Thursday, January 31, 2013

Hughes Reviews January '13

January was a big month!  I came back from hiatus and posted almost every day!  Woot!  I probably won't be able to keep that up because I don't normally read that quickly, but I should still manage 1-2 book reviews a week.

I also have to thank my brother, Patrick, who created a bunch of new pretty graphics for my blog this month.  He designed the new background (which is similar to the old one but with photographs instead).  My mom is an amazing photographer and photographed the typewriter I got for Christmas (from my other brother) which is now featured in the background images.  Patrick also designed a button and the "Hughes Reviews Seal of Approval."  The first book to be honored with the Hughes Reviews Seal of Approval was Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld.

Here's what went down on Hughes Reviews this January:


Behind the Story Posts:

Debut Author Challenge:

Top Ten Tuesdays:

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Book Review: Level 2

Level 2
by Lenore Appelhans

Published by: Simon and Schuster for Young Readers
Form: Kobo eBook on iPad
Genre: Sci-Fi / Dystopian
Big Themes: Memories, Death, Reconciliation, Friendship, Love, YOLO


*Debut Author Challenge*

Felicia died, and now she's in Level 2 where she can play back memories of her life as well as share her memories with others. But what she doesn't know is that there is a war going on that is preventing humans from moving on to the next level.

I'm going to start my review on a positive note, and tell you the things the author did well.  But overall, I was disappointed with this debut because of its unrealized potential.

Memory System:
This was the most interesting concept that Appelhans came up with.  Each memory could be played like a Youtube video.  It had tags, user ratings, and number of views.  I loved this concept and what it revealed to you as a reader when you saw what each memory was tagged as and what the ratings were.  This was a great intertextual detail and a fresh idea.  You also learn as the story progresses that users earn credits for each time their memories are viewed, and people with the best memories become "rich."  This was sad for one particular character who didn't have many positive memories to share, and thus was broke.  I even wish this idea had been explored even more because it was so fascinating.

Initial Mystery:
I was extremely intrigued for the first four chapters as to what Felicia had done wrong and how she'd managed to ruin her life.  The author gives you all these hints and clues as to Felicia having made huge mistakes that she regretted in her life, and as a reader, you understood not wanting to face the worst parts of your life.  It sort of set Felicia up as an unreliable narrator who wasn't telling you everything, but with the memory system, you figured that you would find out eventually.

Vivid Flashbacks:
Flashbacks can often screw with pacing, but I found that the flashbacks were by far my favorite moments in the book.  Often the settings in the flashbacks were beautifully described and sensory experiences.  Some of my favorite scenes: musical goat trip, hearing Neil sing, the church game, and sushi with Autumn.

Problems I Had:
All my notes for the first four chapters were so positive, but as the story continued you can see my notes get more and more frustrated.  I'm going to try to divide my problems into categories.  I don't necessarily blame the author for these issues.  These are things that editors and beta readers should have questioned and given her time to work on.

Lack of World Building:
I'm very confused because I've read reviews that praise Appelhan's world-building.  I'll admit that the flashbacks are vivid and beautiful.  I'll concede that her memory concept is very cool.  But I found the actual world of Level 2 to be lacking in both detail and logic.  The only things I can tell you about Level 2 are that there are: never-ending hives, a lot of white, grooves, and crevices. Here is a sampling of questions I had while I was reading:

  • How do people find their way around?  This is never clearly explained.
  • How are the hives organized?
  • What is the key difference between life on Earth and Level 2?
  • Why do people have no hair?
  • How does materialization work?
  • If you can't feel anything, because you're dead, than why would you feel the after effects of being drugged?  Same with going off the drugs, why should you feel deprived?
  • Why can you feel some things and not others?
  • Why can you be wounded if you're dead?
  • Why can you die?  If you're already dead...
  • How can people be erased if their memories are accessible via the computer system they have?
  • Why do characters need rest if they're dead?
  • If they can materialize anything they want, why would they choose an antiquated bow and arrow instead of say... a machine gun?

Appelhan chose a super tough setting to tackle in her debut novel: the afterlife.  But I'm not going to give her a free pass on logic just because it's a mystical place.  I think if people had asked her some of these questions, and she'd been forced to think about the rules of her world, then we might have gained a clearer understanding of this fascinating vision of the afterlife.

Lack of Connection to the Rebellion:
I had so many problems with the rebellion.  First was the total lack of threat.  All we see in the beginning of the book are these blinking scanner things that don't actually do anything to harm them.  And there's people hiding and saying to be careful.  But we don't actually see any of these scanners do anything threatening... ever.

Then we're told there are these evil Morati angel people.  But we don't actually see them... until chapter 19 (of 21).  We don't know what they look like or have seen them actually do anything.  All we have to go on is what three people tell us about them.  You can't keep you main antagonist off-screen like this for the whole book.  It doesn't work.  If you want me to be invested in a rebellion, then I have to understand who/what I'm rebelling against.

We do get these weird zombie things.  They were kind of scary, but their appearance was brief (and not until chapter 17 of 21).  There were two zombies.  Two.  And they chopped their heads off, no sweat.  That was the biggest threat in the whole book.  Two zombies.

And my final issue with the rebellion is that we don't meet many rebels.  We meet three: Julian, Mira, and Eli.  That's it.  But then, at the end of the book, it says, "I see Mira and Eli leading a charge of several thousand rebel troops against the Morati palace."  What?!?!  We only saw three rebels the entire book and suddenly there are THOUSANDS.  And this epic, huge battle... is only one paragraph and told to us from off-screen.  Felicia isn't there.  Nor did we know of any plans of an epic battle to attack the palace.  And what is this palace?  Why would you keep this action off-screen?  You're completely keeping your reader isolated from this rebellion.  I wasn't invested in it at all.  I had no emotional ties to what was going on.

Felicia's Role:
I get the vibe that Felicia was some sort of chosen one, and they needed her energy... to power the world?  I really did not understand.  Many times we are given really obvious hints that Felicia is super powerful and extra special.  Think like the Matrix and Neo being the One.  But I still don't understand all the energy stuff or why she's so coveted by both sides of the rebellion.

I was excited at the beginning of the book because I thought what made her special was that she had mad computer hacking skills.  And I thought she'd be able to use those skills in this world of Level 2.  But that never happened...  Instead Felicia has some special energy... and can materialize stuff really well... and gets over drugs fast...  (I still don't understand the materialization process which seems to require no skill and has no limitations.)  If you're going to make a character into the Chosen One, then I better understand why they're so special, and in Felicia's case... I didn't.

Repetitive Structure and Writing Techniques:
I began to get really tired of cliffhangers at the end of every short chapter.  I felt like I was constantly getting splashed with ice cold water.  Ha!  Bet you didn't see that coming!  Actually, after the first few times, if you toss ice water at me enough, I will expect it.  The cliffhangers grew repetitive.  There are other ways to end a chapter and still get the reader to keep reading.  You don't have to always throw out a surprise.  Mix it up.

And there were some cliché similes that kept popping up at the end of paragraphs, such as:
"I almost feel like I'm a lab rat in some futuristic sci-fi maze."
" a starving person begging for crumbs."

Other Things that Bugged Me:
-Characters disappearing for pages and suddenly reappearing.
-When things were revealed.
-The big reveal about Autumn at the end.
-The big reveal about Julian at the end.
-The big reveal about Neil at the end.

(Don't want to discuss the reveals because that would mean spoilers, but if you want to discuss, let me know.)

Overall Rating: 
I was really looking forward to this book, and while there were some things it did well, overall I was disappointed.  On goodreads, I gave the book 3 stars, but it would probably be more like a 2 and a half.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Top Ten Most Frustrating Characters

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. For more information about Top Ten Tuesday and a list of upcoming Top Ten Tuesday topics, click here.

Top Ten Most Frustrating Characters

These are in the order that they occurred to me...

1. Umbridge from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
She was the first person to pop into my mind, likely because she's so evil... yet so pink... and a cat lady... She made all those rules and called Harry a liar.  And yet there was nothing we could do to stop her.  She wasn't your traditional villain that you could fight back against, and so she was FRUSTRATING.  You wanted to fight back and couldn't.

2. Rita Skeeter from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
This was another frustrating character because she was a liar.  I must not like characters who lie.  I understood Harry's frustration as she kept publishing false articles about him.  And just the image of her sucking on her Quick Quotes Quill makes me want to seethe.  And who wears lime green all the time?  Really?

3. Bella Swan from the Twilight series
Oh, Bella.  You frustrate me in so many ways.  I'm sure she is going to be on a lot of people's lists.  I wish she'd been a stronger character.  I wish she stood up to Edward when he was being a manipulative boyfriend.  I wish she hadn't just moped for months when Edward left her.  I wish she hadn't been so focused on having sex with Edward.  I wish she had some interests outside of becoming a vampire.  I wish she had a vampire power that was better than making protective bubbles.

4. Seth from the Fablehaven series
I seriously LOVE this middle grade fantasy series, but I don't think I reviewed it here on the blog... Need to remedy that!  Seth is a GREAT character, but I found him frustrating because he was a rule breaker.  If you tell him not to do something, he'll do it.  If you tell him "SERIOUSLY! DON'T DO THIS OR YOU'LL DIE!" Seth will still do it.  He was the perfect balance to his rule following sister, but he still drove me nuts with all his rule breaking.  Though he made for great conflict and tension.
I seriously LOVE this series.  The later books are so, so good!

5. Romeo from Romeo and Juliet
Gah!  Romeo!  You are so emo and mopey and moody.  And you jump from girl to girl.  And then you do stupid stuff like kill your wifey's cousin.  And then even stupider things like buy the most deadly poison to kill yourself.  You pretty much ruined your own life as well as Juliet's in my opinion.  Poor Juliet.  She was by far the stronger character.

6. Tris in Insurgent
I did not understand why Tris was making certain choices in Insurgent.  I don't have my copy of the book because it is loaned out, and my memory isn't good enough to cite specific examples.  But allow me to quote my review:
"Four keeps showing Tris that he stands by her and cares about her, and honestly, I don't know if I would have put up with some of the things Tris did.  Granted she just lost her parents and killed someone she didn't want to kill, but some decisions she made caused my brain to scream a little in frustration."
 7. Miranda from This World We Live In
Miranda went through so much in book one, and grew so much as a person, and then in book three she seemed to revert to her self-centered, immature self.  I was incredibly frustrated by this, and it kind of ruined the book for me.  A book I'd really looked forward to.

8. Cassia in Matched and Crossed
Cassia frustrates me because I don't understand what she sees in Ky.  I like Xander, who is handsome, clever, and loyal.  But for some reason Cassia likes Ky the martyr.  I still haven't read Reached, and I am still debating whether I want to invest time in finishing this series because I had a hard time with book two.

9. St. John Rivers in Jane Eyre
St. John Rivers is such a cold and emotionless character.  He has the makings of a good man: how he wants to be a missionary and how he looks after his sisters and Jane.  But he is so strange and cold.  When he is asking Jane to be his wife and to go to India with him, I wanted to scream at Jane because she couldn't possibly be happy with such a cold man.  So I was probably mostly frustrated by him because I didn't want Jane to end up with him!

10. Miss Havisham from Great Expectations
On the one hand, she's a very memorable character.  On the other hand... GET OUT OF YOUR FREAKING WEDDING DRESS ALREADY.  Don't you want to shake her and tell her to live her life???  Being jilted at the alter is terrible, but wasting your whole life because of one event is an even bigger tragedy.

I'm so excited to see everyone's lists this week!  What characters were you frustrated by?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Book Review: Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight
by Jennifer E. Smith

Published by: Poppy
Form: purchased/paperback
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Big Themes: Love, Travel, Divorce, Fate


Hadley is on her way to her father's second wedding, and she's not happy about it.  But then she meets Oliver, completely by chance, because she missed her flight.  Their chance meeting might make you believe in fate... and love at first sight.

Love the Cover:
Very rarely do I bring up covers in my reviews.  But I adore this cover.  I love the black and white with red accents.  I love the font choice.  I love the couple kissing as the rest of the world seems to fly by them.  I wish I could give a bonus to the person who designed this cover because they probably pushed me to pick up this contemporary read.

Hadley and Oliver's Chance Romance:
I love that they met as a result of a missed flight.  I love the setting being in a busy airport.  I love their hushed conversations on the plane ride.  I love everything about their 24 hour romance.  Probably because I'm a sucker for the idea of fate, and I'd love to meet someone in this way.  Being out and about and suddenly being blindsided by love at first sight.  I could totally go for more contemporary books in this vein.

Hadley's Parents and Family Issues:
On the one hand, I liked that Hadley had this inner conflict going on.  It gave her character depth and provided an emotional journey that I'm sure a lot of teens can connect with.  However, I found myself being frustrated by the frequency of flashbacks and emphasis on family drama because I really just wanted to read about Oliver and Hadley's romance.  So my frustration was entirely selfish in nature because I just wanted to read the happy mushy stuff.  So the pacing felt slow when I was reading about the family drama, but I recognize that this content added depth to the story.

Overall Rating:
I gave this book three stars.  Keep in mind that I don't really enjoy contemporary fiction, especially books that deal with real life problems (such as divorce and split families).  But the premise of meeting someone in an airport and the romance was lovely.  Most people adore this book, and I did enjoy it, but not enough to bump it to four stars.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Book Review: Opal

by Jennifer Armentrout

Published by: Entangled Teen
Form: purchased/paperback
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Big Themes: Love, Aliens, Twins, Bad Boy, Super Abilities

Review of Book 1: Obsidian
Review of Book 2: Onyx

Opal has to deal with the aftermath of Onyx.  After the death of one character and the betrayal of another and the return of another character, Daemon and Katy must figure out what their next move is and how to handle the Department of Defense.  It's kind of impossible to write a summary that doesn't spoil the other books so pardon me if I'm vague.

Relationship Growth:
One thing that I love about this series is how Katy and Daemon's relationship is steadily growing and changing with each book.  In the first book, their relationship is playful and fiesty.  In the second book, they are truly getting to know one another and they begin to take each other seriously.  In the third book, Katy and Daemon are working on more mature aspects of a relationship: communication, trust, and plans for the future.  Maybe I don't read enough romances to speak on this, but I haven't seen this kind of growth from book to book in a romance series before.  But I definitely like watching Katy and Daemon grow as a couple, and this is a major plus of the series for me.

Secondary Characters with Major Problems Not Easily Solved:
This is another area that I refuse to give away spoilers, but will be a challenge to articulate.  There is a large cast of characters, and Armentrout adds depth to each of them by giving them their own challenges and desires.  Armentrout doesn't hold back at throwing REALLY tough situations at her secondary characters.  And then she also doesn't allow these problems to be solved in the blink of an eye.  This is something I really respect because I get enormously frustrated when problems are solved too easily.  I also respect that her secondary characters are more than just names and faces.  I'm becoming quite the critic of books where there's no depth to secondary characters because I see how much it adds to the story to give each character some depth.

Action and Pacing:
The action and pacing were different from the first two books in the series.  It wasn't so much physical battles and explosions as it was reconnaissance missions and gathering intel, which created a different sort of tension.  I know that some readers stated that there was less action in this book, but I did not feel like the pacing suffered.  I still flew through this book just as quickly as I did the others.

Cliffhanger Ending:
For some reason, I thought this series was a trilogy, so when I got to the ending, I was doubly shocked by the cliffhanger.  Thank goodness there will be five books.  However, this is one of the cruelest cliffhangers ever.  EVER.

Overall Rating: 
This series has been a solid four stars across the board for me.  I really enjoy these books as fun, easy, quick-paced reads.  And I'm gaining a lot of respect for Armentrout because of how much thought she puts into her large cast of characters.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Behind the Story: Emotion Part 3

Owl & White/Red BookBehind the Story posts will be about what goes on behind the scenes as a writer creates their story.  I'll be writing about my own writing process and sharing any tips or advice I've discovered on my own or gathered on the topic. Hopefully both readers and writers find these posts fascinating!

This week's topic:

The past two weeks I've been discussing emotional plots and emotional journeys from a writer's perspective.  For previous posts:

What the Experts Have to Say

Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies
By Deborah Halverson

Pages 98-99 examine the differences between plot driven stories and character driven stories.  

Plot driven stories “put the action first” and “have an episodic feel to them as the characters move from event to event” and are often described as “page turners.”  Plot driven stories tend to appeal to boys and are often the following genres: adventure, fantasy, mystery, crime, thriller, and sometimes historical fiction.  One warning about plot driven stories is that characters can sometimes become stereotypical because the author wants to move the pace along instead of spending time on characterization.

Character driven stories “spotlight your main character’s emotions and psychological development” and “what happens isn’t as important as how the character reacts emotionally to what happens.”  The following genres are often character driven: contemporary-issue books, chick lit, multicultural stories, and coming-of-age themed books.  Some warnings for character driven stories are to beware of telling instead of showing, not to be afraid of action because it can reveal more about your character, and  to beware slow pacing from too much emotional wallowing and self-analysis.

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression
By Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

This is a very cool book.  Emotions are arranged alphabetically into entries similar to a dictionary or encyclopedia.  You can look up an emotion and it will give you:
  • definition
  • physical signals
  • internal sensations
  • mental responses
  • cues of acute or long-term feelings
  • what this emotion could escalate to
  • cues of suppressed feelings

It’s really an amazing little book.  Especially if you feel like you are overusing the same response for an emotion.  For example, your character keeps having stomach fluttering when she’s nervous.  If you look up nervousness, you get 33 physical signals and 11 internal sensations that indicate nervousness.  So awesome!

The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers
By John Gardner

Gardner presents an interesting exercise for using description of setting to convey the emotions of the character.  His exercise: “Describe a barn as seen by a man whose son has just been killed in a war.  Do not mention the son, or war, or death.  Do not mention the man who does the seeing.”  Gardner says that a talented writer should be able to conjure a powerful image that evokes everything the man is feeling using the barn as a focus.

Second Sight: An Editor’s Talks on Writing, Revising, & Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults
By Cheryl Klein

Klein has a short but wonderful chapter in her book titled, “Four Techniques to Get at the Emotional Heart of Your Story.”  My favorite part of the chapter was where she said, “Every scene has to have a point, and often it is an emotional point.”  When you’re revising a manuscript, and perhaps asked to cut scenes, you can ask yourself if this scene is a plot point or an emotional point.  She even goes so far to say that writers will often cut off after the action and right before the emotional point is reached.  This made me wonder if I had any scenes where emotions weren’t dealt with because I cut out too early.

How to Write a Damn Good Novel
By James N. Frey

Frey has a great section titled, “Inner Conflict and the Necessity Thereof.”  Basically, he writes that inner conflict is necessary for good fiction.  He gives several classic literary examples to illustrate his point.  He says that Godzilla doesn’t have the makings of dramatic fiction because there is no inner conflict.  Giant green monster tearing up your city, of course you kill him.  There is no internal battle of wills.  In Hamlet on the other hand, the prince wants to kill his father’s murderer but has an internal struggle against it.  This internal struggle is what grips the reader and makes great dramatic fiction.

I hope you've enjoyed this series of posts on emotion!  Let me know in the comments if you have another writing topic you'd like to see featured!

Links to Previous 'Behind the Story' Posts:

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Book Review: Onyx

by Jennifer Armentrout

Published by: Entangled Teen
Form: purchased/paperback
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Big Themes: Aliens, Twins, Bad Boy, Super Abilities

Review of Book 1: Obsidian

*This Review Contains Some Mild Spoilers*

After Daemon heals Katy, there's some sort of connection between them.  And Katy can suddenly do things that she couldn't before.  And suddenly Daemon has decided that he wants to be with her?  He was such a total jerk, that Katy is having a hard time believing that he has true feelings for her, that aren't just their special alien connection.  And then there's the new boy... And the new threat of the Department of Defense which might be worse than the Arum...

Daemon Black:
In Onyx, "Jerk Daemon" becomes "Sweet Daemon" and I love it.  Don't get me wrong, I like the whole bad boy thing, but when Daemon turns on the charm as he tries to woo Katy and prove his feelings for her, I was smitten.  There were some seriously sweet moments that melted my heart, but I don't want to give even one of them away.  Part of the fun was seeing what Daemon had up his sleeve.

Raising the Stakes:
So the evil alien Arum were scary, but Armentrout introduces a bigger, badder villain in Onyx: The Department of Defense.  Actions in the first book have unforeseen consequences that up the stakes in the second book and put many characters in serious danger.  The action in this book is unbelievable.  You don't know who to trust.  People DIE.  I praised Obsidian for being a page-turner, and Onyx is just as good if not better.  You won't be able to put this book down.

Love Triangle?
I never wanted Katy to be with anyone but Daemon, but at the same time, I understood why Katy considered seeing the new guy Armentrout introduced in this book.  Daemon is complicated.  He's an alien.  He's been a jerk.  And when Armentrout brings in new guy Blake, with the blonde surfer guy look, I do understand why Katy considers seeing someone normal.  Though I still thought she was being an idiot because who wouldn't want to be with Daemon... but whatever.  While it can be frustrating because second books always seem to introduce "another guy" I did feel like Armentrout justified and executed this love triangle pretty well.

Overall Rating:
This was an excellent second book in the series with growth in the characters, high stakes, and a plot with lots of twists, turns, and consequences.  Luckily, you don't have to wait to pick up book three, Opal, because you'll definitely want to start the sequel as soon as you finish Onyx.  Four stars.

My review of Opal will be posted on Saturday... Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Top Ten Settings I Want to See More Of

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. For more information about Top Ten Tuesday and a list of upcoming Top Ten Tuesday topics, click here.

Top Ten Settings I Want to See More Of...

These are in the order that they occurred to me...

1. Alternate History
After finishing Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan series and being in total awe of how he created his own story within the context of history, I want more stories like this!  I love the idea of looking at how history could have turned out differently.

2. Time Travel
I love the idea of time travel and think there are so many possibilities to explore.  Not only could this encompass a variety of different settings, but I also love the idea of what you do in one setting impacting the future setting.  Butterfly effect.

3. Ancient Times
Ancient Egypt, Ancient Rome, Ancient Greece, Ancient China... I want to go back to these great empires.  No doubt these were exciting times.  I'm a fan of escapist fiction and any of these ancient times would make for a great escape from our technology driven reality.

4. Victorian Era
This somewhat translates into my desire for more steampunk.  This period fascinates me, from the style of dress, to the fascination with spiritualism and natural history, to industrialization.  It was such an exciting time of growth and discovery with so many possibilities.

5. World War I
This probably comes from my current love of Downton Abbey.  I see plenty of literature focused on World War II, but far less about World War I.  I can see strong tragic romance possibilities because so many young men died.

6. Futuristic, but not Dystopian/Apocalyptic
I'm a huge fan of dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction, but it might be fun to explore a less grim view of our future.  I still want conflict and challenges, but maybe something that isn't "the government is out to get us" or "the world is ending."  Perhaps something with awesome gadgets and mystery and adventure.

7. American Revolution
This is another time period that I think is really exciting and inspiring.  Felicity was my favorite American Girl, and I loved how exciting her stories were.  I'd love to see some spunky heroines, perhaps on both sides of the Revolution.

8. Wild West
Trains, cowboys, pioneers in the rough and expansive landscape of the Wild West are full of possibilities.  This is a unique setting that we see little of in YA.  And hot cowboys?  Yes, please.

9. During Travel (Trains, Planes, Zeppelins, Ships)
There's something romantic about long trips because it's just long enough to establish a connection, and then there's the threat of what to do when you arrive at the destination.  Titanic is an obvious one, but I also read this book a long time ago called Hindenburg, 1937 that was a romance aboard a doomed zeppelin (with Nazis) and it was such an engaging setting!  I'd also love to see some stories aboard trains.  I really like trains.

10. Sports Arenas
I want more books featuring girl athletes.  One of my favorite movies is Bend It Like Beckham.  I played on travel volleyball teams and even though that movie was about a soccer team, it still resonated with me.  I can't think of a single book I enjoyed about a girl athlete...  So clearly we need more!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Book Review: Obsidian

by Jennifer Armentrout

Published by: Entangled Teen
Form: purchased/paperback
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Big Themes: Aliens, Twins, Bad Boy, Super Abilities

Katy moves to a small, obscure town in the middle of West Virginia after her father dies from cancer and her mother needs a change of scenery.  Her next door neighbors happen to be incredibly attractive twin teenagers: the bubbly, friendly Dee and her arrogant, rude brother Daemon.  Katy and Dee become friends, but Katy isn't sure what to make of Daemon.  Most of the time she wants to slap him, but then she learns he has a secret... he's an alien.  And Daemon's alien abilities have put Katy and his family in danger.

This may sound a little too similar to Twilight in it's premise, but the characters make this paranormal romance much more enjoyable and interesting.  If you want a paranormal romance with a teen girl heroine who actually has interests/hobbies and doesn't let herself be pushed around just because a guy is hot, then Armentrout wrote this book for you.

The main character, Katy, is an enthusiastic book blogger.  I found it refreshing to have a main character who has a passion and interest outside of the romance.  And when hot next door neighbor, Daemon Black is a total jerk, she dishes it right back at him.  Katy is a spitfire and doesn't hold back the insults just because her target has washboard abs.  Katy and Daemon's fiesty relationship makes the soft, tender moments even stronger.

I've always been a fan of relationships that start off fiesty between characters, and it takes awhile before the characters admit that they like each other.  Examples: Elizabeth Bennet/Mr. Darcy (Pride and Prejudice) or Mary and Matthew (Downton Abbey) or Ron/Hermione (Harry Potter).  Katy and Daemon have this kind of relationship. Obsidian is very much rooted in how they can't stand each other but have this underlying chemistry.

Armentrout has a definite strength as a writer in creating chemistry between characters, and this sets her books apart from many of the other paranormal romances out there.  If you haven't checked out this series... there is a reason so many readers are swooning over Daemon Black.  He's far too swoonworthy for his own good... or Katy's.

Snappy Dialogue:
Another strength of this book is the dialogue.  It's snappy.  Quick.  Real.  And totally fun.  I laughed out loud a few times.  And the characters sounded like totally authentic teenagers.  I wish I'd taken better notes as I was reading of some of the dialogue that made me laugh out loud (I'm much better at highlighting/note-taking when I'm reading eBooks instead of physical books).  Here's a few lines that I managed to find as I flipped around:

Example of Katy and Daemon spitting fire at each other:
"Oh, you're an expert in crazy people now?" [Daemon]
"A month with you, and I feel I have a master's degree in the subject," I snapped. (pg. 105)
A friendly chat over boys:
"I don't think he meant to kiss me," I said finally.
"What? Did he slip and fall on your mouth? Those things are known to happen." (pg. 301)
And Daemon calls Katy "Kitten" and I sort of LOVE it:
"See something you like, Kitten?" (pg. 91)

Action and Pacing:
Whew!  There's action throughout the book.  Not just at the end like a lot of paranormal romances.  Life in danger, things exploding, powerful evil aliens, and more.  The book is chunky at over 300 pages, but I easily finished it in just 2-3 days because it was hard to put down.

Cool Aliens:
I know there's probably a lot of people who are skeptical about the whole alien bit.  Especially the idea of "hot aliens."  I don't want to spoil anything, but I really liked the explanation of the aliens and thought the world-building was really solid.  The abilities of the aliens make sense, and their backstory makes them sympathetic.  It's a fun twist on the paranormal romance category (in fact I wasn't even sure if I should place this series in that category because I wasn't sure if aliens fell into paranormal, but whatever.)

These books are intended as a guilty pleasure sort of read.  Bits of the story are quite predictable and follow the format of paranormal romance. Girl meets extra hot guy, notices something is off about him, discovers he's not human, has special powers, he saves her, and they fall in love. That's the formula, right?  If you're going in expecting this to be different from that formula, you'll be disappointed.

Word of Caution:
I'd say this is a book for the older YA set.  I wouldn't recommend this to my middle schoolers.  Lots of profanity and sexiness.  A totally fun read for more mature readers though.

Overall Rating:
The characters are strong and interesting, the romantic chemistry is excellent, the dialogue is super fun, and the aliens are a fresh twist.  If you enjoy paranormal romances, this one is a standout and worth adding to your collection.  I gave it four stars.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Book Review: Goliath

by Scott Westerfeld

Published by: Simon Pulse
Genre: Alternate History/Steampunk
Big Themes: World War I, Air Travel, Genetically Engineered Species, Machines, Heroism, Secrets, Loyalty, Peace

My Review of Leviathan
My Review of Behemoth

*Some mild spoilers in the summary, but tried to keep spoilers out of the review*

Alek returns to the Leviathan after Deryn's persuasion, and they leave Istanbul and the revolution behind them.  While Alek feels he's made a difference in the war, he still desperately wants peace.  Their travels lead them across the world, first to Russia, then Japan, then finally to the United States with a pit-stop in Mexico.  Deryn continues to thrive as an airman, but struggles with keeping her biggest secret from Alek.

What I Loved:

This final book in the series definitely earns the Hughes Reviews Seal of Approval. Scott Westerfeld completes this series with such satisfaction.  There is a line at the end of the Afterword that just filled me up so completely like few books ever have.  I'm in love with the idea of alternate history novels now.  Paired with the brilliant illustrations by Keith Thompson, you will be mesmerized by this series. Definitely check these books out!

I was not expecting so much travel in this book!  That was such a pleasant surprise!  The Russian Bears were eerie and terrifying.  Japan's kappas revealed the gruesome nature of war, but the descriptions of food in Tokyo made me hungry!  The United States didn't have the same wonder and flavor of some of the other places, but the climax and reappearance of old characters more than made up for it.

This book had some of my favorite moments between Deryn and Alek.  Westerfeld does such a wonderful job of showing their friendship and growing feelings for each other through their actions.  Both Deryn and Alek are conflicted about their relationship, but so clearly care for each other and would do anything to protect each other.  They are probably my favorite book friendship/relationship ever.

While not quite as fast-paced as Behemoth with action and battles, the travel kept the pacing quick and Alek and Deryn's interactions kept me turning pages.  The ending is quite literally shocking, and I flew through the last 50 pages.  And you must read the afterword in each book because it gives such insight into the plot and how/why events unfolded as they did.  Westerfeld explains what parts of history he was inspired by and what events were altered for the book.  It brings a whole new perspective to the plot.

BONUS!  Gorgeous Illustrations:
It was hard to pick images that weren't spoilers for Goliath because so many are...  These aren't!  Again, illustrations are by Keith Thompson and are throughout the book, making these a joy to read!

Overall Rating:
Five big, brilliant stars.  Goliath is a wonderful and perfect end to the series.  I can't recommend this series highly enough for fans of fantasy, science-fiction, or historical fiction.  It is a must-read!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Behind the Story: Emotion Part 2

Owl & White/Red BookBehind the Story posts will be about what goes on behind the scenes as a writer creates their story.  I'll be writing about my own writing process and sharing any tips or advice I've discovered on my own or gathered on the topic. Hopefully both readers and writers find these posts fascinating!

This week's topic:

Last week's post was all about how a story has an action plot and an emotional plot.  To see last week's post, click here.  This week's post is about how I revised a draft to improve the emotional plot as well as a discussion of emotional filters.

Emotional Journey

So what’s the next step after identifying the emotional journey of your protagonist?  Conveying that journey.  As I said last post, I’d left myself some breadcrumbs.  Some clues.  But I had to hunt for those breadcrumbs, so surely my reader isn’t going to be able to follow me down that path.  I needed to construct a clearer path, so that my reader could see the journey or change that my main character went through.

In the case of revising “Rebel Angel,” I had to go back into the story and look at how Vera behaved and reacted to situations.  In the beginning of the story, I needed her to show off her rebellious and cavalier attitude, but hint at her own internal struggle with being a failure as an angel.  As I moved to the middle of the story, I had to continue her rebellious attitude, reveal frustration with her mission, and show moments where Vera revealed she cared about her job.  In the ending, I needed Vera to make a desperate shift as she becomes determined to do her job and embracing her role as a guardian angel.

Vera was a bland character in the first draft, so I had to go back and add lots of snarky dialogue, eye-rolling, and a devil-may-care attitude.  I decided that I needed a mentor figure for her to butt heads with, but also to give her that boost of confidence she needed when she became desperate.  Vera also became a more real character to me, flawed and fascinating.  The first draft was around 20 pages, and the second draft was 40 pages.  But the story felt so much more whole after that revision.  It had the action, but it was also an emotional journey.  And even my favorite action-packed novels have characters who grow and change over the course of the book.

Exercise #2

Outline general behaviors, attitudes, fears of your main character at different points in you story that will reveal a progression or growth in their emotional journey.  (Like I did above for Vera the Angel)

Again, I’m a fan of charts, so you might find this format helpful:

Emotional Filter

Here’s another tricky bit in conquering the emotional plot of your story: the emotional filter.  At least, I find it tricky.  Because as much as my characters feel like real people, I am not them.  When I write, I don’t suddenly inhabit their body and mind and let it take over me.  I don’t suddenly see the world as they live it.  Maybe some writers write this way, but I don’t.  I’m very much conscious of the desk, my computer, my cup of tea, and the words coming out of my fingertips.  I’m conscious of the fact that I’m writing, and I’m thinking about where I want the story to go and what words will get me there.

If you aren’t familiar with the term, emotional filter is a writing term, especially important in first person but also close third, that is used in revising writing to remind a writer to see a scene from the character’s emotional perspective.  I tend to struggle with this because I’m not thinking as my main character as I write.

I usually have to go back after my initial drafting and insert emotions and inner monologue.  Sometimes I’ll have some breadcrumbs of emotions to work with, but usually it’s something I have to go back through and add.  As I’ve become aware of emotions being a weak point for me, I think I’ve gotten better at weaving them into my first drafts.  But I know that looking at my emotional plot is going to be one of the major points of my revision when I do finally have a complete first draft.

Three ways to convey what a character is feeling:
  1. Inner Monologue: Dive into what the character is thinking and give the reader direct thoughts.  This is also an excellent way to slow or freeze the narrative for dramatic effect if it is a particularly important or poignant moment.
  2. Dialogue: Convey the emotions through what that character says.  Could your character be confused?  Were they blindsided?  Have them stammer and ask questions.  Is your character angry?  Have them speak tersely or shout.
  3. Action: Little ticks and behaviors can convey emotions.  A clench of the fists, a gasp of breath, a twirl of the hair, a glance at the floor.  I would say that actions are best used in combination with dialogue or thoughts in order to give the reader a full picture of what the character is feeling.

Exercise #3

Write what might seem as a small/insignificant moment, but then convey that this moment has emotional weight for your character.

Exercise #4

Find a scene that is lacking an emotional filter and revise by adding emotions and inner monologue.  Show a before and after of that scene.

Return next week for what I found the experts had to say about emotion and some great writing resources!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Book Review: Behemoth

by Scott Westerfeld

Published by: Simon Pulse
Genre: Alternate History/Steampunk
Big Themes: World War I, Revolution, Air Travel, Genetically Engineered Species, Machines, Heroism, Secrets

My Review of Leviathan

*Some spoilers in the summary, but I kept spoilers out of the review!*

Despite feeling at home on the Leviathan and proving his loyalty to the crew, Alek is still being treated as an outsider because of the war.  Desperate to do something productive and to not become a war prisoner, he escapes to Istanbul where he is able to be useful to the revolution there.  Deryn is proving herself as an airman and given more responsibilities, but how will her affection for Alek and her desire to help him conflict with her Air Service duties?  And can she trust him with her secret?

What I Loved:

Once again, this series earns the Hughes Reviews Seal of Approval. Scott Westerfeld is a master of world-building, characterization, and the alternate history novel. Paired with the brilliant illustrations by Keith Thompson, you will be mesmerized by this book.  This series is unique and clever and I want everyone to read them!

Scott Westerfeld continues to build a layered and complex world.  More new creatures, including the perspicacious loris which was by far my favorite creature in the series.  More mechanical wonders are also added to the roster with gigantic mechanical elephants and Tesla cannons that shoot lightning into the sky.  The way Westerfeld's creations blend so seamlessly with the actual history is what makes is world-building so thorough and clever.

I loved the increasing tension between Alek and Deryn in this book because Deryn is keeping her gender a secret from him, whilst Alek is telling her all his deepest secrets.  The addition of Lilit, the rebellious daughter of the Istanbul revolution, was loads of fun.  She was a strong and independent female character whose interactions revealed insight into both Alek and Deryn's characters.

This book had one of my favorite settings of the entire series: Istanbul.  A place I knew very little about, but the descriptions of food and spices and shadow puppets and elephants made me want to travel there as soon as possible!

This book sailed along at a quick pace, as fast as the Leviathan with Clanker engines.  There were multiple fight and battle scenes, moments of tension between characters, daring escapes from under the enemy's noses, and an entire barking revolution!  The more I look back on the series, the more I think this second book was my favorite.

BONUS!  Gorgeous Illustrations:
Stunning pieces of artwork by illustrator Keith Thompson.  Below are two of my favorite illustrations from this book, though you should really get a book in your hands to fully appreciate the artistic detail in these images.

Overall Rating:
Five big, brilliant stars.  Behemoth is possibly my favorite book in this series, and a wonderful sequel to Leviathan.  I can't recommend this series highly enough for fans of fantasy, science-fiction, or historical fiction.  It is a must-read!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Top Ten 2013 Debuts I Want

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. For more information about Top Ten Tuesday and a list of upcoming Top Ten Tuesday topics, click here.

Top Ten 2013 Debuts I Want

(In order of release date, and book titles link to Goodreads)

1. Pantomime 
by Laura Lam 
(Feb. 5)

Goodreads Summary:
R. H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic is the greatest circus of Ellada. Nestled among the glowing blue Penglass—remnants of a mysterious civilisation long gone—are wonders beyond the wildest imagination. It’s a place where anything seems possible, where if you close your eyes you can believe that the magic and knowledge of the vanished Chimaera is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.
Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets, joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star.
But Gene and Micah have balancing acts of their own to perform, and a secret in their blood that could unlock the mysteries of Ellada.
What grabbed me:
This sounds like such an imaginative and unique story, and I love the cover!

2. City of a Thousand Dolls 
by Miriam Forster 
(Feb. 5)

Goodreads Summary:
An exotic treat set in an entirely original, fantastical world brimming with deadly mystery, forbidden romance, and heart-stopping adventure.
Nisha was abandoned at the gates of the City of a Thousand Dolls when she was just a child. Now sixteen, she lives on the grounds of the isolated estate, where orphan girls apprentice as musicians, healers, courtesans, and, if the rumors are true, assassins. Nisha makes her way as Matron’s assistant, her closest companions the mysterious cats that trail her shadow. Only when she begins a forbidden flirtation with the city’s handsome young courier does she let herself imagine a life outside the walls. Until one by one, girls around her start to die.
Before she becomes the next victim, Nisha decides to uncover the secrets that surround the girls’ deaths. But by getting involved, Nisha jeopardizes not only her own future in the City of a Thousand Dolls—but her own life.
What grabbed me:
This sounds like a gripping and suspenseful read set in a fantastical world. Add a dash of romance to the adventure and mystery, and this sounds like my ideal read!

3. Pivot Point 
by Kasie West 
(Feb. 12)

Goodreads Summary:
Addison Coleman’s life is one big “What if?” As a Searcher, whenever Addie is faced with a choice, she can look into the future and see both outcomes. It’s the ultimate insurance plan against disaster. Or so she thought. When Addie’s parents ambush her with the news of their divorce, she has to pick who she wants to live with—her father, who is leaving the paranormal compound to live among the “Norms,” or her mother, who is staying in the life Addie has always known. Addie loves her life just as it is, so her answer should be easy. One Search six weeks into the future proves it’s not.
In one potential future, Addie is adjusting to life outside the Compound as the new girl in a Norm high school where she meets Trevor, a cute, sensitive artist who understands her. In the other path, Addie is being pursued by the hottest guy in school—but she never wanted to be a quarterback’s girlfriend. When Addie’s father is asked to consult on a murder in the Compound, she’s unwittingly drawn into a dangerous game that threatens everything she holds dear. With love and loss in both lives, it all comes down to which reality she’s willing to live through . . . and who she can’t live without.
What grabbed me:
I love this concept of two completely different lives stemming from a single choice and how intriguing that she can see the possibilities and both options have serious pros/cons. I love everything about this premise!

4. Dualed 
by Elsie Chapman 
(Feb. 26)

Goodreads Summary:
The city of Kersh is a safe haven, but the price of safety is high. Everyone has a genetic Alternate—a twin raised by another family—and citizens must prove their worth by eliminating their Alts before their twentieth birthday. Survival means advanced schooling, a good job, marriage—life.
Fifteen-year-old West Grayer has trained as a fighter, preparing for the day when her assignment arrives and she will have one month to hunt down and kill her Alt. But then a tragic misstep shakes West’s confidence. Stricken with grief and guilt, she’s no longer certain that she’s the best version of herself, the version worthy of a future. If she is to have any chance of winning, she must stop running not only from her Alt, but also from love . . . though both have the power to destroy her.
Elsie Chapman's suspenseful YA debut weaves unexpected romance into a novel full of fast-paced action and thought-provoking philosophy. When the story ends, discussions will begin about this future society where every adult is a murderer and every child knows there is another out there who just might be better.
What grabbed me:
Yikes!  Killing your twin?!?!  Definitely sounds similar to Hunger Games.  Looks like a fast-paced and exciting read!

5. Poison 
by Bridget Zinn 
(Mar. 12)

Goodreads Summary:
Sixteen-year-old Kyra, a highly-skilled potions master, is the only one who knows her kingdom is on the verge of destruction—which means she’s the only one who can save it. Faced with no other choice, Kyra decides to do what she does best: poison the kingdom’s future ruler, who also happens to be her former best friend.
But, for the first time ever, her poisoned dart . . . misses.
Now a fugitive instead of a hero, Kyra is caught in a game of hide-and-seek with the king’s army and her potioner ex-boyfriend, Hal. At least she’s not alone. She’s armed with her vital potions, a too-cute pig, and Fred, the charming adventurer she can’t stop thinking about. Kyra is determined to get herself a second chance (at murder), but will she be able to find and defeat the princess before Hal and the army find her?
Kyra is not your typical murderer, and she’s certainly no damsel-in-distress—she’s the lovable and quick-witted hero of this romantic novel that has all the right ingredients to make teen girls swoon.
What grabbed me:
I love this cover and the protagonist sounds like a strong and conflicted character. Elements of adventure and hints of fairy tale lore, I want to check this one out!

6. The Collector 
by Victoria Scott 
(Apr. 2)

Goodreads Summary:
Dante Walker is flippin’ awesome, and he knows it. His good looks, killer charm, and stellar confidence has made him one of hell’s best—a soul collector. His job is simple, weed through humanity and label those round rears with a big, red good or bad stamp. Old Saint Nick gets the good guys, and he gets the fun ones. Bag-and-tag.
Sealing souls is nothing personal. Dante’s an equal opportunity collector and doesn’t want it any other way. But he’ll have to adjust, because Boss Man has given him a new assignment:
Collect Charlie Cooper’s soul within 10 days.
Dante doesn’t know why Boss Man wants Charlie, nor does he care. This assignment means only one thing to him, and that’s a permanent ticket out of hell. But after Dante meets the quirky, Nerd Alert chick he’s come to collect—he realizes this assignment will test his abilities as a collector, and uncover emotions deeply buried.
What grabbed me:
This is my guilty pleasure, swoony bad boy read for the year.  I enjoy books from the male perspective, and I'm looking forward to reading about this guy with an attitude go soft and get in touch with his emotions.

7. Taken 
by Erin Bowman 
(Apr. 16)

Goodreads Summary:
There are no men in Claysoot. There are boys—but every one of them vanishes at midnight on his eighteenth birthday. The ground shakes, the wind howls, a blinding light descends…and he’s gone.
They call it the Heist.
Gray Weathersby’s eighteenth birthday is mere months away, and he’s prepared to meet his fate–until he finds a strange note from his mother and starts to question everything he’s been raised to accept: the Council leaders and their obvious secrets. The Heist itself. And what lies beyond the Wall that surrounds Claysoot–a structure that no one can cross and survive.
Climbing the Wall is suicide, but what comes after the Heist could be worse. Should he sit back and wait to be taken–or risk everything on the hope of the other side?
What grabbed me:
The high stakes and intriguing dystopian world make this a must read for 2013. I've already heard lots of buzz for this book and I've got my fingers crossed that it will be a favorite.

8. The Ward 
by Jordana Frankel 
(Apr. 30)

Goodreads Summary:
Sixteen-year-old Ren is a daredevil mobile racer who will risk everything to survive in the Ward, what remains of a water-logged Manhattan. To save her sister, who is suffering from a deadly illness thought to be caused by years of pollution, Ren accepts a secret mission from the government: to search for a freshwater source in the Ward, with the hope of it leading to a cure.
However, she never expects that her search will lead to dangerous encounters with a passionate young scientist; a web of deceit and lies; and an earth-shattering mystery that’s lurking deep beneath the water’s rippling surface.
Jordana Frankel’s ambitious debut novel and the first in a two-book series, The Ward is arresting, cinematic, and thrilling—perfect for fans of Scott Westerfeld or Ann Aguirre.
What grabbed me:
Disaster/Survival novels terrify me, but I can't help myself. I devour them. The Manhattan setting and need for freshwater are total pulls for me, and the reference to Westerfeld definitely caught my eye.

9. Reboot 
by Amy Tintera 
(May 7)

Goodreads Summary:
Five years ago, Wren Connolly was shot three times in the chest. After 178 minutes she came back as a Reboot: stronger, faster, able to heal, and less emotional. The longer Reboots are dead, the less human they are when they return. Wren 178 is the deadliest Reboot in the Republic of Texas. Now seventeen years old, she serves as a soldier for HARC (Human Advancement and Repopulation Corporation).
Wren’s favorite part of the job is training new Reboots, but her latest newbie is the worst she’s ever seen. As a 22, Callum Reyes is practically human. His reflexes are too slow, he’s always asking questions, and his ever-present smile is freaking her out. Yet there’s something about him she can’t ignore. When Callum refuses to follow an order, Wren is given one last chance to get him in line—or she’ll have to eliminate him. Wren has never disobeyed before and knows if she does, she’ll be eliminated, too. But she has also never felt as alive as she does around Callum.
The perfect soldier is done taking orders.
What grabbed me:
This is a totally strange but interesting idea. Humans being rebooted and made stronger. And I love novels that make you think about what it means to be human.

10. Linked 
by Imogen Howson 
(Jun. 11)

Goodreads Summary:
Elissa used to have it all: looks, popularity, and a bright future. But for the last three years, she’s been struggling with terrifying visions, phantom pains, and mysterious bruises that appear out of nowhere.
Finally, she’s promised a cure: minor surgery to burn out the overactive area of her brain. But on the eve of the procedure, she discovers the shocking truth behind her hallucinations: she’s been seeing the world through another girl’s eyes.
Elissa follows her visions, and finds a battered, broken girl on the run. A girl—Lin—who looks exactly like Elissa, down to the matching bruises. The twin sister she never knew existed.
Now, Elissa and Lin are on the run from a government who will stop at nothing to reclaim Lin and protect the dangerous secrets she could expose—secrets that would shake the very foundation of their world.
Riveting, thought-provoking and utterly compelling, Linked will make you question what it really means to be human.

What grabbed me:
I love the idea of mysterious links between human beings, and this sounds like a suspenseful read with hints of dystopia.

Which debut novels are on your list?