling of description and setting. I'm a dialogue and character person. That stuff comes naturally. I have to really sit down and force myself to describe a place. In a lot of ways, this compares to the world building edit. Setting is an important window into the world. But it deals a lot more with the aesthetics of the world rather than the mechanics that make it tick. Its one of the hardest edits, but also one of the most vital.

Edit 6- Emotion

The emotions edit is sort of like the descriptions edit, except for all dealing with the emotions of the characters. There are many different ways to describe emotion and sometimes its hard to do without being telling, cliche, or overusing certain descriptions. My personal fatal flaw is that my characters over analyze their emotions so I do this edit to make them more natural in the story.

Edit 7- Over used words

These last edits are a lot more about the writing itself. In this edit I use the lovely 'find' button in word to locate all my most overused words. For me this includes stuff from 'was' and 'that' to 'smirk' and 'glance'. This helps me to eliminate some other problems in the process. For instance, 'was' is often involved with passive voice. This takes some time but its not nearly as complicated as previous edits.

Edit 8- Extra words and filtering

This is a line edit in which I read through carefully and make sure my sentences are concise and not bogged down by extra words. This includes crutch words like 'just' and 'that' which I use a lot, and filtering. I wrote a post on filtering not to long ago. If you don't know what it is, click here. While I will often do a 'find' button search for certain extra words, I also go all the way through the manuscript to make my writing as clean as possible. Another time consuming edit.

Edit 9- Punctuation

Hello darkness my old friend. By that I of course mean commas. Commas and I have never gotten along, probably because we were never properly introduced in school. By that I of course mean, my English teachers never taught me grammar of punctuation rules and I had to learn them for myself. But commas have always been my weak point so I set aside a separate edit JUST for the punctuation. Its time consuming like the other line edits but definitely important.

Edit 10- Final once over

It is only after the previous nine edits that I edit chapter by chapter, doing a final once over to make sure everything is in place. I look for every error in this final read through, but since there are now less errors, its a little less overwhelming.

Because I work best by taking things one step at a time and focusing in on one problem rather than several. What about you? What are your editing strategies and what do you find gets your manuscript into the best shape? Let me know in the comments! And happy editing :)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

My Top 10 Reads of 2014

So, I didn't read nearly as much as I wanted to this year, but I did read 35 books, which is more than enough to make a top 10 list out of. It was pretty hard because I read a lot of excellent books this year, but I think I've narrowed it down to my favorites.

Keep in mind, these books were not necessarily published in 2014. Many were published earlier and I'm just now getting around to reading them. So you might see some older books on here. But, without further ado, let's dive in.

10. A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
A clever spin on the tale of Hansel and Gretel, I found this book a darkly charming read, reminiscent of all the classic fairy tales. The book is made up of several short but connecting stories. My personal favorites were the Three Golden Hairs, where Hansel must trick the devil to escape eternal torture in hell, and the Blood Red Smile, where Gretel finds herself taken with a young man who might not be what he seems. I would recommend this book to any lover of Grimm fairy tales.

9. Legend by Marie Lu
I thought I was worn out by the dystopian genre, but I really connected to the main characters of this story. I love me some smart main characters and I liked watching them try to get out of situations with strategy and wit. This was also a fast paced, fun ride. The sequel, Prodigy, is also worth noting. I have not yet read Champion but I look forward to it.

8. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
This is just a sweet love story. A sweet love story that feels very natural between the two leads. This book made my happy, sad and all of the emotions in between but all the way through, it felt very honest. I haven’t read anything by Rainbow Rowell I haven’t liked so I’m looking forward to more quirky love stories from her in the future.

7. The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor
I love me some Alice and Wonderland retellings. I decided to place this book here because, while I did read the sequel to another Alice and Wonderland retelling (Unhinged by A.G Howard) I read the first book before this year. So I thought it would be cheating. But this is a wonderful retelling with charming characters and a zany setting that keeps the spirit of wonderland. I love Hatter Madigan especially. Also worth noting is the sequel Seeing Redd. I look forward to reading the third book soon.

6. Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor
I read all three of these books this year. What can I say? They’re gorgeous, unique and I love the characters. When I started reading, I didn’t expect this book to go in the direction it did. It could have easily been cliché but Taylor took the concept in a unique and excellent direction. And the covers are gorgeous, but that’s a superficial love. Crack these books open and see for yourself.

5. Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
This book, a Beauty and the Beast retelling, could have failed so easily. I half expected it to. But the prose were surprisingly gorgeous and our beast for the story was super alluring. And I’m not usually attracted to the love interests in romance stories but, wow. The main heroine is quite interesting as well, and I enjoyed the dynamic of the main couple. Which is important, considering that’s the heart of the story. Rosamund Hodge is definitely on my watch list.

4. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Yes, I know, I should have read this ages ago. But I’m glad I finally did. Long story short, I cried. A lot. And that’s high praise because I rarely cry at books. And the narration from Death’s point of view was fabulous. I’d tell you to read it but, let’s face it, you probably already have.

3. Vicious by V.E Schwab
This is one of those books I wish I could write. It has so many themes and concepts that I adore. I love people with special powers. I love explorations of what makes us human. I love morally ambiguous protagonists. And the book executes these themes perfectly. I adored this book and I think a second read is in my future.

2. The Shadow of the Wind Carlos Ruiz Zaffón
I’ve talked a lot about books with pretty prose. Well this book is the crowning achievement in that. The setting and atmosphere of this book is just gorgeous. It enveloped me in the world of post civil war Spain and I fell in love with its story and characters. This was the kind of huge story that tickled my Les Miserables loving heart. I recommend it to EVERYONE. It’s amazing. Just read it. Please.

But, of course, the crowning achievement must go to…

1. Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
I knew this would be number one as soon as I started making this list. The world is fantastic, the fight scenes heart-poundingly awesome, and the main characters engaging. I am obsessed with Kelsier and Vin. I’m obsessed with the magic system. I am, in general, obsessed with this book. Read it now if you haven’t. And while you do, I’m off to read the sequels!

Those are my top 10 books I read in 2014. What were some of your favorites? Let me know in the comments!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Book Reviews: Everlost

Starting today, I'm introducing a new segment on the blog: book reviews. I will be reviewing a book or series every week on Mondays from now on. These books can be old or new and be from any particular genre, but a lot of the books reviewed will probably be YA or MG. And at the end of the review, I will rate them on a scale of one to five. Without further ado, the Everlost trilogy...

When you’re a big reader, and your college roommate is a big reader, book exchanges are inevitable. And whenever my lovely roommate and I take a trip to the local library, we often end up throwing books into each other’s arms. It usually goes something like this:

“Have you read this?”

I bring this up, because that is how I discovered the Everlost Trilogy, by Neal Shusterman. My roommate shoved the first book into my arms and commanded I read it. And so I did.

The Story:
Nick and Allie don't survive the car accident...
...but their souls don't exactly get where they're supposed to get either. Instead, they're caught halfway between life and death, in a sort of limbo known as Everlost: a shadow of the living world, filled with all the things and places that no longer exist. It's a magical, yet dangerous place where bands of lost children run wild and anyone who stands in the same place too long sinks to the center of the Earth.
When they find Mary, the self-proclaimed queen of lost kids, Nick feels like he's found a home, but Allie isn't satisfied spending eternity between worlds. Against all warnings, Allie begins learning the "Criminal Art" of haunting, and ventures into dangerous territory, where a monster called the McGill threatens all the souls of Everlost.
In this imaginative novel, Neal Shusterman explores questions of life, death, and what just might lie in between. (Summary according to Goodreads)

The Characters: 
Oh boy, are there a lot of characters in this trilogy. The plot summary for the first book mentions only Nick, Allie, Mary and the McGill but there a whole host of other dead kids who didn’t make it to the light. This book supports a large cast of diverse characters, all written honestly according to their age. These are kids. They’re emotional, they’re confused, they’re manipulative, they’re smart, they’re prone to anger but they have big hearts. And everyone, even the villains, have a likable edge to them. These books do moral ambiguity very well. And if you don’t like one character, not to worry. There are plenty of others to choose from.

The Good Points: 
The concept is intriguing and, as mentioned earlier, the characters are diverse and fun. You can point to at least one of the kids and say ‘yep, that’s me. That’s me as a kid’. The world is well constructed and I enjoy the interludes from books written by some of the various characters. It adds a lot of flavor and it’s a nice way to dispense world building details. Favorite characters were Mikey, Allie, Jackin' Jill and Jyx.

The Bad Points: 
Some of the romances could be predictable and often rushed. I liked some of the pairings but some were just kind of tossed in there. Not to mention, for all of its diversity, the series was a bit hetero-normative. It was written a little while ago, so its not exactly surprising, but for all the romances, I would like a bit of diversity in that area. I had no least favorite characters.

My Rating System: Since this is my first book review, let me explain my rating system. I rate on a scale of 1-5.
1 star= I loathed this book with a fiery passion from the depths of hell
2 stars= The book was pretty bad, but it didn’t offend me or incite bouts of rage
3 stars= The book left no impression on me, good or bad. It is an acceptable read if it sounds interesting to you.
4 stars= I really enjoyed this book, and it rarely let me down
5 stars= This book hit a strong cord with me and I will defend it as awesome until my dying breath.
Most books will get anywhere from 2-4 stars. Books only merit 1 or 5 star ratings if they illicit a strong emotional reaction from me, good or bad.With that said...

Final Rating: 4/5 stars.

Friday, January 2, 2015

New Years Resolutions

Its the second day of the new year, and I'd say its about time to promise to accomplish something! For writers especially, I think New Years Resolutions are important. Writing is a task that takes a lot of perseverance, dedication and will power. Sometimes its only our promises to ourselves that keep us going. Or other people who know about our resolutions and push us to succeed.

So today I'm mostly going to talk about my writing resolutions rather than any of my personal resolutions. Because this is, after all, a blog about writing and that's what most of you are interested in anyway.

1. Write 3 rough drafts 

As I've discussed before, its become tradition every fall for me to write two rough drafts. Its happened for the past three years and its probably going to happen again this time around. But my Summers are vastly unproductive. So I figure I'll make myself write at least one rough draft in the Summer. I have tons of time, so there's no excuse.

2. Read fifty books.

Part of me wanted to say 100 books, but I know that's a resolution I probably won't keep. So I'll shoot a little lower and if I read more, awesome. I neglected reading as much as I'd like to during the year and ended up reading about twenty books just this fall. If I can achieve that same rate, this shouldn't be a problem. Reading is important for writing after all.

3. Edit all eligible manuscripts

There are lots of finished manuscripts I have sitting around that I never got around to editing. In addition to editing the first draft of the sequel to HOUR OF MISCHIEF, I want to edit those as well. Maybe they'll get published and maybe not, but its still good to get them in their best shape.

4. Start a video series

To build a youtube presence I want to start a video series called Writer's Thoughts. I already have audio for a few episodes recorded and need to film. I know that youtube is a valuable tool for reaching audiences and its fun, so I'll be looking forward to that.

5. Write some short stories

Short stories are not my strength. They usually end up blowing up into novels. My mind expands the plots too far. But I need to improve on my short story writing ability, so I'm going to try to write more of them.

6. Find every Opportunity to Reach Out to New Writers

This year I've had the opportunity to work with a lot of budding writers, whether it be through judging online contests, working at Shared Worlds creative writing camp or just giving advice to those who ask. I think its the job of agented and published writers to help those who aren't there yet. We all remember when we were starting out and needed a helping hand or a kind word. It took us awhile to get here but we had people helping us along.

In addition I'm going to make an effort to read books by new authors. Since I'm going to be new myself soon, I think its only fair.

Those are my new years writing resolutions for the year. Share some of yours in the comments and happy 2015!