Monday, February 28, 2011

A Book Review: City of Bones

Title: City of Bones
Author: Cassandra Clare
Genre: Urban Fantasy (YA)
Length: 485

Quality Rating: 9
Content Rating: PG-13

When I picked up City of Bones, the first of The Mortal Instruments series, I wasn't expecting an awesome book. To be honest, I was sort of expecting a paranormal romance of the Twilight variety: stalkerish, hot paranormal boys. The cover sort of made me think that to. So why did I pick it up? Well, I've heard great things about it and as a writer I like to keep up with awesome SF/F--regardless of the age level it finds in. So reluctantly I picked up this shiny covered book, expecting to find vampires (and I really really hate vampires).

But I was so wrong.

City of Bones isn't about vampires. It's about demon hunters. It's not about a girl being strangely and inexplicably drawn to a mysterious and dangerous boy. It's about a girl who seems to see things that aren't there, whose mother is kidnapped, and she must throw her lot in with the only people who seem to know what's going on. That's right--I said people. Not one lone boy. But three teenagers and their adult tutor. But she isn't stupid about it. She lets her normal (non demon hunter) best friend know what's going on. A main character who has common sense??? I know! My mind was blown.

Of course, there is a hot boy. It's not YA without that. But this romance subplot does not resolve in a way you would expect. Let's just say, this isn't a girl meets boy, and they live happily ever after story. The characters in this story have depth, a depth that is realistic, and their relationship is equally realistic. It has ups and downs, complete misunderstandings, subtle hints, and one doozy of a twist.

I loved all the characters, for their depth and realism. And I loved the plot. Oh, it had its predictable twists (what doesn't?) and I saw a lot of things coming, but I loved the way the characters handled these plot points. I loved their human and realistic reactions.

And I loved the urban fantasy world that Ms. Clare built. A world of angels, werewolves, demons, and yes even vampires. I could image this world hidden within our own. I could imagine this secret society of demon hunters and the mind set they developed being real. And in the end that is a big part of what I look for in urban fantasy. Not just a fantastical earth--but an earth that I could believe is our own.

This book will make you want to read the next one and will leave you wishing Cassandra Clare would write faster.

This book is PG-13 for violence, death, kidnapping, demons (which are extra points for generally just freaking me out), and some sexual situations.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Book Review: Across the Universe

Title: Across the Universe
Author: Beth Revis
Genre: Science Fiction (YA)
Length: 398

Quality Rating: 8
Content Rating: PG-13

Beth Revis is the second member of the League to get published, and between following her on the League and the wonderful Authoress singing her praises, I couldn't resist running out to get this book. Not to mention its science fiction, and I love a good SF book. Though, I have a small confession. This book's dust jacket is reversible, with a completely different cover on the inside. The two different covers represent the two different characters, Amy and Elder. Though I am a female and should technically be ok with Amy's romantic girly cover, I really hated that cover. And I really really really love the blue-print Elder cover. So I switched it. Blame the engineer in me.

In the not to distant future, Amy and her family are frozen so they can undertake a 300 year journey to a new planet. Except Amy's mind doesn't freeze like it should. She's aware as time passes. She dreams and remembers, trying to pass the time.

In the distant future, Elder is the future leader of the people who live on the ship and is destined to be leader when the ship finally lands on the new planet. Despite his great destiny, Elder is alone. There is no one on the ship near his age, and he alone is to be trusted with the secrets of the ship.

When Amy wakes up it is 50 years too early, and it is to discover a society that is unlike anything she has ever known. Something is wrong on the ship, and its up to Amy and Elder to figure it out.

I stayed up late one night, reading this book, when I should have been sleeping. I told myself I would only read for an hour, but suddenly three hours had passed. I couldn't put this book down, as I discovered the strange society that inhabited the ship and wondered how a people could possibly go so wrong. The secrets of the ship were not what I expected at the beginning, and I love being surprised. I also enjoyed the description of the ship itself and its layout. I love seeing how people imagine space travel might be.

This book is PG-13 for a crazy intense description of being frozen in the very first chapter (that I admit scared me very much), violence, and sexual situations that include a near rape.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Start of the Year of Weddings

Growing up, I knew intellectually that life wouldn’t end up the way I expected it—that the world wouldn’t change to fit my whims. My life experiences growing up sort of confirmed and denied that. Anything I expected to happen and wanted to happen academically did happen. I always got what I wanted and earned the position I desired. Anything I expected to happen or wanted to happen relationship-wise never happened.

This trend has continued on through college and graduate school. Mandy says she wants to go to France? Mandy studies abroad. Mandy says she want to work for NASA? Guess who offers her a job. Mandy says she wants to go to Grad School? Bam. Doors open.

But Mandy says she wants a boyfriend. Uh…not quite happening.

However, this post is not about me lamenting about not having a boyfriend, because honestly, I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I had one. This post is about another relationship-type life expectation that got completely shot down.

Growing up I never expected to get married right out of college. I expected to live by myself and live the cool singles life with all my awesome cool singles friends. Imagine How I Met Your Mother with less bars, less sex, but same amounts of good times.

So in less than a year I will be graduating from college and I will still be single and able to live this life I imagined with one exception. By this time next year, I will only have the barest handful of singles friends left. And I don’t just mean all my friends are dating someone. I mean that by this time next year, I will only have two female friends left who are unmarried.

This weekend starts the year of weddings. I have seven weddings this year, to be exact.

I’m glad my friends are marrying the men and women of their dreams. I’m glad they’ve found someone to be with, to share the rest of their life with. I wouldn’t take that away from them for the world. It’s just that this isn’t how I thought life was supposed to be. I didn’t think that my friends would be moving on to a stage of life earlier than I expected and thus leave me behind.

And I hate being left behind. Who doesn’t? I was always the girl who was moving on ahead. I was the one who moved away every couple of years, leaving everyone else behind. I was the one who studied hard and took summer classes every summer in high school in order to get ahead. I was the one who went off to an out of state school in order to better my career. But suddenly it’s all my friends who are moving on to a new life, and who are leaving me standing behind, waving goodbye as they drive away from their wedding reception.

Somewhere along the line I forgot that marriage after college is expected and yearned for in Southern Christian circles. At some point on the road, my path completely diverged. And it’s ok being on a different path. I just don’t like being on that different path alone.

Where are my friends to walk with me? Where are my friends who understand what it’s like to be single in this crazy mixed up world?

I’m sure those friends are coming. I’m sure in a year, when I’m out of grad school (fingers crossed) and have a real job I’ll meet these awesome likeminded people who will travel with me. But for now, it can be a little lonely.

Ah well, that’s life. And now I have to go figure out what I’m wearing to wedding number 1. I hope the weather stays nice, because I have absolutely no decent clothes to wear to a cold weather wedding.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Book Review: Shaman's Crossing

Title: Shaman's Crossing
Author: Robin Hobb
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 607

Quality Rating: 6
Content Rating: PG-13

The first book of the Soldier Son Trilogy was slow to start, and for a while I seriously considered putting it down (especially since Beth Revis' book had just come out when I started it). The story is told in first person, as if someone is telling their life story from the end of their life, and to me this made the story very detached. I didn't feel like I was growing up with Nevare Burvelle, I felt like I was sitting and listening to someone tell me about Nevare Burvelle growing up. However, halfway through the book, Nevare went off to the Academy to become an officer in the Calvary. Suddenly, a boring book about a boy growing up was a military academy story, and I love a good military academy story. (I blame this on too many Star Wars books). Suddenly the book was brisk and fast paced. I felt like I was with Nevare, no longer just listening. Suddenly it was a book worth reading. The book kept its brisk pace until the end and left me wondering what would become of this cadet.

This book gets a PG-13 rating for some ridiculously awful hazing, 1800s-esque violence (swords and guns), sexual situations, plague-like disease, and death.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Achieving Life Goals

There are many types of life goals. In my very first post of this blog, I listed my big three overarching life goals. However, there are some smaller life goals that aren't nearly as important or are merely building blocks to these big goals. For example, one of my life goals is to be invited to be a guest at Comic-Con. I see this as a stepping stone to my Hugo Award dream. Another smaller life goal of mine was to meet LeVar Burton, which I did at Dragon*Con this year. And yesterday, I unexpectedly met another life goal.

I came to school this morning an hour later than usual, because my 9:00 o clock meeting was canceled. I was strolling up to the AE building, when suddenly a student with a yellow bandanna tied around his upper arm dashed past me into the building, running as if his life depended on it. In a way, his life did. Today was the first day of Zombies versus Humans. Georgia Tech plays Zombies versus Humans every semester, and my friend Allison was looking forward to playing it this semester. However, it looked like she had missed the start, so instead of going straight to my office as normal when I entered the building, I went to Allison's office.

First off, I informed Allison she had missed the start of the game. She had already realized earlier that morning it was true. My grisly deed done, I went to head out of the office, when the undergrad at the undergrad desk stopped me by saying, "Did you hear Billy Nye is coming today at 12:30 today?"

Me: "Like to Georgia Tech?"

Undergrad: "Yeah, but to our conference room."

Me: "No way. No way is Billy Nye coming to our conference room."

But it was true! Bill Nye had lunch with my lab today, which isn't that many people. He came and we geeked out over several aerospace engineering concepts like adding ridges to motorcycle helmets to create turbulent flows and watching movies of old airliners doing barrel rolls. It was awesome.

And so another childhood dream and life goal fulfilled. I met Bill Nye! Woohoo!

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Book Review: The Scorch Trials

Title: The Scorch Trials
Author: James Dashner
Genre: SF (YA Post-Apocalyptic)
Length: 360

Quality Rating: 9
Content Rating: PG-13

Read First: The Maze Runner

After an amazing, unique first book, I sometimes worry when I pick up the second book. I don't want the second book to simply be the first book again, and I don't want to be disappointed. I want the second book to be as unique and amazing as the first book. This is the fear that I had inside of me when I picked up The Scorch Trials.

Thankfully, James Dashner did not disappoint me. The Scorch Trials was not simply a rehash of The Maze Runner. Though this book was another pre-planned challenge for the Gladers, a challenge they must survive and win in order to save their world (somehow), it is not the Maze. It is uniquely different. We are introduced to new characters, new plot, and this leads to all new character development. The dynamic among the Gladers changes and Thomas, our own dear main character, is given a challenge unlike anything else he can remember (which granted isn't very long).

Fantastic from beginning to end, I cannot wait until the third book and cannot wait to see if and how the Gladers will save their world.

This book is PG-13 like its predecessor for violence, death, betrayal, disease, and violence.

Friday, February 18, 2011

My Fictional Crush

(Sorry for posting so late today, but today ended up being much busier than I expected. Without further ado, the post)

Some people crush on actors. Some people crush on people in real life (psh...that's overrated). Me? I crush on characters from books. When I was in middle school, my love darted between Jacen Solo and Wedge Antilles, both from the Star Wars universe. But in high school and beyond, my crush lies with one fictional man, Mat Cauthon.

Mat Cauthon from the Wheel of Time. General of the Band of the Red Hand. The player of the Horn of Valere. Prince of Ravens. Pretty much awesome. Unless of course, you've never made it past the first three books of the Wheel of Time. Then you're thinking "What? She likes that dagger-crazed freak?"

Yes, Mat gets off to a rough start in the Wheel of Time, but when I first started reading it the first 8 books were already out. I read them all in a relatively short period of time so I watched Mat develop from the possessed, treasure obsessed boy into the man who leads hundreds of men in battle (and wins).

Mat has many qualities that I actually do prize in a man. He's laid back, has a sense of humor, and a strong sense of responsibility (though his sense doesn't always line up with the other characters in the book). He is loyal to his friends and to his men.

However, there are a lot of qualities that Mat has that I would not appreciate in other men.

For one, he's such a player. And he's a gambler (though to be fair--is it really gambling if you know you're going to win?). He's a troublemaker and he curses a lot. None of these things are what I prize in a guy.

But I think they work very well as qualities of Mat, and they make me love him more. Probably this is because I am in his head. I know exactly what he's thinking when he does these things I don't like. However, its possible its a little bit of a bad boy complex. I have never liked real bad boys (honestly, badness is just unattractive), but Mat is mischievous, and a troublemaker/mischievous boy is my equivalent of a bad boy.

So there you have it. My confession. I adore Mat Cauthon of the Wheel of Time.

How about you guys? Anyone out there have a book crush?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

No Post Today

For the past month I've been doing really well about writing all my posts a week in advance and having them scheduled to post. However, due to the crazy factor my life has reached in the past week, I didn't actually finish today's post. Since I have a test today that I'm studying for all day (almost literally--the test is at 3:00 pm so I have most of the day to study), I will not be able to finish up the post for today. Instead, I'll post it tomorrow.

See you tomorrow!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Book Review: The Maze Runner

Title: The Maze Runner
Author: James Dashner
Genre: Science Fiction ( YA Post-Apocalyptic)
Length: 374

Quality Rating: 9
Content Rating: PG-13

This book is Ender's Game meets The Cube. A set of boys live in the center of a Maze, a maze they think they must solve in order to escape. But all is not what it seems in the Maze. When a girl shows up, Thomas knows this is the beginning of the end.

This book was gripping from the beginning to the end. I had to know the solution of the Maze and what the purpose of the entire thing was. I felt for Thomas as he struggled to figure out who he is and his connection to Theresa and the Maze. I learned to love the Gladers along with Thomas, I learned to become their friends. I felt fully immersed in this world. When the Gladers failed, I failed. When they succeeded, I succeeded. And that is what a novel is all about. Feeling like you are there, in the action.

Another great aspect of this YA novel is that it is one of the few YA boy books! Not to say girls can't enjoy it and love it--because I did. But if you're looking for a young adult book to get your son, brother, or friend, this is definitely an option.

I give this book a PG-13 for violence, death, betrayal, pure fear, and violence. Lots of kids die in this book. Granted, its not like the one-on-one deaths/murders in The Hunger Games, its more like death in the midst of battle. This novel is not for the faint of heart.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

My Favorite Fictional Couples

In the theme of love, today we're going to discuss my favorite fictional couples, the love stories and romances that make me feel warm and fuzzy.

I'm pretty honest with most people that I don't like romance novels; however, that doesn't mean I don't like romance. I just like romance that occurs in the greater plot of a novel. So here are my favorite couples, my top three romances in fiction.

Third Place: Vin and Elend
Book: The Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson
Elend is a bookish lord's son. Vin is a tough street urchin. And yet, they are amazing together. I think one of the things I love about Elend and Vin is that they are so much better together than they are apart. Vin makes Elend strive to be the man he should, a lord who really can lead. Elend makes Vin less rough, wild, and street, a woman who can take care of not just herself but also care for others. They are better together than they are apart.

Second Place: Ella and Char
Book: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levin
Honestly, when I want to read a good romance, I read Ella Enchanted. Most might think that's strange, since its a middle grade novel, but there is just something awesome and pure about Char and Ella's romance. Ella is a spunky girl who is trying to live with a ridiculously awful curse. She doesn't expect Char to save her, like so many traditional fairytale girls do, but expects to save herself. Char is a serious, responsibility driven prince who is doing everything he can to become the king he should be. And though Ella and Char can exist apart, like Vin and Elend, they are better together.

First Place: Meg Murry and Calvin O'Keefe
Book: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (and many many other books)
Meg and Calvin. What can I say about Meg and Calvin? Two genius misfits who found they weren't alone. Neither is perfect. Together they are an unstoppable team. And the best part? They grow up, get married, and have a ton of kids. They live happily every after, for realz. And that's awesome.

So how about you? Do you have favorite fictional couples? Who are they and why?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentines Day

I don't normally post non-Book Review posts on Mondays. I'm trying to stick firm to my Tuesday and Thursday schedule. However, today is a special day. I day I hold in esteem above all others.

That's right. It's my birthday.

Oh? Not what you thought I was going to say? Well, it's true. My birthday also corresponds to a ancient holiday of love*. In honor of that holiday, this weeks posts will be love themed. In the meanwhile, lets talk about the true meaning of this holiday: my birthday.

I really really really love my birthday. Some think its a little unnatural. And some find it odd since I generally complain about the placement of my birthday, mainly the day it is on. Having a Valentines birthday can really suck. It means your friends and family would rather not spend time with you on your birthday; they would rather spend time with their significant others. It means that sometimes they forget to get you anything, because they spent so much money on those very same significant others. And in general it just sucks.

But I still love my birthday, because my birthday is my day.

When I think about it, I blame my love of my birthday on being the third of four children. When you're in the middle and chronically younger than half your family, sometimes you can feel like you're not important or just a small cog in a large mechanism. For 364 (or 365 on Leap Year) days a year pretty much everyone is more important than I am. And I'm cool with that. I try not to be selfish. Other people are important. And other people have bigger, more important problems than I do. But on my birthday, for once, I get to be number one. Theoretically.

Theoretically, because my birthday is Valentine's Day, which is a holiday when people are supposed to focus on their romantically loved ones.

Since I can't fight Valentine's Day, I long ago embraced it. I've made it my holiday, my day, so that really when people celebrate with their loved ones, they're still celebrating me. Because it's my day.

And that's sort of appropriate. If you look at name meanings, the books will tell you that Amanda means beloved, but its more than that. In Latin if I say "Sum Amanda" I'm saying "I am Amanda" but I'm also saying "I must be loved." It's like a command.

So go out and celebrate your Valentine's Day. Enjoy it. Live it up. And remember, it's my day. :)

*To all the people out there who think Valentine's Day is just a made up holiday, look up Lupercalia. People have been celebrating love at around this date for over 2,000 years. So it may be made up, just not by Americans.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Book Review: Cold Magic

Title: Cold Magic
Author: Kate Elliott
Genre: Fantasy (historical)
Length: 502

Quality Rating: 8
Content Rating: PG

I had never heard of this book before but the tag line on the cover got me: "When science and magic collide--it is the innocent who will die". Granted, I thought the later half was a little melodramatic, but the first bit about magic and science colliding peeked my interest. Fantasy writers don't often delve into time periods with lots of science. They tend to stick with the middle ages.

I found the book to be fast paced, with a sympathetic main character. In fact the entire way this book was written struck me as very YA. So if you have a friend or daughter who is afraid to branch out of the YA section, this would be a good book for them. Cat is engaging, the love story is not intense but instead subtle--and enjoyable in its subtlety. The alternate history aspect is fascinating. We're presented with a world where the Romans ruled for much longer than they did in our world, and its an exotic and fascinating world.

It's been a while since I read this book, so I don't know exactly if it should be PG or PG-13 but nothing in this book stood out to me. There is violence but not excessively and mostly in a self defense situation. However, its possible it should be PG-13, so when I reread this book to prepare for the sequel I will update you. However, if it is PG-13 its definitely closer to the PG side of the spectrum.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


We've discussed a lot of the story idea process, but the one element we haven't discussed yet is conflict. There is a good reason for that. Conflict and good plot are the main things I struggle with. I can create worlds that are rife with conflict--worlds where pickpockets are dominated by mobsters then taken off the street by a man feared by mobsters and regular people alike--but somehow I can't make that conflict jump off the page. Why? How? It's something I'm working on.

Without conflict, there is no story. In some stories, the conflict is obvious. Look at The Hunger Games. A girl's little sister is chosen for a reality show where teenagers fight to the death, so said girl volunteers in her sisters place. She then spends the majority of the novel trying to stay alive. In A Wrinkle in Time, Meg must save her father. In the Lord of the Rings, Frodo must destroy the One Ring. In Harry Potter, a boy must take down the Dark Lord. What would any of these books been without the conflict?

Katniss hunts in the woods.
Meg sulks in the back of a classroom.
Frodo eats six meals a day.
Harry lives under a cupboard.

Exciting, right?

And yet, when writing, I really love exploring some mundane aspects of life. But mostly I love character development, how a character slowly grows and changes. And sometimes, I forget the plot and instead Arthur spends 100,000 words in Copperton getting to know the family he never knew he had. (That's right, Meredith--an Alloquor reference.) To me, its riveting to see how Arthur deals with the fact that he has an extended family, it helps with his healing process over his brother's death...but there is no plot.

It's said that in a novel every sentence should be character development or plot development. Unfortunately, my novels tend to be 75% character development and 25% plot development.

So I really have no helpful hints or pointers on developing plot. My plots get better with each revision of the novel. I'm slowly making my novel more plot heavy (which is especially important in MG).

If any of my readers have tips on how to think of great conflict/plot the first time around though, I would greatly appreciate it. How do you spice up the action of your story?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Book Review: The Warded Man

Title: The Warded Man
Author: Peter V. Brett
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 453

Quality Rating: 7
Content Rating: R

I picked up The Warded Man because Borders kept recommending it to me. You see, I buy a lot of books from Borders, and so when they email me coupons and the like, they also send me Book Recommendations. Usually they recommended books I already owned, but The Warded Man just kept popping up again and again, so I bought it. From the beginning the characters were compelling. I sympathized with the characters' unusual plight. In Brett's world, magical demons hunt humanity, slowly withering them away to nothing. The people don't know how to fight them, and the demons have almost broken their will to fight. But three youth desire to fight back and throughout the events of the novel they are drawn together.

The world is unique, the characters are believable, but somehow the plot was lacking. The book itself had no overarching plot, other than the development of our main characters from children to adults. This book seemed to be a set up book. It'll be interesting to see if the sequel is worth the set up. I hope so, since the premise is fascinating. For readers interested in a unique world, where humans are the hunted, this would be a good read.

This book is rated R for many sexual situations including rape and lots of violence (after all, people are being killed by magical demons).

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Secondary Characters

Other than background "extras" like a shopkeeper who is only visited once, secondary characters are our third type of character. They can be the minions of our main character or antagonist. They can be a friendly neighbor. They can be a supportive best friend. Basically, they're the character who would be looking to get "best supporting actor/actress" if this was a movie.

Spirit Riddled has several that I can think of off the top of my head. All are created because the main character or antagonist needs this person to exist, either to further the plot or to be the character they are. For example, if your main character is a second son who is not to inherit the throne, then there needs to be a firstborn. This firstborn may not be directly tied to the conflict in anyway--he may not even show up in the story directly. But his existence directly correlates to how the second son thinks and behaves. An example of someone who furthers the plot might be the assassin your villain hires to kill off your main character. He exists so that there is an assassination attempt on your main character, allowing him to realize someone has it in for him--thus furthering the conflict.

So these characters are created to compliment the other characters (though by compliment I don't always mean to make look better. Sometimes they make the main character worse). In a past post, I mentioned how its important to me, as a writer, to know the future of a main character--to know whether they marry and if they do who it is. And I asked for your help to create this person. So Mage's wife. Who is she? How did I create her? Did you guys help? Yep. Your comments definitely helped.

So, I was having an extremely hard time thinking of this character--how she would compliment Mage, how she would challenge him, make him grow as a character, and yet be the wife he needed. I was really stumped, and all the comments helped. Some of the comments made me think "No, Mage would never go for that" or "No, that sort of person who never help Mage to be who he needs to be". But some made me think "Yes, Mage needs that!" or "that could help him". However, one comment in particular struck me. My friend, Michael Gabriel said that she and Mage needed to have a "mutual concern for children".

My immediate thought was "yes, of course!" Mage could never be with someone who didn't care for abandoned and lonely children like he did. He would resent her, she would be in direct conflict with one of his life goals. This thought gave me the foundation I needed to create a character who loves lost children more than anything--perhaps even more than Mage.

So for those of you who helped and are curious, here is a small blurb about the woman who will be Mage's wife. A secondary character that was only recently created.

Name: Bridgette Tailor
Occupation: tailor, teacher
History: Bridgette is the middle class daughter of two tailors, and that is what she believes she will one day be. However, she has a kind of heart and is always caring for sick neighbors. She particularly loves children and wants to help the abandoned children of her nation, but doesn't know how. Her parents worry for her safety and don't want her going into the bad parts of their city. And then one day she comes into contact with an abandoned boy.
Attributes: Kind. Bridgette's main characteristic is that she's a bleeding heart. She will help anyone if they need it, even if they are thieves or "demon-possessed". Self-Conscious. Bridgette doesn't really think much of herself. Most people mistake her self-demeaning personality as modesty, but its not. She really just doesn't think she's worth most people's time--which is one of the reason why she is so selfless and throws herself into helping other people so much. Hard-working. Bridgette believes in working hard to get where you want. Though she's willing to teach and help anyone, she believes in teaching a man to fish, so he can feed himself forever. Ardent. When Bridgette believes in something or someone, its with her entire being. She will do everything she can for that cause or person. Reasonable. Despite her ardent nature, Bridgette never loses her ability to be reasoned with. She doesn't blindly believe anything.

Thank you everyone who helped! I'm excited to see how the secondary character of Bridgette will affect Jess and Mage and help them to become better people.

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Book Review: XVI

Title: XVI
Author: Julia Karr
Genre: Dystopian (YA)
Length: 325

Quality Rating: 8
Content Rating: PG-13

In Julia Karr's debut novel, when girls turn sixteen they get a tattoo of the Roman Numerals "XVI" on their wrist, signaling they are ready to have sex. Nina, our main character, is a fifteen-year-old girl who is not looking forward to turning "sex-teen". As if that's not hard enough, her entire life changes when her mom is killed. Now Nina must stop her step-father from stealing her little sister away from their small family.

I was looking forward to reading XVI because I have been following Julia Karr on the League for quite some time. And Julia did not let me down. Though I wished we had gotten to explore the world of XVI a little more, I realize this is a YA book, and as such it must meet the usual YA themes and standards. There is only so much you can explore from a 15 year old's perspective. And yet what Nina did explore was a scarily realistic world--a world that ours could easily become. Nina was also a realistic character. She's the sort of character I would have enjoyed reading about as a 15 year old and enjoy reading about now. And though her love interest is handsome and charming, he's also realistic in the way he interacts with Nina. He doesn't always know the right thing to say, and sometimes puts his foot in his mouth. In short the characters were realistic, the plot was intriguing, and the conflict riveting. I was rooting for Nina the entire way and felt for her the entire time. I highly recommend this book for lovers of YA dystopian novels or just YA in general.

I give this book a PG-13 rating for violence, murder, rape, discussions of sex, and some intense sexual situations. However I would like to add that this book is a great discussion starter about gender roles and the over sexualization of teens. It's the kind of book I could see a mom and daughter reading together and discussing.

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Book Review: I Am Number Four

Title: I Am Number Four
Author: Pittacus Lore*
Genre: Soft Science Fiction (YA)
Length: 440

Quality Rating: 6
Content Rating: PG

I Am Number Four is a book I picked up because its being made into a movie, and I always like to read the book before I see the movie. The idea of the story is intriguing. You basically have some kids who are brought to Earth because their homeworld was destroyed. They have (or rather will have) superpowers. They are being hunted by their destroyers and can only be killed in number order. Numbers One through Three are dead and our main character is Number Four.

This idea could have gone in many ways and been truly fascinating--sort of like Superman meets Roswell. However, the characters came across as a little flat. They didn't really grow and change throughout the book. And the characters seemed a little too similar to the characters in Roswell. Mysterious alien, girl who once dated a football player who happens to be the sheriff's son....Roswell, anyone?

I give this book a PG rating for SF violence and some pretty mean bullying at the beginning. There is a lot of kissing, but nothing too deep or intense.

*Pittacus Lore is the pseudonym of a writing duo: James Frey and Jobie Hughes

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Technically main characters are "protagonists" and opposing characters/bad guys are "antagonists". However, outside of my AP Lit class I've rarely called a main character a "protagonist" but "antagonist" is a word I can't help using. Why? Because not all opposing characters are actually bad. They're not all villains. But this is common knowledge, I'm sure, so I won't cite literary examples or anything. I'm sure you can all think of antagonists who weren't actually bad.

I'm a huge fan of bad guys who aren't pure evil--who have good sides. Mainly this is because unless your bad guys is the devil, Sauron, or some equivalent, he probably wasn't born evil. At some point in his life, he was probably a decent fellow--if not good--and he made some bad choices, like Saruman the White Wizard in LOTR. And then there are antagonists who aren't bad at all--they just stand in the main character's way.

Spirit Riddled has two kinds of antagonists. Those who are genuinely bad (but weren't born that way) and one who is actually good but just stands in Jess's way. How did I think of these antagonists? Well, it's all about creating conflict--something we still have a need to discuss. In the world of Spirit Riddled our three (that's right, three) antagonists came directly from the world building. We have the High Priest--who staunchly believes that all people with magic are demon-possessed. We have the Godfather like ruler of the thieves--who seeks to take out his revenge on Mage. And we have the ruler of the nation--who simply fears that Mage might overthrow him with all of his "magical" power. Basically, all my antagonists run on fear of these magical people.

Spirit Riddled is very much a story about fear in that way.

To create a good antagonist, you need someone who is going to oppose your main character, someone whose intentional and unintentional actions create road blocks.

Generally, my antagonists come in two sorts: products of the world and products of the main character. The products of the world are rulers, priests, lords--people who come form the world building, who would exist regardless of whether the main character existed. The products of the main character are people who are directly connected to the main character and who are unimportant otherwise: an abusive father, a jealous brother, a former best friend, a neighbor.

It's hard to talk about antagonists without talking about conflict, but fear not. Soon we will. And conflict is what drives the story.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Book Review: Beastly

Title: Beastly
Author: Alex Flinn
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Length: 300

Quality Rating: 9
Content Rating: PG-13

I'm going to confess something here. Beauty and the Beast is my favorite Disney movie, by a landslide. So when I saw the movie trailer for Beastly--a retelling of Beauty and the Beast in New York City which happens to have Neil Patrick Harris in it (though not as the Beast), I knew I had to read the book it was based on. I wasn't disappointed. Beastly is a retelling of the story from the Beast's perspective, starting with the curse. Our Beast is a shallow, popular high school student, who has gotten everything he has ever wanted because he's handsome. When the inevitable happens (if you know the story) he is shunned by everyone--including his father. He's left with only his maid and a blind tutor. I really enjoyed this look into the Beast's psyche, the depression, the angst, the agony. Anyone who enjoys the story of Beauty and the Beast will enjoy this modern retelling.

Though there are some intense romantic feelings, there is no actual sex in this book. There is very little violence, except a mugging. However, I felt a PG-13 tag was necessary because the idea of a father willing to give up his daughter to save his own skin is pretty scary and drugs do come up. However, I would be willing to say this book should be like PG-12.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Excel Madness

Today I was going to post about Antagonists, but I decided to postpone it in favor of something else, something that is very near and dear to the heart of everyone I know: Excel.

Yes, Microsoft Excel. I don't think I can describe how wonderful it is, how useful it can be. It's rows and columns, its tabs and sheets, its functions and capabilities. My love for Excel is undying. Oh, I may get frustrated when the lookup function doesn't work like I think it should or when Visual Basic crashes, but I still love it.

And this week I found another use for Excel. It has become the database for my personal book collection. Every book I own (at Tech) is now listed in an Excel sheet. For each book I recorded Title, Series Name, Author, Genre, Subgenre, and Age of Audience. I also created Excel sheets to organize each book by age of audience and genre.

Regardless, this tool gave me an interesting insight to my book collection. I currently have 418 non-textbooks, non-cookbooks in my apartment. What kind of books are they? Voila, the first pie chart:

It doesn't really surprise me that the majority of my books are adult and the minority are YA. This is definitely my leanings in reading. I mean if you think about it, I started reading adult books when I was in the fifth grade and really didn't start reading MG again until college. YA is very new on my reading list in general. I'm sure if I added all the books I had at home into this archive, the percentage of adult books would only increase.

The genre division was a little revealing though. Here it is:

When people ask me what I read I always say "Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Classics". Looking at the pie chart, it's true. Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Classics are the top three (discounting the "Christian" genre which includes Christian Non-Fiction and Fiction, but many of those books are also cross referenced into other genres, like Fantasy--so they're sort of double counted). However, I never realized how much my collection skews towards Fantasy over SF.

Once again, if my childhood collection was added into this count, I know things would change. I was more of a SF reader when I was really young, and if all my Star Wars books at home were added into the Star Wars genre and then you added that to the SF genre, SF might come close to challenging Fantasy. However, I don't imagine it would overrun Fantasy.

When did I, the Engineer who loves Science Fiction, become more of a Fantasy person?

Partially, I think its because there is so little real science fiction out there. Glance at the shelves in the SF/F section of the bookstore some time. There isn't a lot of space opera or hard science fiction jumping out, which is generally what I like. Most science fiction is so soft it might as well be fantasy.

Another part is that there is just less SF in general. The shelves are dominated by Fantasy. It's hard to find SF at all, good or bad.

However, mainly I think I'm going to blame Harry Potter. The girl who only read Science Fiction began to gravitate towards Fantasy because of Harry Potter. I blame Wheel of Time, which introduced me to truly epic story lines, an epic-ness that I feel a lot of science fiction is lacking (which shouldn't be! Space Opera is meant to be epic). And partially its because as much as I love Science Fiction, a lot of Science Fiction is written for men, by men. And though all of my favorite Fantasy writers are male, I think Fantasy writers simply recognize more that some of their readers are female. And trust me, I don't read a lot of female oriented books (did you see the Romance percentage? It's like 2% and that's including romance as a major subgenre and double counting books), but sometimes I feel that extremely male oriented books can leave out a lot of the character development I crave in favor of action. I want to know the characters as well as I know myself and watch them grow and change. Some of the SF I've read has just had amazingly two dimensional characters who do a lot but never really change.

Maybe I'm not just finding the right Science Fiction books. Maybe you guys have recommendations for some great stuff. My SF collection (discounting Star Wars and the books I have at my parents house which are not included in the archives) barely reaches 100 books. There must be stuff I'm missing.

My favorite SF writers are Isaac Asimov, Orson Scott Card, and Anne McCaffrey. Anyone have suggestions that fall along those lines?