Book Review: Sammy Keyes and the Killer Cruise by Wendelin Van Draanen

Title: Sammy Keyes and the Killer Cruise
Author: Wendelin Van Draanen
Genre: MG/YA Mystery
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Release Date: September 10, 2013

This review contains spoilers for those who have not read Sammy Keyes and the Showdown in Sin City.

Today, I bring you my thoughts on the second-to-last installment of a favorite series from my childhood, Sammy Keyes. Sammy, after finally learning who her father is, is now set to join him on a Let's-Get-to-Know-Each-Other cruise across the high seas with her best friend, Marissa McKenzie, in tow! However, as things in Sammy's life rarely do, nothing quite goes as planned, and after making the acquaintance of the family behind the Kensington fragrance empire, Sammy, Marissa, her dad, and his best friend, Marko, end up right in the middle of a classic whodunnit murder mystery.

I loved this book. By all accounts, Sammy's life has completely changed now that she's got her dad in her life—and not just any kind of dad, a rock star dad—and her grandmother has married and moved in with Hudson. Suddenly, all the things Sammy never really had—money, popularity, a bed—are available to her and she's not quite sure what to make of it, especially since she's convinced her dad will flake at any moment just like her mother. On top of all this, Sammy frets about losing Marissa, who is moving to Ohio with her mom and brother after the school year ends. One of the highlights of this book is the window Van Draanen gives us into Sammy's new life and her hesitant attempts to adjust to it. Watching Sammy and her dad, Darren, get to know each other is delightful, and her struggle to enjoy her last harrah with Marissa while trying to figure out how they'll stay close after Marissa moves is relatable. The underlying narrative about dealing with change, both those big, unexpected life changes and the ones that come along with growing up, is one that I think many, regardless of age, can relate to or understand. I certainly identified with it. Having just graduated college, I have lived Sammy's struggle to figure out how to make long-distance friendships work, since my friends are now scattered across the country.

In stark contrast to the cute family unit Sammy and Darren fashion for themselves, our resident antagonists/suspects, the Kensington clan, are a dysfunctional family if you've ever seen one. The kids are not at all concerned by their mother, Kate's, disappearance, which kicks off the mystery portion of the story. Sammy falls into an unlikely alliance with Kip Kensington, an adopted addition to the family, and quickly learns that all of Kate's kids, displeased with their late father's will, have a motive to want their mother gone. Sammy continues in her trademark vein of getting into trouble (and dragging Marissa in with her). In this book, though, she also gains the assistance of two willing troublemakers in Darren and Marko, who, despite being adults, get just as invested in figuring out this mystery as Sammy herself does. Trapped on a ship, Kate's disappearance is your typical locked room mystery that follows in the vein of classics like Clue or Sherlock, a fact Van Draanen alludes to directly when Marko re-imagines the game Clue to include the Kensington clan as the suspects.

Van Draanen does a great job balancing the more subtle nature of the character development aspect with the action and suspense of the mystery, a balance made possible due to the uniqueness of Sammy's voice. Sammy approaches a lot of her personal issues such as her reluctance to call Darren "dad" and Marissa leaving, as well as the mystery itself with a tell-it-like-it-is candor, which means we can read about the "mushy" things without getting bogged down in dramatics. We feel her emotions and see her struggles, but she acknowledges them and just as quickly we're off to the races about something else. Her voice ensures the reader can never get bored, always bouncing us from conjecture to personal reflection to action and back again in a way that will even engage readers outside of the book's intended 9-15 aged audience. (I read the first page of this story out loud to my dad, and it had both of us chuckling.) Plus, Sammy's disdain toward being spoken down to by adults means that Van Draanen never talks down to her readers, and she doesn't shy away from tackling "tough issues," a fact I especially appreciated because so many books written for young people do, as if kids and teenagers can't or don't think "the tough stuff" as much or as deeply as their adult counterparts.

My final verdict? Sammy's done it again! Her spunk, her sass, and her penchant for trouble all come through on the page loud and clear, and they make for a fun, enjoyable, snappy read. I'd definitely recommend this book for anyone who likes the structure or suspense of mystery with a dash of family drama, laugh out loud humor, and classic Sammy Keyes trouble!

5 stars

Book Review: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

Title: The Dream Thieves
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: September 17, 2013
Thanks to Christina for letting me read over her shoulder!

 Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same. Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life. Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after...

The worst thing about getting a book you've been waiting for, anxiously, for almost a year, is finishing it and realizing that you will have to wait yet another year for it to continue. I watched a danisnotonfire video about fiction addictions today, and everything he says is pretty much true. Sometimes, you get so invested in something that you want to live there instead of in reality, and the fictional problems of these characters are so much more important than your own (such as getting a job, looming deadlines, being hopelessly behind on all your other commitments), and just as you're really settling in, imagining exactly where and how you'd fit in with this merry cast of awesomeness, the story ends, and you are violently and suddenly ripped right out of the fantastic into boring, old, seemingly endless reality. And the only question you can form in your head is: why?

The Dream Thieves was just such a book for me. Maggie Stiefvater just has this gift to create vacuums when she writes that just suck you right into the middle of the action, into the middle of the world she's created, and she keeps you there until either the book ends, or you manage to tear yourself away from it long enough to close it. There were perhaps a couple minor things I wish I could change, but this book is glorious. Everyone should read it, if for no other reason than to appreciate her gorgeous writing.

1. Characters: 6/5 (and no, the 6 is not a typo. It's just me being cheesy.)
I'm not one to talk about characters needing to be "relatable," because the world is a big, diverse place. There are plenty of people on it to whom I could never hope to relate; however, Blue, in this book, was very relatable to me, mostly because of the way she feels about the boys—wanting so desperately to fit in with them, but knowing that she never could because of one fundamental difference, in this case, because she is a girl. I also can identify with her struggle to want to be with someone so badly, but knowing that, in the end, you can't be. To do so would mean death.

At times it was painful watching how the boys changed in this book and how their relationship grew as they did, but chalk it up to a certain bittersweetness, because despite all that change, you can tell the boys still care for each other. Both as individuals and as a collective entity, these boys most definitely fall among my favorite characters of all time. The (at times, dysfunctional) relationship between the boys is probably my favorite part of this series.

As a quick nod to the other characters in the book, they too grew more complex, seeming just as real to me as the Raven Boys or Blue did.
2. The Relationship(s): 3.5/5
The inevitable developing relationship between Blue and Gansey gets a shining moment here, just as everything seems to be spinning wildly out of control. Stiefvater does a great job of maintaining that tension between you wanting the two of them to be together and also not because of the horrible, unavoidable fate that relationship will have. She also does a great job of not letting you forget that that caveat exists. I really appreciated how responsibly Gansey and Blue both react to this development. It seemed like a type of discernment not often seen in YA relationships, though I must admit, in the last couple books I've read, the characters involved in the relationship have exhibited a similar type of sense, so maybe it's making a comeback. Or maybe it never left. You can debate me on this one.

The other relationship that pops up rather surprisingly, however, was less convincing. I'm suspicious of why it needed to happen, and it, of all the gentle nudging Stiefvater does to get us where she wants us, seemed kind of heavy-handed. It kind of comes off as a clear authorial decision made just to position people in a certain way for the next book. It was also fairly sudden, which does little to ease my suspicions. I suppose we'll have to wait and see how that turns out.
3. The Antagonist(s): 3/5
The first antagonist we meet was definitely more threatening and scary than the antagonist of The Raven Boys, but I thought he sort of ran out of steam as adding to any of the tension by about halfway through the book. The second antagonist (maybe we can call him that) seemed so flat as a character it was almost comical, so it was hard for me to take him seriously, though Stiefvater definitely does give him an interesting and unexpected twist that fleshed him out in a surprising way. Still, he never quite makes it to full-on antagonist to me.

4. Writing: 5/5
As per usual, Maggie Stiefvater's writing is just...there really are no words to describe it. She has this unique talent that no matter how hard I may try, prevents me from speed-reading her writing. There's something about it so wonderful that I feel the need to experience each word completely. I wish I had her skill to turn a phrase or to describe something so mundane in a way that almost makes it seem magical or that gets right at the heart of it by making you consider it in a totally different light. Yes. Just yes. There were a couple times I remember being confused by what was going on, though. I can't say if that's an issue with her writing or me just misinterpreting, but I'm sure I'll reread this book enough to get it all down in the long run.

5. Pacing: 4/5
The pacing seemed a bit slow, or rather, this book meanders along much like I imagine the mountain roads of Henrietta to. It sweeps along, visits every character, every nook and cranny to build the suspense and tension while simultaneously keeping us confused and slightly disoriented as we continue our slow ascent. But it's all interesting, and it all adds to the plot somehow, so I can't say that the pacing was off. Perhaps the best way to describe this book is patient.

Overall: 4.6/5

My final verdict? Get your hands on this book right now. Unusually, I think it sort of ends up without a clear antagonist, but most of what drives the book is not the fear of the antagonist finding what he's looking for, which would bring him in direct contact with the protagonists, but I think a certain fear of what's happening to the protagonists and the shared desire to know what they are or who they're becoming. The book hits stores on Tuesday.

Book Review: Sailor Moon Short Stories 1

Title: Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Short Stories 1
Author: Naoko Takeuchi
Genre: Magical girl shoujo
Publisher: Kodansha Comics USA
Release Date: September 10, 2013

In this first of two collections of short stories, we find our favorite Sailor Guardians and their friends encountering new mysteries, enemies, allies, and once more saving the day. After the daughter of a foreign diplomat transfers to her school, Chibi-Usa's male classmates suspiciously stop attending classes. Upon investigation, Chibi-Usa discovers the new transfer student is a vampire! Mamoru’s birthday gift to Chibi-Usa turns out to be the brainwashing device of a depressed folk tale heroine come-to-life, seeking sympathy from fellow women and girls! Chibi-Usa’s Pink Sugar Heart Attack becomes literal when defeating a local sprite that has possessed the dentist she and Usagi visit to get their cavities treated. Then, other local sprites wreak havoc in the lives of Mako, Ami, and Rei as they and Mina and Usagi study for high school entrance exams. Finally, Chibi-Usa and her newfound BFF’s help out the quirky proprietor of a mysterious pawnshop that is under attack by both human and otherworldly entities!

I'm back after an unintentional two week sabbatical! This post brought to you by the surprise package waiting on my porch when I got home yesterday. Inside were two books I had totally forgotten were due out, one of which was the first volume of translated short stories from the Sailor Moon series. The volume, contrary to what I thought when I first saw the Japanese volumes in the Japanese bookstore Kinokuniya earlier this year, is not a special edition extension of the story, but rather a collection of  the bonus chapter stories that appeared at the end of the original 18 tankoban (manga volumes). When the series was rereleased in Japan in 2003 to promote the Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon live action drama, the number of tankoban was slashed to 12, a reduction made possible by putting more chapters per book and removing the bonus chapters to make space for the extras. Of course, they couldn't just cut those out entirely, since they were part of the series' canon, so they were compiled into two tankoban and sold separately. What this meant for me was that some of the short stories in the volume, I'd read before (multiple times), some I had seen as animated shorts, and others I didn't even know existed.

The stories were all delightfully silly and fun! Despite being short, individual stories, they were split into two groupings that shared a common theme—the first being Chibi-Usa's Picture Diary and the second the Exam Battles faced by the older girls as they prepare for their high school entrance exams. The stories, as usual, focus more on the backstory leading up the final conflict rather than the conflict itself, a hallmark of shoujo stories. But that works out quite well, as the stories' main purpose mostly seemed to be character development. We are treated to personal character introductions featuring information on favorite colors, favorite foods, blood type (a distinction comparable to zodiac signs in Japan often used as a matchmaking, personality, or behavioral prediction tool), hobbies, etc. Being a huge fan of character development, I appreciated these extra stories right from the get-go, even more so because one of my biggest complaints about the Sailor Moon series is that the other Sailor Scouts are often forgotten when it comes to fleshing out their characters.

The pacing was about what you would expect in these stories, and as mentioned previously, each story is self-contained, despite being a part of a larger thematic narrative. We also get to meet two new characters—Chibi-Usa's BFFs—who had a surprising relationship to one of the trademark side characters of the series that I never knew about! Throughout these stories, we get to experience Takeuchi's gift with puns and what I imagine must have been the result of extensive research.

My biggest issue with this volume likely lay in the translation, which must have been extremely hard to work out this time around. I'd have to read through the Japanese volume to be sure, but Japanese often uses sentence endings to reinforce something such as the speaker's foreign origin or inhuman nature (for instances, talking cats or cat-humans might end a sentence with nyao, the Japanese counterpart to the English onomatopoeia, meow), a feature we distinctly lack in English. I can only guess that this is what accounts for the translator's inexplicable use of the letter "z" and improper grammar to denote what I think must be a(n evil) spirit of Chinese origin or the hard to understand valley girl speak of Chibi-Usa's kogal friends in the bonus chapter and, at times, even harder to understand explanations of their slang as given by Chibi-Usa. (I would also like to note that Chibi-Usa's BFFs don't look like third graders at all. Irrelevant, but it needed to be said.)

My final verdict? I would definitely recommend this book to Sailor Moon fans, particularly if you want to see the girls in a more relaxed setting and learn more about who the other four Inner Scouts are as individuals. It's a fast and fun read, perfect for a break taken from studying for classes or preparing for yet another meeting. Four stars, one star docked for the at times hard to follow translation.

Who's your favorite Sailor Scout? Any you wish you'd gotten the chance to get to know better or that you wish had gotten more screen time in the series? Hit me up! I love talking about Sailor Moon, and I'd love to hear your opinions on the ground breaking series.

Book Review: The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson

Title: The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Genre: Fantasy
Publication Date: September 18, 2012

She does not know what awaits her at the enemy's gate.

Elisa is a hero. She led her people to victory over a terrifying, sorcerous army. Her place as the country's ruler should be secure. But it isn't.

Her enemies come at her like ghosts in a dream, from both foreign realms and within her own court. And her destiny as the chosen one has not yet been fulfilled.

To conquer the power she bears once and for all, Elisa must follow the trail of long-forgotten--and forbidden--clues from the deep, undiscovered catacombs of her own city to the treacherous seas. With her goes a one-eyed spy, a traitor, and the man who--despite everything--she is falling in love with.

If she's lucky, she will return from this journey. But there will be a cost.

In celebration of The Bitter Kingdom, which comes out today, I've decided to post my thoughts on The Crown of Embers, which I just finished last week. Let me start off by saying that I really enjoyed this book. I started it back in January after I devoured The Girl of Fire and Thorns on my flight back to school, and even after picking it up seven months later, the story was still fresh in my mind. I had my issues with the first book, and I had my issues with this book, so I think I ultimately enjoyed them about the same once I weighed my pros and cons, but this ending definitely left me more pumped for the next book than the ending of The Girl of Fire and Thorns did. I will preface this review by saying that spoilers for the first book may appear unmarked in this review—I have tried to mark them, but just as an extra layer of protection, you have been warned.

1. Characters 4/5
My favorite part of this book (and the first one) was Hector. He is probably one of my favorite male leads, because despite being young, he is calm, level-headed, funny, respectful, loyal, and kind. I loved his friendship with Elisa in book 1, and I love the way their relationship develops here, based on mutual respect for the other's abilities. I have mad respect for Hector, and that respect only grew as the book went on, (SPOILER FORTHCOMING: especially when he refused to become her lover because he wanted their relationship to be an equal partnership).

My second favorite part of the book was probably Elisa's growth. Even though Elisa's story follows the standard coming of age model—feel a lack, hear about some object or thing that will help fill that lack, quest for that object, realize that you didn't need an object, but what you were lacking was inside you all along—watching her grow, struggle, and figure things out for herself throughout the story was truly a joy. The new characters Carson introduces were well-developed and all interesting in their own right, so the main cast is rounded out by a great cast of secondary characters. Felix and Tristan were personal favorites.

2. The Relationship 4/5
What I appreciate about this series is that Carson is not afraid to keep you guessing at what exactly will happen relationship-wise, or at least how it will happen. While I had hoped for Hector x Elisa in the first book, I thought it highly unlikely once the potential love triangle had been proposed. However, Carson (gleefully, I like to imagine) threw both legs of that triangle out the window (SPOILER: when she axed both Alejandro and Humberto) in book 1. Even in the first half or so of this book, it was not clear who Elisa would end up with—legally anyway. I was not disappointed in the development of the Hector x Elisa relationship as I said, though I felt like it changed partway through the book after the admission of their feelings in the sewers. I understood why it changed, but drama really doesn't suit their relationship. I think they were definitely at their best as friends. I hope the dynamic comes back in book 3. What's best about this relationship, though, is that it has not derailed the story as romance so often does in YA.

3. Ambiance
As before, the world of Joya d'Arena comes to life from page one. I really love the environment Carson has created for us, and while I know the religious aspects have bothered some people, it didn't really bother me. I thought Carson continued to handle it fairly well.

4.  Writing 5/5
Carson's writing is absolutely gorgeous! Definitely a highlight of this series, and the reason I am so eagerly anticipating Bitter Kingdom's arrival in the mail any second now. I can't pin down exactly what it is that I like about her writing either. Just that I've been reading The King's Guard, Hector's novella, and she has a way of pulling me into her world seemingly effortlessly. I open my Kindle app, and I'm lost instantly. It's a rare treat for e these days and absolutely the best feeling.

5. Pacing 4/5
The pacing of this story was quite nice. Carson does a great job keeping the political and personal intrigue coming from every angle, though I do wish that we had a few more clues to try and figure out what was going on as readers as opposed to just being told in the end what everyone was up to. The beginning of the book was a bit slow for me, but mostly because I couldn't get interested in the opening event of the story (not because we didn't jump right into the story with little to no preamble—a plus in my opinion).

Overall: 4/5
I was pleased with the story and the way it developed, though there were some places that bothered me: Tristan's big secret—I feel like the way it was revealed was somewhat contrived. I guess I can rationalize how it happened, but it tugs at the back of my mind even then. Ximena—(SPOILER: maybe it was more about finding a reason to shed the mother figure who's been hovering of Elisa's shoulder, but I couldn't shake the feeling that we were supposed to see her as kind of a bad guy here, and I really couldn't.) The anti-pregnancy drug—this isn't really specific to this story, but I feel the need to address it because it really distracted me as I read. In a lot of YA fantasy where a sexual relationship may develop, we always learn of a convenient plant or drug that stops pregnancy, usually just before the sexual relationship potential becomes relevant, and I'm left wondering why the involved parties can't just own up to what they're about to do and prepare to face whatever consequences may come from that act?

As I said, I enjoyed this about as much as I enjoyed The Girl of Fire and Thorns, and would recommend you give it a read if for no other reason than to revel in Hector's glory and to experience the beauty that is Rae Carson's writing.

Book Discussion: Is YA a Genre or Demographic?

About a week and a half ago, I posted about age in YA & NA. While researching for that post, I found a delightful(ly hilarious) and informative post that addressed 25 (actually 28, now) Things You Should Know About Young Adult Fiction. The first point—young adult is a demographic, not a genre—got me thinking about what would eventually become this post:.

Huh? I thought. This is interesting. Interesting, because I had never really considered the distinction. But let's think about it. According OED, a genre is "a category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter." A demographic (noun) is "a particular sector of a population." You write in a genre, and for a demographic. When I started thinking about it this way, a lot of the problems I had with definitions of young adult suddenly seemed solved, or at least less of an issue.

My biggest problem, as I discussed in the age in YA post, is the age range privileged as a primary identifying mark of "the YA genre" is arbitrary. Young adults are those between 12 and 18. Says who? There is a huge difference between a 12-year-old and an 18-year-old, and the issues that affect or concern them are generally completely different. What's more, I would argue that 12-18 isn't even young adult; a likelier candidate would be the 18-25 age bracket, and the 12-18 bracket should be split: 12-15 and 15-19. Those categories should then, respectively, be called preteen and teen. But this all becomes less of an issue when you approach using the idea that YA is that which is written for the young adult demographic. Then 12-18 as the selected defining bracket makes a little more sense, because it is an age range already defined socially by the physical, mental, emotional, and physiological changes going on in the young human body. It can be easily identified as the period after childhood, a period called "adolescence," marked by that mind-blowingly fun process called "puberty." Therefore, young adult fiction would be that which would appeal to members of this 12-18 age bracket, which mostly would encompasses teenagers, their lived experiences and their life problems, but would occasionally venture into slightly younger or older territory.

This demographic would then dictate the overall writing styles for this subset of literature, more out of a necessity to relate or appeal to the chosen age group and their lived experiences than to follow any seemingly arbitrarily decided rules such as first person perspective is the norm, 70,000-80,000 words, one or two main characters and the rest are supporting, the presence of a certain kind of relationship, etc. Recall Amanda Ritter's definition of YA quoted in the "What's in an age?" post:

Middle grade is very much about the external, in my opinion. The protagonist reacts to external situations and events, which leads to adventurous stories, and there is little time spent in the characters’ heads. Think books like Percy Jackson and Skulduggery Pleasant. On the other hand, YA is often much more introspective, and the protagonist exerts their influence on the events in the novel. Think first person perspective and lots of use of the word ‘I’ (emphasis mine).

Harry Potter perfectly exemplifies this trend, right? Books 1 and 2 are more about the wonders and amazing happenings of this new, magical world we enter into simultaneously with Harry. The plot is fairly straightforward, and the subplot tends to center around friendship—making good ones, avoiding the bad ones, and having fun all the while. Starting around book 3 though, things start to change. Harry spends a bit more time soliloquizing about his feelings and his family (or lack thereof). But we get the sense that good friends and having fun is still really important, and look there's one more thing we haven't really gotten to see in this fantastic new world: Hogsmeade! By book 4, however, we are securely in Harry's head, where we stay for the remaining books of the series. The story takes a dark turn, our villain officially makes his appearance in all his serpentine glory, and Harry starts taking an active role (as active as the adults will let him, anyway, and then some) in the war against Voldemort.

Finally, by thinking of young adult literature as that which is aimed at a certain age group, we eliminate the issue of the young adult "genre," which actually spans most all of the fiction genres found in adult literature. Writing for a demographic opens the floor up to more variety in the texts, because while there are certain general experiences, concerns, and interests common to most teenagers, all teens are definitely not alike, and some teens may have completely different experiences from the "normal teenage experience." You escape the issue of needing to adhere to specified rules, which a genre must have since it is identified through "similarities between form, style, and subject matter," and can thus write literature that spans several genres, or even bucks the notion all together.

All this being the case, I think I do prefer the "young adult demographic" to the "young adult genre." However, isn't it fair to say that in writing for the young adult demographic, you build the strictures for a genre, the foundation of a certain form or style, which becomes so distinct it can be identified even when the label "young adult" is missing? Couldn't the genres of fantasy or sci-fi or romance that appeals to young adults just be referred to as "the Young Adult Fantasy genre" or "the Young Adult Sci-Fi genre"? Sure, it's a mouthful, but it could be technically correct, right? And then of course, there's the meta question: are genres even really necessary? The author of the "25 Things" article argues against their existence, but what do you guys think?

Is it possible for literature written for "the young adult demographic" to not constitute "the young adult genre"? Should the genres in Young Adult be reconstructed to reflect the distinction between the two phrases, or should genre be done away with altogether?

Unexpected Delay m(,_,)m

I'm so sorry, guys, but I'm going to have to postpone this week's book discussion post due to some reasons. However, you can tune in next Monday for a fascinating post called "Young Adult: Genre or Demographic?" This short break will give me more time to research the post for one, which is great, and to write its follow-up, which will be wonderful. It should be noted that the next couple weeks will be light on the posts, down to just two a week (Mondays and Fridays) because of the same reasons that have caused me to push this post.

Again, I apologize for the sudden break, and I look forward to seeing you on Friday for TWOs! Lots of love, my friends.

This Week's Obsessions Part 2

Welcome to This Week's Obsessions, where I tell you about the things I've been obsessing over this past week. These obsessions are not necessarily book-related, but you may find some of these things as cool as I did! Then, we can obsess about this stuff together! Doesn't that sound like fun?

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1. Doug Baltz's Best Travel Photos Board on Pinterest

I have a deep love for beautiful photography, particularly of buildings, landscape, and nature (less so with people, but I do appreciate it too). Some times I look at beautiful photos just to look at beautiful photos, and some times I look to find inspiration for places or scenes I want to write, but this board is perfect for both occasions. Absolutely gorgeous! I also have an intense love affair with traveling, so this board combines the best of both worlds. I don't know if Baltz takes these or finds them or has a team of people who go out and take these photos, but whatever he does, however he gets them, I hope he never stops. (Click the photo to experience the amazingness that is this board for yourself!)

2. Cat Plays Guessing Game video

So, I found this video a couple days ago, and it's just so funny! I have four cats, so I find cat videos particularly amusing since cats are absolutely hilarious creatures, but this cat goes from complete incredulity when it gets an answer wrong to being so sure of its answer that it literally just swipes it off the table like, "BAM. I got this b." and then gets up to leave. My dad and I watched this video approximately fifteen times. And then he called my mom in to watch it too. It's only a minute, what have you got to lose?

3. "Best Song Ever" by One Direction

I'm not a huge 1D fan (I don't hate them, but I don't follow them either), but I love this video. When I first heard this song on Spotify, I was suspicious. Did they really write a song patting themselves on the back for being the best pop band with the best song ever? No, they didn't. And they didn't do a traditional boy-meets-girl video either. My boss showed it to me at work, and I could not stop laughing, because this is me and my friends, particularly the dorky dance number at the end. Literally, each one of our signature dance moves is represented, and what was better was when I showed this to them, they laughed at the same parts I did and called out each others' names at the same places I did, so essentially we all recognize that 1D basically represented our friendship in six minutes. Really, there are so many things to love about this video. Thank you for your wacky sense of humor, guys.

WCIT: Pacing in Sailor Moon, vol. 12

Welcome to What Can I Take (WCIT) Thursdays, a feature dedicated to looking at our favorite books for tips we writers can take to improve our own writing (or at least get some hints to address those trouble spots). 

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This WCIT will focus more on what not to do with pacing, as I think those are just as important as what to do, and, as you know from my Tuesday review of volume 12 of the Sailor Moon manga, my biggest problem with the book was its poor pacing. Really, I thought all of the things I didn't enjoy about that volume stemmed from this problem, which shows the importance of striking the right balance with pacing. I think I have a bit of tendency to ramble when I write and to try and include a lot of extraneous details. That combined with my preference for long books over short likely contributes heavily to my own issues with pacing (I ascribe to the slow and steady wins the race school of thought).

Gerry Visco draws a helpful distinction for us as regards to what pacing is, which he describes as essentially manipulation of time. Involved in that manipulation are several tools, of which I picked a couple that really stood out to me: the scene, the summary, and the flashback. The scene is a moment in a time, it covers a short period of time in a long passage, whereas the summary, as you've likely guessed, covers a long period of time in a short passage.

Volume 12's biggest issues I think stems from not making the most of these two tools in particular. The scenes we should have been treated to—such as scenes of the original scouts fighting the enemy or the new scouts actually explaining things instead of just being cryptic and famous (they're disguised as pop stars)—were instead summarized in a page or two, when those should have been the bulk of the story. In contrast, pages and pages were devoted to an issue that really should have been solved in the second chapter, or at least summarized as having been an issue that is no longer an issue.

Takeuchi generally makes good use of the flashback in the series, but in this volume, she mostly uses it to fill us in on (POTENTIAL SPOILER follows) the untimely off-screen demise of some of the Sailor Scouts. We do get some great examples of flashbacks, though, when she uses them to give us some exposition on the enemy. We not only get the enemy fleshed out as a character, but it was appropriately timed and allowed us to catch our breath after the harrowing events that preceded it.

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So what can I take?
  • Think carefully about which events you will summarize, and which you will portray in a scene. These really set, not only the pace of your story, but the tone as well. If you choose to focus more on the human relationships over the action, then obviously the type of story you write will be very different from what it would have been if your focus had been the action instead of the relationships.
  • Take care to balance exposition with action. I think too much of either can be distracting to the reader, and leave the reader feeling like something's missing.
  • Be conscious of when your readers might need a breather or to pick up speed a bit. Follow Takeuchi's lead and write some (calmer) exposition after especially tense action scenes (provided that this fits with the tone you want to create for your story).
Try it out!
Take an action event and the events that follow it. Write these action event as a scene and the aftermath as a summary, then switch the two. Try the action scene as a flashback in the middle of the aftermath events. Take note of how the tone and movement of the story change in each variation. Don't forget your basic building block, the sentence, can have an impact as well! Varying your senentence structure can help adjust the influence pacing as well!

Any questions? Comments? Extra tips to add about pacing? Share them in the comments! And I'd love to see what you write, so please share it either in the comments or shoot me an email.

What's in an age?: Young Adult vs. New Adult

In honor of my 22nd birthday, I decided to look at a topic that has been of considerable interest to me pretty much all of my life, but especially since I took this Children's Literature class in college: age in YA.

When you ask the question, what is YA?, most definitions list an age range for the book's protagonist. Here's a quick sample from an article that asks several publishers what their definitions for middle grade and young adult are:
  • “I think that these definitions are fairly simple: middle grade books feature pre-teen characters in situations of interest to 8-12 year olds, and YA novels feature teen protagonists in situations of interest to teen readers." - Lisa Yoskowitz, editor at Disney-Hyperion Books
  • “Middle grade is very much about the external, in my opinion. The protagonist reacts to external situations and events, which leads to adventurous stories, and there is little time spent in the characters’ heads. Think books like Percy Jackson and Skulduggery Pleasant. On the other hand, YA is often much more introspective, and the protagonist exerts their influence on the events in the novel. Think first person perspective and lots of use of the word ‘I’." - Amanda Ritter, Editor at Strange Chemistry
  • “Middle grade is for children ages 8 to 12. [...] Young adult is aimed at readers 12 to 18 (and up), which is a wide developmental range. YA is generally thought of most generally as ‘anything with a teenaged character living in the moment’ (as opposed to remembering back on those years sentimentally from the POV of an older adult narrator)." - Stacy Whitman, Editorial Director of Tu Books
But using an age range for the protagonist to define YA always bothered me as exceedingly arbitrary. Certainly, I understand that teen readers could more easily identify with teen protagonists, but it is not unheard of for those outside the age range of the protagonist to identify with said protagonist. (Case in point: Harry Potter.) I think that most of us have read a book that just sort of feels YA or feels MG or feels X or Y, even though it may not technically be categorized as such. This is why, of those three definitions, my favorite is the second, because, instead of focusing on the age of the protagonist as a main factor, it highlights the feel of the book's narration as the distinguishing factor between middle grade and YA. That sort of distinction helps explain how books like Ursula LeGuin's Wizard of Earthsea could be considered children's literature despite the fact that the protagonist is likely in his mid- to late 20s, maybe even early 30s, for most of the book.

The first two definitions also address the age of the audience for which the book is intended, but that sort of distinction seems to serve little purpose as well, since, according to recent studies, 55% of the people who buy young adult books are over the age of 18. As I think this evidences, being a young adult doesn't end at 18 (or even 19 for that matter). In fact, that, I would argue, is when young adulthood begins! What about the stories that tell the lives of old biddies like me, fresh out of college, trying to find a job?

Enter New Adult (NA), the name of which was coined in 2009 by St. Martin's Press during a new adult writing contest they hosted in which they were "seeking fiction similar to YA that can be published and marketed as adult—a sort of an “older YA” or “new adult." On their page "What is New Adult?", NA Alley defines a new adult novel as that which "encompasses the transition between adolescence—a life stage often depicted in Young Adult (YA) fiction—and true adulthood. Protagonists typically fall between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six, though exceptions may apply. NA characters are often portrayed experiencing: college, living away from home for the first time, military deployment, apprenticeships, a first steady job, a first serious relationship, etc." (emphasis mine). Okay, problem solved! Here's my genre, I thought when I first heard about NA.

But no, actually. This presents an even larger problem. If age is the only defining factor, how do you distinguish between the books that fall on the edge? Like Ruth Silver's Aberrant, which features an 18-year-old protagonist who lives happily in a society where the government decides everything from your job to whom you marry to when you can have kids (standard dystopian fare). Except, she wasn't born on the "Day of the Chosen," like everybody else, so now the government seeks to eradicate her. (No spoilers here. All of this information is given to us in the book summary.) I have not yet read this book (though I plan to because of the very question raises), but how does this differ from a YA book with a similar premise? (The ones that came to my mind were Lauren Oliver's Delirium series or C.J. Redwine's Defiance, but reviews of this book have touted it as resembling The Hunger Games).

It's not the marriage part, because plenty of YA books feature arranged marriages, particularly in fantasy, historical, or dystopian novels. It can't be the her starting a new job part, because yet again plenty of YA novels feature young adults working or starting what could theoretically be their career job, yet again, especially in dystopia. So what is it? That leaves only the way in which it is written as a distinguishing factor, but I would think that distinction would carry over into the book flap summary.

I suppose there's only one way to tell: read it. So that's what I'll do. But in the meantime, I'd like to ask you guys for your thoughts on the subject. Having never read a NA book, I admit that my only conception on the difference between NA and YA is that NA features more adult content, but as I was researching for this post, I learned that NA is so much more than just hot, steamy sex scenes featuring college-aged kids. Plus, with the age range up to 26, I was expecting to be able to find stories that feature post-college aged kids, but I've yet to find any, really, since most of them feature college kids (who are kind of just like big teenagers). So now, I'm confused again. Where are the books that feature the college kid who wakes up one day and realizes, "Hey, I'm senior. Next year, I'm supposed to be a full-time adult. What????" or what about the recent grad whose pounding the pavement everyday looking for work and getting a whole lot of nowhere? Where are those books that talk about moving out on your on for the first time, sometimes thousands of miles from everything you've ever known?

So I'll want to ask you guys: What do you think? What is the difference between NA and YA? Should there even be one or would it be more prudent to just distinguish the "NA" as "YA featuring mature content"?

Book Review: Sailor Moon vol. 12

Title: Sailor Moon, vol. 12
Author: Naoko Takeuchi
Genre: Magical girl
Publisher: Kodansha Comics USA

'In the name of the moon, I will punish you!'

You were probably wondering why that news about the 20th Anniversary Sailor Moon anime I mentioned yesterday was relevant. Well, here's why! This week's book is the final volume of the newly re-translated Sailor Moon manga. I think it's fair to assume that most people of my generation are familiar with the phrase at the outset of this post, either through direct exposure (watching the show or reading the the manga) or indirect means such as popular culture references. It was the catchphrase heard round the world in 1991 when the blonde-haired crybaby-turned-superhero, Usagi Tsukino (Serena Tsukino in the original translations of the anime and manga), aka Sailor Moon, uttered it for the first time. Sailor Moon is often credited with pioneering the magical girl genre, now one of the most popular genres in Japan's shoujo (anime and manga geared towards young girls) market. The series was such a big hit that it had an anime adaptation within a year of its debut, and was airing on American television in just over three—an unheard of transition at the time since manga and anime were relatively new concepts in the States. It was quickly followed by a U.S. release of the manga, dolls & action figures, key chains, fan fact books, movies, children's chapter books, school supplies, lunch boxes, the list goes on and on.

I share all of this information with you, so you'll understand the extent of the role Sailor Moon played in my childhood. I watched the anime religiously. I read the manga as soon as they came out. I bought the Sailor Moon school supplies. I saved up my allowance and tracked down all of the Sailor Moon dolls, which I still own, though I don't play with them anymore. Every time I threw a frisbee, I would yell, "Moon Tiara Magic!"  I took a ribbon dance stick my brother made for me and used it as a "transformation wand." (And no, I am still not ashamed of that behavior like I probably should be.) I wrote Sailor Moon fanfiction. Really, I could keep listing activities that show how much I loved the series, but you get the point. After I started college, Sailor Moon reentered my purview because it cropped up often in my freshman writing seminar, which dealt with Japanese and Japanese-American literature, and a manga class I took. At the time, the Sailor Moon manga publication had been discontinued, but in March 2011, it was announced that the manga would be re-translated by Kodansha.

The first re-translated volume was released in September 2011, and the last just last month, a release I had been eagerly anticipating, because despite my all-consuming love for Sailor Moon, I never finished the series. I knew what happened at the end, but I was eager to read it for myself in English. But to be honest, I was kind of disappointed.

First of all, the last arc of the series is in volumes 11 and 12, and they tried to tackle way too much information! She introduces four new main characters (nevermind numerous secondary ones), revolutionizes our understanding on the Sailor Scouts and their larger purpose in the universe, and rocked the foundation of what we had come to understand of the Sailor Scouts' universe and their enemy. All of it was extremely interesting, but it was presented in such a quick and condensed manner, it was hard to follow and confusing. Really, this arc needed at least two more volumes to appropriately tackle all the information Takeuchi brought up. As it is, the series ends rather abruptly with no homage or farewell to the other Scouts.

It snowballs from there. Because Takeuchi was trying to get through so much information, the pacing was off. She rushed through everything, which disrupted the tension and general flow of the story. The other scouts all got pushed off to the side (SPOILER: with some of them even dying "off screen," so to speak!), which, considering this is the end of a series that has touched the lives of millions around the world, was shocking. The new scouts she introduced were perfectly useless, and did little but speak in cryptic messages and fill in as Sailor Moon's cheerleaders (SPOILER: until they, too, bit the dust after doing a whole lot of nothing). She even gave some of the old Sailor Scouts cameos! (SPOILER: Just to kill them off.)

Sailor Moon with her main Sailor Scouts
The art was beautiful, though, I wouldn't have expected that to change from previous volumes. Takeuchi's imagination was awe-inspiring, as usual, which is why it was so sad that this volume progressed like it did, since I know she's capable of so much more. As I said before, the information she gave us was fascinating and really got me thinking about the Scouts, the canon universe, and the general timeline of events from the far past that is frequently referenced in the series to the far future of which we see glimpses. To be honest, it got me excited to start writing again, which few books have done that recently, so I have to give it kudos for doing that. Because of this, I am torn as to what sort of rating I should give this book, since I love the story of the series overall, and this book inspired me. However, the actual events of this book and the pacing were just too much.

Final verdict? I'll give Sailor Moon, vol. 12 a two-star rating, but I still want to encourage all of you to read the series since it is still just as amazing now as it was before. I'll likely be reviewing the other books when I get time to go back and reread the whole series from start to finish, but Sailor Moon is a classic that can be enjoyed time and time again without ever getting old. I should also mention that Sailor Moon has one of the best romances of all time.

Did Sailor Moon play a big role in your childhood? What are some of your favorite romances of all time? Leave a comment or shoot me an email and let me know! Check back Wednesday for a special post on age in YA literature and on Thursday for this week's What Can I Take featuring this volume of Sailor Moon as the inspiration!

Many Apologies + Some Exciting News

Hey, guys. Due to the obscene amount of time I've been putting in at my part-time job lately, I haven't been able to quite finish my review for this week (it's on Sailor Moon!) Thus, this review will be pushed to Tuesday. I apologize for any inconvenience or disappointment this may have caused. To cheer you up, I will direct you to some exciting, not book-related, but relevant nonetheless, news: the new Sailor Moon anime has been confirmed to begin airing in December!As you will understand after you read Tuesday's post, this is so very exciting to me! It was supposed to begin airing this summer, but it was pushed back. What fall things were you looking forward to?

This Week's Obsessions: Part 1

So, in previous renditions of my blog, I had a Friday feature called, you guessed it, This Week's Obsessions, TWOs for short, in which I, you guessed it, obsessed in public over the things I'd been obsessing over in private all week. These obsessions are not necessarily book-related, but I decided to keep this feature, because it's really fun to write, and you get to see a different side of me! Plus, we can obsess about this stuff together! Doesn't that sound like fun?

1. "Chocolate" by The 1975

I downloaded this song a while ago on iTunes, and for some reason, felt the need to give it a listen randomly a couple days ago, and I cannot stop listening to it. First of all, it's so soothing! It helps me focus when I'm trying to work, calm down when I'm upset, and just generally kick back and daydream when I want to take a break from thinking. Great song, and the lead singer has the cutest accent. I want to try and reproduce it here, but I will only succeed in looking stupid. In fact, I did it anyway, and then erased it because I was too embarrassed by the attempt. Sorry, my friends, you will never see it. But trust me, it's for the best.

2. MICHAEL Michael Kors Hamilton Large Stripe North South Tote

Long name for a handbag, but this sucker is gorgeous! A woman came in with it when I was at work on Monday, and I was in love from the moment I saw it. I'm not normally a handbag girl, but the navy blue nautical stripes paired with the tan details is classy, and the tote's size makes it practical for carrying your all necessities (wallet, chapstick, phone, breath mints, book, and back up book in case you finish your first one) with out being obscenely large or getting in the way. Unfortunately, this guy is no longer for sale from regular retailers, but you can find him on eBay for a pretty penny (upwards of $300). He has equally attractive cousins in red and yellow, also available on eBay and at a cheaper price than this guy (I've seen as low as $110), but the navy blue is still my favorite. Why did I not know of this bag's existence when I could still find him in the stores?

3. Maruman Sept Couleur Notebooks

As most of my friends know, I am obsessed with stationary—quality pens, pencils, highlighters, and paper are essential to producing quality writing of any kind, after all. I am very picky about my writing utensils (0.7 maximum on the point or lead weight, though I prefer 0.5 or below) and prefer to write on college-ruled paper, because my handwriting is small, and I feel like I'm wasting a tree when I use wide-ruled because so much space is being left empty! In my experience, Japan makes the best stationary in the world. I found this brand of notebooks while in Tokyo, and I just happened to pick up the small one on a whim to use as a writer's journal for jotting down notes. Best notebook I have ever owned. Perfectly-sized lines, perfectly sized notebook that fits conveniently into any pocket, jeans, purse, or otherwise, and because of the spiral you can lay it flat or bend it backwards, which makes it ideal for jotting things down on the go without having to worry about damaging the spine as you might with those mini composition notebooks. Perforated pages make it easy to remove pages cleanly, if you so desire, though they are strong enough that they don't just start ripping out on their own like some do.

I was reminded of this notebook, because a friend of mine went back to Japan to travel for a little bit. I asked her to get me some if she saw any, because unfortunately, this company is based in Japan, and I have yet to find these notebooks anywhere outside of that country. But fortunately, you can find them in online stores like JetPens (they have the larger sizes A4, a bit skinnier and taller than our 8.5" x 11", and A5, around 5" x 8"). My preferred size in this brand is B7that perfectly sized writer's journal!but I haven't found a way to purchase it stateside yet. I will keep you updated on my search, though. In the meantime, check out their home page here.

Those are my obsessions for the week. Is there anything that's caught your fancy this week? Let me know in the comments below!

WCIT: Voice in The 5th Wave

Welcome to What Can I Take (WCIT) Thursdays, a feature dedicated to looking at our favorite books for tips we writers can take to improve our own writing (or at least get some hints to address those trouble spots). 

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We begin with Rick Yancey's The 5th Wave, of which, as I mentioned in my review of the book on Monday, my favorite part was the writing. Absolutely gorgeous, poetic, and a true delight to read. But, in addition to that, there were two other things about Yancey's writing that really impressed me (and I thought made this book stick out from so many):

1) The way Yancey wove certain phrases and ideas throughout the book, across the multiple perspectives he uses, sometimes using the exact same phrases in a new circumstance to give them a completely different meaning. This repetition also allows him to tie things up rather nicely, while still leaving loose ends for the later books to pick up. Not related to voice, but worth mentioning.

2) Yancey's choice to tell the story through four different voices: Cassie, Zombie, Silencer, and Nugget. This choice isn't in and of itself unusual, but I thought the way he carried it out was (and this is the first things I think we can take from T5W to apply to our own writing). Instead of cycling through the perspectives in a particular order, he picks up a perspective when it is useful for his purposes and drops it when it has fulfilled that purpose. I took a writing class this past semester, and my teacher was always talking about how when we write, we often feel the need to fill the reader in on everythingit's hard to know how much background they need to know for your point to be effectively conveyed, after all. The consequence of that is the reader getting bogged down with unnecessary details. So, my teacher was always encouraging us not to be afraid of just dropping in the information we wanted the reader to know with little to no preamble (adjusting as necessary, of course). Using a phrase or a literary technique when it's useful, and letting it drop when that use has been expended.

Yancey does this beautifully, and he uses it to his advantage to keep tension running high throughout the story. You learn in one section that the army is evil and in the next section, you're thinking, well, maybe not? It's a wonderful tactic that I think is heavily responsible for the book's ability to pull you right into the story so you feel like you're right there next to Cassie as she sleeps in her tent or Zombie as he trains, and you are feeling the same disorientation that the people in this world are experiencing.Who really is the bad guy? This technique really helps this story world come alive for me.

The second thing that I think we can take away from T5W is the distinctiveness of each individual voice. Cassie's voice is very different from Zombie's voice, which is very different from Silencer's voice, which is different than Nugget's voice. When we would switch sections, even before Yancey told us whose head we were in, I could tell. I really respect that, because distinct voices is something I really struggle with in my own writing. What I noticed is you can kind of see how he distinguishes these voices by looking at the choices he makes when constructing his sentences. Cassie's voice is skeptical and sarcastic, but you still feel her teenage girl essence through her use of everyday, teenage vernacular such as creeper, heebie-jeebies, and longer sentences and figurative language. Zombie's, on the other hand, tends to feature shorter, more straightforward sentences, that get to the point. There are fewer memories present in his section, and he speaks like a (non-teenage) young adult, though occasionally, you'll catch flashes of the teenage boy he is. Nugget's is clinical, simple, straight-to-the-point, and Silencer's, matter-of-fact, but tinged with a bit of wonder. Having read the book, I think all of these are perfectly written to express the essence of these characters.

So, how do we copy Yancey? Take a page from his book. Look at the way Cassie relates her experiences versus the way Zombie relates his. Everything from the way you construct a sentence (Is the sentence written in passive or active voice? Is it sarcastically phrased or take-me-at-face-value phrased?) to the words you choose to construct that sentence ("hightailed it" vs. "ran away," "He's creeping me out!" vs. "He was making me nervous.") all reflect your character's personality, circumstances, and experiences. The teacher I mentioned before had us start the class by only writing with simple sentences. It forced us to stop and think about what we actually wanted to say as opposed to thinking about how we wanted to say it, which then made us aware of how we were saying things as he slowly started letting us open up our assignments again to more natural, figurative, complex sentences.

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So what can I take?
  • Only use what you need, when you need it. Don't be afraid to trust the reader.
  • Don't forget the power of the sentence and the things we use to construct them (punctuation included!).
  • Read with a critical eye! If you find a phrase that really strikes you, ask yourself why? You can learn a lot about strong and effective writing when you do that.

Try it out!
Take three characters. Write a short piece in which each one of them recounts the exact same incident from his or her own perspective. Take care to think about how each character might notice certain things over others, the type of language he or she likely to use, and the way he or she tends to express him or herself. (Does she use slang or proper language? Does he tend to ramble or are his observations short and to the point?)

(Writing prompt made by me. Please give due credit if republished.)

Any questions? Comments? Extra tips to add about voice? Share them in the comments! And I'd love to see what you write, so please share it either in the comments or shoot me an email. I might share what I write with you guys too!

Book Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Title: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Genre: Sci-Fi
Publication Date: May 7, 2013

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

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

So, there's this (now not-so-)new book called The 5th Wave. I don't know if you guys have heard of it, but it's only one of the biggest releases of the season, right? Which means most of you have probably already read it and formed your opinions, but I love discussing books, so bear with me as I tell you my opinion, and then perhaps we can compare notes.

I picked up The 5th Wave when it came out after reading about it at my internship back in February. How could I not with a book flap summary like that? It sounded beyond awesome! I actually finished reading this book a while ago, but it's taken me some time to formulate my opinion on it and edit down what was quite a long post. My final verdict on the book? I have mixed feelings. Allow me to elucidate.

1. The Characters: 5/5
As anyone who knows me will tell you, characters are big deal to me. I spend my days evaluating scripts for movies and TV shows and short stories for publication, and guaranteed one of the first things I'll mention in the comments is the characters. I'm sure my boss is tired of reading lines like "The characters really come alive off the page. I can visualize them in my head as I read!" from me, but truth be told, if the characters aren't interesting, I check out in about five minutes.

The characters were T5W's saving grace for me; they got me through to the end. (That sounds worse than it is.) Though the writing was beautiful (see #4) and the premise genuinely interesting, the book starts off slow (see #5), and much as I wanted to read it, it was the characters that made that possible. Cassie is great,  just about everything I'd want in a heroine—she's strong, brave, and resourceful. Much as she'd like to, she can't just lie down and take it. She's a fighter, and on top of that, she's pretty funny. I loved her voice and the wit that shows through when she was talking to others, and that was really what kept me hanging in there when the going got tough.

The two male leads are equally enchanting, though for different reasons. I really liked Ben as the super soldier. I thought Yancey did a great job writing his character. He kind of reminded me of Captain America, which during an alien invasion, isn't a Captain America exactly what America needs? Food for thought. Evan was intriguing despite the twist in his storyline being somewhat obvious from his introduction (on the book flap). I can't really discuss my love for Evan without spoilers, but he is just…an onion? There are just so many questions I'd like to ask him or Yancey, because he's fascinating. I give Yancey an A+ on these guys.

2. The Relationship: 3/5
I was actually really disappointed on the relationship front. Having not read that many male YA authors, but knowing that, in general, there is often a difference in the way males write versus females (not that there can't be crossover, of course), I was really eager to see something new on the relationship front. Not only was it not new, but it was a textbook case of Insta-Love, which really made me want to put the book down, especially because it basically ruined Cassie's character in that section of the book. I mean, I get it. It's the end of the world (to her), she hasn't seen anyone, much less a living, breathing, non-bleeding guy, for a while, but that's precisely why the relationship development doesn't make any sense! What happened to distrustful Cassie? The inciting incident of the book tells and shows us what she would do to any person she met on the street, but she doesn't do it to him because he's pretty and smells like chocolate? Come on.

I gave it a 3, though, because while I don't like Cassie's feelings for him, his feelings for her were great. It was almost like an obsessive love, which, and this will sounds strange, I've been thinking about and writing a lot lately. This one is a different kind of obsessive love than you usually see: he's not violent about it, and in fact, she's probably not even aware of it, but it's there, just quietly bubbling under the surface, and I loved it.

That said, I did not love Cassie turning back into the high school girl she was before the aliens launched their attack when she runs into her high school crush again. That was annoying. I suppose it makes sense because you react with what you know in a situation that just seems completely out of hand, but it's almost like she gets stuck there, which doesn't make sense, because after the first two minutes, she should remember that everything is different now. There is no more space or time to be that girl she was back in high school. Fingers crossed that a love triangle doesn't develop.

3. The Ambiance: 4/5
So I use this fancy word here as a substitute for setting; basically, the world that Yancey brings us into. I just want to say three words here: AH-MAZE-ZING. I think one of the hardest things to do as a writer is making not only your characters come to life on the page, but also the world they live in. It's something I struggle with a lot, but Yancey does it seemingly effortlessly. I felt the disorientation that Cassie, her family, and Ben and his teammates feel trying to figure out who they're supposed to be fighting. While my first prediction actually turned out to be right, I won't sit here and pretend that I didn't second, third, and fourth guess myself, flip sides, and invent new conjectures about what was going on. It was confusing and terrifying. I often felt like I was pounding through trees or sitting in the room with them. Well done!

4. Writing: 4/5
The writing was great, and honestly one of the highlights of the book. It was absolutely beautiful. The way he set up the book in sections that allowed us entry into different people's perspective really worked to his advantage, and played a large role in helping him sustain the tension. Props for that! This is something that I'm going to be talking about more in my second post on T5W, but Yancey has a real talent for voice.

5. Pacing: 2.5/5
The pacing of the book was a bit slow. The first 100 pages were difficult for me to get through, because it's just us and Cassie, and I think Cassie really shines when she has other people to interact with, which at that point, she only has in memories. The book gets considerably better in terms of pacing and readability once we get to meet Zombie, and she runs into Evan. I docked another point, because the pacing of the relationship was completely out of control and far too fast to me. And the .5 point comes from the repetitiveness of the prose, especially from Cassie. I liked that Yancey picked key phrases, words, and ideas that crossed all the perspectives he allows us access too, but after the first ten times we're told the world is ending and that the humans thought they knew the aliens, but they actually didn't know anything at all or "humans = cockroaches" analogies, I wanted to throw my hands up in surrender, and yell, "Okay, I got it! We are worthless, we know nothing, the world is ending! Take my money, my car, whatever you want, just please can we move on?"

Overall: 3.8/5

This final score was not arrived at mathematically, but it is the score that I arrived at after intense thought about what I would give the book. 4 seemed too high as the book did not exceed my expectations in everything, but 3 was definitely too low, because it was more than just average, and in a couple cases, it did exceed my expectations. Plus, though it might seem somewhat unimportant to most, the relationship really put a damper on this book for me. As I said, it almost made me want to put it down.

Final Verdict: I liked it, but I don't know that it lived up to all the hype.

Welcome to You Know!

Hello, and welcome to You Know What I Mean, Right? (You Know, for short), a new kind of book blog! I'm Lo, your host on what I hope will prove to be a long, crazy, and fun journey all about YA (and the occasional diversion). You can find out more information than you ever wanted to know about me or my blog on the About Me and About Blog pages listed above, but I'll give you a short introduction to both anyway.

I am recent college grad, who loves to read, write, and talk about books. This blog mostly came from experiences I had in a Children's Literature class I took and my internship developing movie and TV scripts that got me asking questions like "What is YA?" "What draws me to one book and pushes me away from another?" "What can I take from this book to influence my own writing?" These are the kinds of topics and questions I hope to be exploring here, instead of me just posting book reviews (what I mean when I saw "new kind of blog"). This is further explored on that About Blog page though, so if you're curious, you should click that right away!

As I mentioned, I love talking about books, so I welcome any and all reader interaction. You can connect with me on all the ways listed below. Don't be a stranger, and again, welcome to You Know. Enjoy your stay!

GoodReads: Lo Hi
Pinterest: clublohi
Twitter: @CLuBLoHi
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