Monday, March 30, 2015

Book Review- Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

This is the kind of book that could have gone very badly wrong. The main characters could have become easy to hate if not written just right. That is, after all, the nature of a Beauty and the Beast Story. Its been done time and time again and is very easy to spoil. Fortunately…

Plot- Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.
Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.
With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she's ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.
But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle-a shifting maze of magical rooms-enthralls her.
As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex's secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.

The Characters- Beauty and the Beast is a story often associate with Stockholm syndrome. As much as plenty of versions avoid this trap, just as many fall into it. I was worried about the main characters and their chemistry. But I adored them. Nyx was tough as nails, with bite to her words. I found her funny at points, determined and altogether likable. More surprising to me was Ignifex, who I was afraid I’d like less. But not only did I adore him but he was legitimately seductive. And I don’t think that of a lot of book love interests. Their chemistry and dynamic was addicting. The other characters surrounding these two were as varied and interesting, but it was the leads that made the book come to life.

The Good Points- The characters are nothing without well-wrought surrounding elements. And there are many of those. First off, the castle of Ignifex is gorgeous and full of mystery. The plot was an engaging twist on the classic fairy tale. The dialogue and prose were equally engaging and often times lovely. The world, for the most part, was well developed. I enjoyed the integration of elements from Greek mythology even though they were sometimes confused. And I just LOVED the castle. Did I mention that?

The Bad Points- Over all, there’s not much to criticize. The ending was a bit odd to me, not entirely built up by the plot and some of the world elements that came into play were not fully expanded on. It’s hard to talk in detail about it, given that it would be spoiling things. It wasn’t a bad ending. Just a bit sudden and strange, and not enough to sour the experience of reading the rest of the book.

Beauty and the Beast retellings are hard to pull off. But this one hit all the right notes and developed its world, plot and characters with careful grace. I understand why some people might not like it but for me it was just a delicious read. Highly recommended.

Final Rating- 4.5/5 Stars

Friday, March 27, 2015

Why TV Shows Should Quit While They're Ahead

I do a lot of Lessons from Anime on this blog, because I watch a lot of anime. However, funny enough, I don’t watch a ton of American TV. I never watched much TV growing up and I never got into the habit. I certainly have my few shows, Game of Thrones, Avatar the Last Airbender and So You Think You Can Dance included. But they are few and far between.

And then there’s Once Upon a Time.

Once Upon a Time is, I think, a great example of why I don’t watch a lot of American television. Because this show has been going on for so long with so many plot threads and characters that the writers don’t know what to do anymore. They just don’t. Writing gets lazy, character arcs get screwed and the show just gets old as viewers start to realize that the creators have no more tricks in the bag.

Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t animes that go on for an eternity. See Naruto, Bleach and Once Piece for that. But many animes do not. Most of my favorite animes are 13 or 26 episodes and many of them have a satisfying ending.

And that’s the key word: Endings. The shows that I like have an end goal when they begin. When they have an end goal, it’s much easier to establish characters and bring their arcs to a satisfying conclusion. It’s easier to write a tight plot that keeps the viewer’s interest. It’s easier to end the show without jumping the shark.

The reason I can watch Game of Thrones is that there has always been an end goal, and books to follow, so that the characters keep to their arcs and don’t fall flat. Of course, depending on your opinion, some characters may be better than others, but at least they all have an arc.

Once Upon a Time just… feels like it’s never going to end. But it could have. The end of season 3 could have wrapped things up if you just cut a few plot twists at the very end. It brought most of the arcs to a satisfying conclusion and it hadn’t overloaded itself with so many characters that half of them were left waiting in the wings with nothing to do.

Like, what were Henry and the Charmings even doing in the Frozen extravaganza of the first half of Season 4? Assumidly sitting off to the side somwhere like:

But what happened? The studio probably said “audiences love the show! So keep airing it! Air it until it dies”. Sometimes I’m almost glad for shows that get canceled because at least they were good until the end!

What resulted was the absolute destruction of Rumpelstiltskin’s arc, Henry’s ultimate uselessness and most of the characters falling off the face of the map in favor of Frozen characters and other newbies that the show didn’t need.

Unless the show can pull something out of its hat, I’m going to pretend that only the first three seasons exist. But I think Once Upon a Time’s hat is just about empty.

I don’t understand fans who want a show they like to go on forever. Wouldn’t you rather look back on an amazing whole show than a show that got terrible somewhere in the fourth season? Wouldn’t you rather the story reach a satisfying conclusion? I love endings. I love how bitter sweet they are. But most of all, I love how poignant they can be.

A good ending can make me love a show. No ending? And I’m just left unsatisfied. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Critique Partners

Now that we’ve finished going through my complicated, ten step editing process, there’s another step to all of this that is very important: Critique Partners.

You need them.


Critique Partners are the other sets of eyes that look at your writing and point out the plot holes and inconsistencies that you didn’t notice because you’ve read your MS so many times your eyes have glazed over. They pick out the clich├ęs that you thought were brilliant at the time. They tell you if your character is being wholly unlikable.

And though their feedback can be hard sometimes, it’s important. Because maybe you have made mistakes and their suggestions will make them better.

So what should you look for in a critique partner? Well you want to find someone you respect and trust. Someone who is a fan of books that are comparable to what yours is trying to achieve. Someone who you know will tell you the hard truths. But they also have to be a writer. Someone who understands story structure and character arcs. While its great to have family and friends give you feedback, they can only give you feedback as a reader. And you need a writer. And if someone in your family happens to be a writer, great. Get them.

You want someone who can be brutal. You want a critique partner that won’t sugar coat what isn’t working. They’re a critique partner for a reason. You don’t need them to only tell you how awesome you are. You need their hard opinion.

But they should also be your advocate. Someone who tells you what is working and cheers for you when good things happen. Don’t get someone who hates your work. Get someone who loves it enough to make it better.

Critique partners are a necessary step in the editing process. If you don’t have one, find one. You won’t regret it.

Monday, March 23, 2015

A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

I love fairy tales of every shape and shade of dark. From Disney to the tales of Brothers Grimm to the even darker fair that comes out of Russia (seriously, they’ve got some creepy fairytales from there) I just eat them up. So when I saw this little gem in my school’s library, I snatched it up because I wanted to get back to reading MG novels. So did this fairy tale have a happy ending? Let’s take a look.

Plot Summary- In this mischievous and utterly original debut, Hansel and Gretel walk out of their own story and into eight other classic Grimm-inspired tales. As readers follow the siblings through a forest brimming with menacing foes, they learn the true story behind (and beyond) the bread crumbs, edible houses, and outwitted witches.

Fairy tales have never been more irreverent or subversive as Hansel and Gretel learn to take charge of their destinies and become the clever architects of their own happily ever after. (Plot summary according to Goodreads)

The Characters- The characters in this book are charming. In fact nearly everything in this book is charming, but especially the characters. I love Hansel and Gretel’s strength and cleverness. I love to see them get in and out of situations, and the characters around them, who often only make brief cameos in their stories, make a memorable, visceral impression. This is a story of vignettes though it does have a larger plot, and I really like the form. Its all tied together by a narrator who might as well be a character himself. He’s witty and frank. Its hard to pull of the Lemony Snicket effect with any degree of success, but Gidwitz definitely succeeds here. Also, shout out to the three ravens. I love the three ravens.

The Good Points- This book is charming. Have I mentioned that before? Because it is. Through all the gory and scary moments it just oozes charm. Its as dark as the original fairy tales but it never takes itself to seriously. It read really quickly and presented its characters with a variety of unique situations, taking some lesser known Grimm fairy tales and bringing them into the spotlight. My personal favorites vignettes were the Three Golden Hairs, where Hansel has to 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. They gave me the shivers and the chuckles and were all around great fun to read.

The Bad Points- There aren’t many bad points but if you have a hard time with narrators who address the audiences or stories that stress character and vignettes more than plot, this might not be your bag. And you have to like fairytales because this is a fairy tail from start to finish. Its not the most ambitious story, but it does its job well for what it is so I can’t find many things to criticize.
Over all a journey through the dark forest oozing with thrills, laughter and, yes, even charm. I highly recommend it to any and all lovers of the old Grimm tales and to anyone who likes a touch of darkness in their whimsy.

Final Rating- 4/5

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Importance of Rest

Happy Friday everyone! You have might have noticed that last Friday I didn’t post. In fact I did intend to finish this post for Friday but turns out I was just so busy resting that I completely forgot to post about the importance of resting.

I guess I took the message to heart.

But I needed the break. Since the new semester began, I’ve been running at the speed of light, trying to juggle various responsibilities. It can be tough work, especially when trying to squeeze writing into the mix. But being too busy can often stanch your creativity.

For me, it came in the form of editing my book. I’ve had such editors block over the past couple of months and even though I try to make time to write, I was never as productive as I wanted to be. Sometimes you just can’t push yourself. You have to take a step back and breathe.

And when that happens? Let me tell you, it opens up your mind to a lot of new creative possibilities. Over the break I solved one of the major problems I was having with my book and was able to look at the plot for fresh eyes. Just giving myself time cleared out a lot of the blockage that was suffocating my writer’s mind.

Writing is hard work. But it does require rest. We can’t write 24/7 or our work becomes lack luster and forced. So if you’re in a tough place right now with your writer’s mind, take some rest for yourself.

You might come back stronger than ever.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Edit 10: The Final Once Over

Edit 10: Final Once Over
Here we are. The last once over. The final step of editing. After this magical step, all the editing is over and done with at last.

Kind of.

This is a kind of vague step because it doesn’t focus on a specific element. It is sort of the final read through of your book to make sure everything is in place just the way you want it. But here’s the thing: maybe everything won’t be in place.

Sometimes fixing some problems just cleans up the manuscript enough for you to see new problems. Sometimes you need to do another few edits to be satisfied. Sometimes you need to do a few final once overs because you’re bad at catching grammar and spelling mistakes and it takes you a million times to get things perfect and even after the millionth time there are still errors and its just so frustrating!

Yeah… I mean… hypothetically speaking.

The final once over is a nice title for it, but is the editing ever really done. Maybe not. But hopefully with this step you’ll finally be happy with what you’ve got.

And ready to send your MS into the jaws of your critique partners. And that my friends is a whole different monster.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Thief’s Covenant by Ari Marmell

-      Do you know one of the fastest ways to get me to snap up a book? Put ‘thief’ in the title. Seriously, I’m such a sucker for thieves, I might just pick the story up blind. And this is what happened when I stumbled across ‘Thief’s Covenant’ in a pile of books at Shared Worlds creative writing camp. But outside of my biased love of thieves, did the rest of the book hold up? Let’s take a look.

The Plot- Once she was Adrienne Satti. An orphan of Davillon, she had somehow escaped destitution and climbed to the ranks of the city's aristocracy in a rags-to-riches story straight from an ancient fairy tale. Until one horrid night, when a conspiracy of forces--human and other--stole it all away in a flurry of blood and murder. Today she is Widdershins, a thief making her way through Davillon's underbelly with a sharp blade, a sharper wit, and the mystical aid of Olgun, a foreign god with no other worshippers but Widdershins herself. It's not a great life, certainly nothing compared to the one she once had, but it's hers.
But now, in the midst of Davillon's political turmoil, an array of hands are once again rising up against her, prepared to tear down all that she's built. The City Guard wants her in prison. Members of her own Guild want her dead. And something horrid, something dark, something ancient is reaching out for her, a past that refuses to let her go.
Widdershins and Olgun are going to find answers, and justice, for what happened to her--but only if those who almost destroyed her in those years gone by don't finish the job first. (Summary according to goodreads)

Characters- I just love Widdershins because she strikes a perfect balance between serious and sassy. Oftentimes with YA novels, characters can try too hard with humor. Widdershins has humor, certainly, but her sarcasm feels genuine. She isn’t just a character, she’s a person. And she’s just so likable. I love reading about her at all ages, from child to teenager. I love Olgun as well, who speaks to Widdershins not with words but feelings. And yet he has so much personality and I love their banter. The other characters are great too, but Olgun and Widdershins are the focus, and they are satisfyingly interesting and fun.

The Good Points- The writing style is engaging and the sense of humor subtle but fun. Besides the characters, I think the world works very well, especially with its view on religions and various gods. It’s a very interesting perspective I haven’t read before. The book also makes a non linear story line work. There are a lot of flashbacks that explore Widdershin’s life and that’s hard to pull off, but this book does an admirable jobs. I liked the time jumps. I also appreciate that there was only a hint of possible romance. Any books with a female protagonist that don't focus on the romance are fine by me!

The Bad Points- I was expecting more from this book, especially from the plot. As interesting as the characters and the world were, the plot was kind of weak and typical. It felt small. I wanted it to be as unique and fun as the surrounding elements. Still, it’s only one black mark on a strong rest of a novel.

Overall, this is a strong novel from Marmell, and a really fun read. I hope to read the next book in the series soon.

Final Rating- 4/5 stars

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Edit 9: Punctuation

We’re almost there. Now down to the bare bones of the final line edits, we turn to one of the smallest but most important elements of a polished manuscript: punctuation.

I hate punctuation. Not that I don’t acknowledge its importance but I’m just so bad at it. Commas are my mortal enemy, and every sentence feels like a puzzle. A puzzle full of questions like what punctuation goes here? Two or three commas in this sentence? Semi colon or period?

Dialogue punctuation is the worst as I have to meticulously comb through and make sure I’m using commas and periods in the right places.

I can only assume that my deeply rooted hatred of punctuation came from the fact my teachers never taught me the exact rules of punctuation or grammar in school. See I was in the advanced classes as soon as I hit middle school and apparently teachers assume that you already know the basics if you’re in advanced classes so no one ever told us how to place commas. I had to learn that stuff on my own, and it was not pleasant.

Now I am at least clear on the rules, but it’s not instinctual for me to implement them, so this edit may seem simple, it’s a time consuming one for me.

But at least I can see the finish line!

What punctuation mark is the bane of your existence? Let me know in the comments. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Book Reviews- The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

I like horses. I went through that major phase many young people did in middle school when I was absolutely obsessed with horses. So its no surprise that the idea of dangerous water horses that will kill a man as soon as let one ride them was really exciting to me. And a race involving those horses? Well, sign me up!
How did this book fare? Well let’s take a look.

The Plot: It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.
At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.
Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.
The characters were enjoyable, the plot was gripping and intense and it did legitimately keep me guessing. I didn't know what was going to happen in the end, and I like that feeling in a book. (Summary according to Goodreads)

The Characters: There are two main characters here. Puck is a girl who enters the races to save her home and family with the winnings after her brother decides to abandon them. She’s tenacious and determined and all around likable as a character. My favorite of the two was Sean, however, who was classically mysterious, keeping his pain close to his chest (a trope that I often like in my YA boys). However he did so without ever being a jerk and his back story was intriguing. He broke my heart many a time. The other characters don’t really stick out to me. I say this because it’s been awhile since I read the book and no one outside the main characters have stuck in my mind as particularly memorable, which I suppose is a bad mark on the book. But the characters were interesting where it most counted and no one was badly written, so over all they did their job.

The Good Points: As stated before, I love the water horses. They’re just so crazy and threatening and majestic all at once. The most intense scene was when Puck and her brother were hiding from a wild water horse that had wandered onto their property. The scene really captured why these creatures are to be feared. I also liked that the book kept me guessing. I legitimately wasn’t sure how the book was going to end or who was going to win or whether or not Puck would stick with her normal horse or cave and ride a water horse. I didn’t know how her relationship with Sean would end up either. It’s nice to read a book that genuinely keeps me on my toes.

The Bad Points: This book might have earned a higher rating if not for the sexism angle. Half of the conflict of this book has to deal with Puck being the first ever woman to ride in this race which of course causes all sorts of huffing and puffing from the populace. But it was just so… boring and been done before. Even though it was in a time period when women were more marginalized, there’s no reason she had to include this angle. There was tension without it. Puck is riding a normal horse in the most dangerous horse race in the world. And she's young. That's plenty of reason for people to tell her not to do it. Commentary on sexism seemed overdone and extra to a story that was already plenty gripping. Outside of that, the pacing was slow in parts. Not enough to bore me but enough to be noticeable 

Outside of that, I enjoyed it. I love the slow build of the relationship, the environment of the island, the likability of the characters and the man eating horses themselves. A great book to pick up if you like action and horse racing with a touch of death!

Final Rating- 4/5

Friday, March 6, 2015

Lessons from Anime: Monster

Sometimes, I think some writers look at a villain and challenge themselves. They say ‘I will make this the scariest freak alive and the world will tremble before him’. Well if this is a challenge, then the writers of Monster took it and dominated because Johan Liebert may very well be the most terrifying villain ever.

I talked last Friday about how I’m a sucker for an interesting villain. Oftentimes a villain can drive a whole show and this is certainly the case of this little gem.

Monster is a story of a doctor, Tenma, who is fired from his job after choosing to save a young boy’s life rather than a longtime patron. But some years later, when all the doctors who opposed Tenma mysteriously begin dropping like flies, he is able to return to his career and continue to help save lives. He doesn’t think anything of it until the person behind these murders shows up again, killing a man in front of him. A stranger with a familiar face. 

It turns out that Tenma did not save some innocent boy but rather Johan Liebert, who may very well be a devil in human form. And now, thanks to Tenma, he can continue his reign of terror. He plans to be the last one standing at the end of the world, and will allow only the kind hearted doctor who saved him to end his life, therefore making him a monster himself.

(Seriously. Just watch this scene here. The way his voice can be so creepy in his grand entrance scene and then later shift to gentle and soft spoken is ridiculous and frightening.) 

So let me talk about the devil for a moment. Like, the Christian devil. I haven’t seen very many representations of him in the media that I find accurate. Not that a lot of people don't try to portray the devil, but when they do, he’s usually a big scary monster or at least someone no one in their right mind would trust. More of a boogey man in the closet than Lucifer, seducer of man. This is the closest I’ve seen anything get to a portrayal of a Lucifer figure and it is freaky. Johan, you see, has a very trusting face. The kind that gets people to talk to him and spill their secrets. Children are drawn to him, women fall for him, and depraved cults look to him as their leader. He can garner sympathy from those around him and even give them hope… before ripping it away and leaving them with nothing.

And he’s just so good at it. Through most of the series, he is the smartest thing in the room. No one can touch him or trick him because he is the master manipulator. He gets inside people’s heads. He knows how to break just about everyone he meets. And worst of all, he wants Tenma to fall to his level by making him be his murderer. It’s an amazing series because you want Johan to die, because he’s terrible but you don’t want Tenma to do it because he’s such a good man. And its this conflict that drags you through the full 72 episodes. Man vs. Man in the most harrowing way.

If you want an example of a scary villain done right, this is it, and I’ve looked to Johan as a model for many of my best villains. Love them or hate them, a villain can make a story. And sometimes, in the case of Johan, they define it.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Edit 8: Extra Words and Filtering

Continuing on our trail of the easier line edits, let’s dive into the ‘extra words and filtering’ once over.

Do you ever word things using a few too many words? Maybe you burden your sentences with too many descriptors or modifiers? Both of these things can mess with clarity in your writing. There is something to be said for brevity. But I always struggle with it because I love over complicating things. It’s just how my mind works when I write my first drafts. So going through my sentences with a finger on the delete key is essential.

Cutting filtering ties into this. I did a big post on filtering here, but to sum up, it involves using ‘filters’ like ‘I saw, I heard, I think’ to connect the reader to the main character. But these words really create distance and bog down your sentences.

Over all, this is a simple edit, though it takes a careful eye to catch many of these errors. But if brevity is the soul of wit, it’s also the driving force behind a well-crafted manuscript.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Book Reviews- Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

Despite being a huge fantasy fan, I had never picked up a Brandon Sanderson book for some reason. But Mistborn’s summary caught my eye as I wandered through the Barnes and Noble, trying not to impulse-buy too many things. I was in the mood for a nice, female driven fantasy and the magic system sounded promising. So I bought the book.
And down the rabbit hole of love I fell.

The Plot- In a world where ash falls from the sky, and mist dominates the night, an evil cloaks the land and stifles all life. The future of the empire rests on the shoulders of a troublemaker and his young apprentice. Together, can they fill the world with color once more? (Summary according to goodreads)
*Note, this is a very simple summary and in no way prepared me for the awesomeness within

Characters- I adore these characters. Vin is such a relatable heroine with as many flaws as she has strengths. She’s practical, street smart and strong but she’s also distrusting, not book smart, and stubborn. She is more tomboyish but still finds a charm in playing at a lady later (instead of doing the rebellious ‘I hate girly things’ a lot of tomboy characters do). She’s an honest character who just gets into my heart and I adore her. I like Elend Venture as well, who is the love interest but never intrudes too much into the plot or over stays his welcome. He has his part to play and he does it well. Sazed is another amazing character, being a smart Terrisman who collects knowledge, especially on different religions. My favorite character, however, is Kelsier, Vin’s teacher. Like… I adore Kelsier more than I have any character in a long time. Every moment he is on the page I am happy. There is not a character I hate in this series, clearly, cause I can’t shut up about them. But I will, if only to brag about the books other qualities.

The Good Points- Putting the amazing characters aside, there’s a lot of other things to talk about. Like the world building for instance and how unique and AWESOME the magic system is. And how the fight scenes just leap off the page and seem to beg for a movie adaptation just so I can see them. The plot also takes a typical trope (overthrow the evil ruler of this empire) and makes it wholly unique. The team trying to take him down discuss the logistics of the plan and it’s all very logical and strategic in a fascinating way. It’s not a ‘start a rebellion and go to war’ kind of plan. It has a lot of parts and it’s so smart. And the Lord Ruler who could have easily been so boring was deathly intimidating. He just held such presence and I was fascinated by him. Great I’m talking about characters again. Seriously though. There are too many good points to count.

Bad Points- What bad points? What are you talking about?! Just kidding, I’m sure there are bad points. I don’t care about any of them but I’m sure they exist. I’m sure the plot can move a little slowly for some people and the book is kind of long but. Eh. Who cares. The bad points pale in comparison to the good. Go read this book.

If you can’t tell, I loved this book... a lot. It reached a rare point of obsession with me, resulting in a feral and vehement argument anyone who disagrees with its brilliance. I get pretty rabid with a select few books when people dismiss them. This is one of them. If you are a fantasy fan and you have not read this book, you have no excuse. Buy it and read it immediately for the best magic system I've read in a while, amazing world building, fleshed out characters, genuine plot twists and a really intimidating villain.
That is all.

Final Rating- 5/5