Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My Top 10 Villians

Welcome to this week's My Top 10. Right now we are tackling those guys we love to hate, the villains *cue evil laugh*
Like I said for the protagonists, I have a hard time ranking and it just gives me a headache and a jumble of a list. And so, in no particular order, the villains:

1. Lord Voldemort, Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling
First, did you know that the reason why Voldemort can't love is because he was conceived under the influence of love potion? It's true. And this is one of the reasons why he makes it into my top ten. Rowling gives Voldemort real reason to be evil, delving into his psyche and past. And it's not some lame one-dimensional reason. It's rich and thorough and amazing. His coldness and brutality (and lack of a nose) makes him truly frightening, as well.

2. President Alma Coin, The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
So you read Catching Fire and expect District 13 to be a warm fuzzy utopia, right? With plenty of food and love for the rest of Panem? WRONG. Enter in President Coin. You're suspicious of her at first, you don't know whether or not to trust her, but hey, she's taking down Snow, right? Yeah, sure, while also willing to do things that are just pure evil and yet some may debate that they weren't. For the gray area which surrounds Coin, I present her into my top ten. Because in real life, pure evil is rare. And Coin isn't pure evil, but that doesn't make her to be a weak villain. In fact, it makes her stronger.

3. Vaughn Ashby, Wither by Lauren Destefano
Keeping dead bodies in your basement? Forcing three girls to marry your son? Using babies as experiments? Yeah, this guy definitely makes it into the top ten. His ideals and what he does, the threats he uses to get these girls to do what he says makes for a sickening, although realistic, villain.

4. Iago, Othello by William Shakespeare
Oh, Iago. This deluded and crazed man is an absolute terror! How devote he is to ending Othello and everyone who he believes did him wrong makes for an amazing drama as it unfolds, his layers are overwhelming. His brilliance and his determination make him the most fascinating character in the entire play.

5. Valentine, The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare
Now, for this series overall, I'm lukewarm about. But Valentine is an excellent villain because he skews what is wrong into good, and even at times I questioned whether he was really the bad guy. In the end, doesn't that make him a scary good villain?

6. The White Witch, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Anyone who dumps snow on me and takes away Christmas is just plain mean. Her manipulations and cold-heart as well as her persistence to stay queen lands the White Witch on my list.

7. President Snow, The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
I tried to avoid having another villain from the same series again, but I couldn't leave Snow out of here. The man who began the Hunger Games, I mean really, how can he not make my list? I find the most chilling part about his character is how honest he is, how he lets Katniss know right away she's being watched. And oh my gosh, what he did to the victors? He's awful. But the fact that he wasn't so evil as to be "wasteful" as he put it, again makes him realistic.

8. Capricorn, Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
 Gah Capricorn! He burns books! That in and of itself is evil! He scared me so much in middle school when I first read this book, how just plain determined he was to take over our world, how fascinated he was by our weapons. Evil, evil.

9. Nellie Olsen, The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
I almost feel silly putting her down, but not all villains are out to murder people or take over the world. Nellie is the type of villain you see every day. She's selfish and stuck-up, and she tries to steal people's beaus. And she takes their candy and teases them. I absolutely detested Nellie.

10. Hattie, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
More like Nellie than Voldemort, but still so awful. She's stupid, but not quite as much as you'd think, and she manipulates Ella for her own gain. She's selfish and horrible, attempting for nothing more than her own desires.

Villains. Without them, the story would be a snore. They're as diverse as our protagonists, but I find there to be one serious difference: their flaws outweigh their virtues, whereas the opposite is true for the protagonist.

Who are some of your top villains? What is it about them that makes them so evil to you?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Book Review: Illusions by Aprilynne Pike

Title: Illusions
Author: Aprilynne Pike
Publisher: HarperTeen
Genre: Young Adult (fantasy)
Rating: 3/5 stars
Why I read it/how I found it: Read the first two books in the series, so I continued.

Description: Laurel hasn't seen Tamani since she begged him to let her go last year. Though her heart still aches, Laurel is confident that David was the right choice.
But just as life returns to normal, Laurel realizes that a hidden enemy lies in wait. Once again, Laurel must turn to Tamani to protect and guide her, for the danger that now threatens Avalon is one that no faerie thought would ever be possible. And for the first time, Laurel cannot be sure that her side will prevail.

Review: Now, I'm not 100% totally and completely against love triangles. Sometimes, it's necessary to the plot (see Matched) and other times, it's in there but not at the focus of the overall plot (see The Hunger Games). However, in Illusions the love triangle is unnecessary to the plot, nor is it a subplot pulled up now and again. Despite there being danger present and a mystery to solve, the angst and drama of a stereotypical YA love triangle has dominated this book. In the first book, Wings, it was highlighted that it would come up, but at a side to the rest of the story. In the second book, Spells it became more pronounced, but...yikes. The love triangle drowned out this book. Halfway through I stopped, rolled my eyes at yet another internal dilemma as Laurel debated what she really felt. And the sad thing is, there is so much potential for rich mythology and retelling, of danger and mystery, but snogging and the balancing of the two guys' virtues and flaws overstepped that far too much. When the mystery and action do happen, this book is excellent. I enjoy the world that is created here and the unique take on faerie lore. And despite my dislike for the love triangle, Tamani's character helped me bare it with how round and interesting he is.

Recommendation: If you've read the other books and you have time, it's worth it to continue in hopes for a fourth book more focused on plot since it'll be the last one. Not pressing to read it, though.
Should I buy it?: Try a library or a friend first.
Other information: This is the third book in the Laurel series, the first two being Wings and Spells. One more book (the title yet to be announced) will also be coming out. Disney has bought the rights to the Wings movie and Miley Cyrus has been attached to it as Laurel (yeah, I'll be skipping this one, thanks). Aprilynne Pike's website can be found here.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Telling that little voice to "Shut up!"

When I was younger, I was so oblivious to how bad of a writer I was. I bubbled with how great I thought my writing and stories were, and so confident about them. I've improved a ton on my writing as I've gotten older, but with improving writing, so comes the knowledge of what is good and what isn't. As I go along in my WIP now, sometimes that little voice pops up, "This doesn't make any sense. No one would want to read this. Sure you got the idea, but the execution is horrible."

I hope think that the voice is partially wrong. "It's a first-draft," I say to the degrading voice. "I know it has flaws, but I'll improve it come editing! Just SHUT UP and let me write!"

I really think at this point, it's all I can do. Just telling that voice to shut up. In the book on writing by Gail Carson Levine, Writing Magic, she talked about having this voice in her head, too. And considering she wrote my favorite childhood novel Ella Enchanted I'm not taking this as a bad sign. I'm taking it, in a way, as a good sign. That first, I can recognize the weak points in my writing and improve them. And second, that the mean voice isn't always right. It's just being critical at times with no purpose to it.

Do you get this same little voice in your head? What do you do about it?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My Top 10 Protagonists

And so begins a series of My Top 10's. Because if we're going to write great books, we need to look at the best and pick out ideas of how to emulate the greatness, right?
Now, I am horrible at ranking things I love (especially books and everything in them) and so this is list is not at all made up as a rank. I can't choose between all of these protagonists, I just can't. 

1. Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
Ok, does this picture make anyone else want to absolutely freak out?! Anyway. Katniss. This girl is amazing. And I mean besides the obvious toughness of her, and her fierce love for those who manage to wiggle their way into her heart. She has a strength that is rare in other heroines. To me, it seems whenever a heroine is strong it's to prove to men that women are strong. Katniss does it because she just is that way, she has no one to prove it to. And her story arc is phenomenal. She had my heart and my cheers the entire time.

2. Harry Potter, Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
I think what makes Harry so great is that you essentially grow up with him. And I love seeing the growth of his character, and what is a huge part of making him one of my top protagonists. But beside this, he is very real to me, with his flaws (Order of the Phoenix anyone?) and his overwhelming courage. The struggles and doubts he has in the last book, but still persevering is something to admire.

3. Ella of Frell, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
This is my first heroine. She was strong-willed, which made her struggles even more aggravating and made me want her happy ending so badly. She was smart and quick, and most important, willing to sacrifice for those she loved.

4. Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
How can you not love the genteel snark on this girl? Many a chick flick try to find a heroine who captures Lizzy's wit and match it with their own sad version of Mr. Darcy, and all have failed. Being in society while also going against it in her own special, subtle way makes Elizabeth one heck of a heroine. She learns more about herself through her mistakes, flaws that are also toned down and more realistic than some tragic flaw.

6. Evie, Paranormalcy by Kiersten White
This girl felt so real to me. Her desires and dreams, her attitude, everything felt true and realistic. The fact that she kicks butt doesn't hurt her, either. She was just this teenage girl that I could sympathize with and cheer for the entire time.

7.Anne Elliot, Persuasion by Jane Austen
Love this girl, maybe because I see so much of myself in her (egotistical much?...maybe a bit). One of Jane Austen's least regarded heroines, but an amazing protagonist. She is of a quieter kind, but her loyalty is stronger than anything. Wise, and good-hearted, she's just the type of person you want so badly to have a happy ending.

8. Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables (and other sequels) by L.M. Montgomery
I love this girl's imagination and dreams. She's so driven, with a flare inside of her. I mean, who doesn't cheer inside when she breaks that slate over Gilbert's head? She wants to be loved, like everyone, and her ultimate dreams (while often carried away) are things that deep down, we all want, too.

9. Tally Youngblood, Uglies series by Scott Westerfield
Tally's sense of adventure, her desire to be included, but also doubting that which would make her included had me from the beginning. I loved her strength as well as her struggles, and the story arc of everything society did to her was absolutely heart-breaking.

10. Julianna Baker, Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen
I absolutely love this character arc. I love the growth this girl goes through, I love seeing her free spirit and liveliness, of coming aware of her own feelings and the world around her. The fact that she is the only character from a contemporary book on this list says it for itself--her character is simply awesome.

A few things I've noticed: Harry is the only male on this list, probably partly because I don't read a whole lot of books with male protagonists, and females resonate with me more anyway. But more along the sides of writing, I find that a lot of these characters are strong-willed, but still struggle with internal dilemmas and the world around them. They also have obvious flaws, but they make up for it through their other traits.

What about you? Who are some of your favorite protagonists and why?

Monday, May 23, 2011

ARC Give-away

Lauren Destefano, the author of Wither, is giving away a signed ARC of Wither along with an ARC of its sequel, Fever. Head on over to her blog to enter.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Book Review: The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

Title: The Screwtape Letters
Author: C.S. Lewis
Publisher: Macmillian
Genre: Religious
Rating: 5/5
Why I read it/how I found it: A religion professor of mine used a quote from it that I loved, so when I saw my roommate had a copy, I nabbed it.

Description:  Screwtape is a senior demon who writes a series of letters to his nephew, Wormwood, a beginning demon, who is given a newly converted Christian man, his "patient", to tempt. Screwtape instructs Wormwood in the art of tempting in these letters, in order for this human soul to be cast down to hell for the devils' consumpion.

Review: While my last week's review, The Picture of Dorian Gray, focused so much on blatant sin, The Screwtape Letters instead relies on the subtle ways of temptation. In this book, there is so much truth that is skewed through the eyes of a devil. I continually stopped reading and thought about all of the little ways that temptation can make humans fall. Cleverly written, with a strong voice and character, as well as witty satire, this book is eye-opening and even a little bit scary. I was absorbed in it whenever I picked it up to read and could not stop thinking about the many different aspects of what Screwtape said, always trying to twist it back into the truth, and finding a great insight into devils, humans, and the higher powers.
Should I read it?: Only if you want to read something that is both eye-opening and witty.
Should I buy it?: It may not be something all will want to read and re-read again, but in whatever way possible, I say get a hold of this book.
Other information: Focus on the Family Radio Theatre has produced a radio dramatization of The Screwtape Letters with Andy Serkis as the voice of Screwtape. You can find out more about it here. Also, in my copy of the book, there was an additional piece called "Screwtape Proposes a Toast" in which Screwtape gives a speech at the devil school's graduation and speaks on education.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Unexpected Inspiration

The world is an inspiring place. I've always found inspiration through art, music, books, people around me, history, nature. But there are two things I was sure would never, ever inspire me. Math and science.

I'm an English major for a reason. Math and science have, in the past, left me feeling empty of all creativity after going to class or doing homework. This semester I'm bogged down with GE's that I wasn't really dreading but I didn't exactly think would make me feel creative. But my astronomy class? Astronomy is awesome. The vastness and all of the different possibilities out in space has opened my mind and made the ideas juice out of me. Plus, if nothing else, looking out to everything that space contains is simply beautiful.

This inspiration was so unexpected, but I'm eating up every bit it gives to me. Have you had any unexpected inspirations? What are your inspirations in general?

Picture from Astronomy Picture of the Day

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

That's how you know

As I was writing the other day, the song "That's How You Know" from Enchanted came on my iPod. And in that song, I found a vital truth to writing. If you haven't heard it before, ( might I add if you haven't, see the entire movie right now) or you're having trouble remembering it, here you go:

All right, so this isn't new advice. Show don't tell has been around since the beginning of writing and I don't need to go into why it's so important. But when I listened to this song, it highlights how you need to show people in real life your thoughts and feelings. And great writing reflects back to real life, no matter what the genre. So it was just another tie-back into this basic knowledge of writing and reminded me of how important it truly is.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Book Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Title: The Picture of Dorian Gray
Author: Oscar Wilde
Publisher: Barnes and Noble (my edition)
Genre: Classic (Victorian)
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Why I read it/how I found it: One of the books I've been meaning to read for a while now. I saw the play a few months ago and it pushed me to finally read it.

Description: Upon meeting Lord Henry Watton, young Dorian Gray adopts his views that the only thing of real value in life is to be young. When Dorian sees a portrait of himself that should always remain young while he grows old, he wishes the opposite were true--that he should stay young and the portrait grow old. Dorian is further exposed to Lord Henry's ideas of living to fulfill the sense and finds himself in a world of sin. His wish comes true and body stays young but his picture grows old and corrupt, exposing his true soul.

Review: This book is a classic for a reason. I had already been exposed to Wilde through The Importance of Being Earnest but this book has a much darker mood than his plays, and Wilde can carry it as well as he does his light, quip-filled writing. Yet the darker shades of this story does not take away from Wilde's wit. Usually, when I have to read a book with corrupt characters as protagonists (like Wuthering Heights) I grow frustrated with their cruelty to the point where I can only enjoy discussing the book and not actually reading it. But in Dorian the sin and corruption that two main characters indulge in do not make me angry, and why that is I have yet to know why myself. A fascinating look into morals, sin, and the results of a life made only of pleasure, this book is more than just a creepy story. It has many layers to discuss, and I just wish I were in a literature class right now to talk about it! This would have gotten a 5/5 if Wilde hadn't taken a rather long chapter to explain details of jewels and perfumes, which was beneficial to the story, but still far too long.

Recommendation: Read
Should I buy it?: You can find classics so cheap now--go for it! (I only spent $2.50)
Other information: There is a 13-chapter version of this and a 20-chapter because during its Victorian publication, some things were thought of to be far too scandalous for the public. I read the 20-chapter version and I suggest the same, online a lot of people say the 13-chapter version is far too censored. There are also a lot of movie versions of this, the most recent starring Ben Barnes and Colin Firth (this one is rated R). I haven't seen any of these, so unfortunately I can't say whether I can recommend them or not.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Where I find myself becoming an outlining writer

This post was originally made on Thursday, but when blogger went down so did this post.

There are all kinds of writers in the world. Two of types are those who do outline and those who do not. Until recently, I found myself in the not outlining writers. At school, when teachers would say, "Write an outline and hand it in with your final draft," I would write my paper and then make an outline based off of what I had written to turn in to my teacher. I didn't like outlines, I thought they were a waste of my time. I just wanted to write, because I knew where I was going, and through a story I'd come up with some brilliant subplot which would make the whole outline pointless.

And now, for my WIP, I wrote an outline. Due to a bit of juggling that will occur due to plot elements, I was having trouble focusing where I wanted to go. So I sat down and made a list of the events I wanted to happen, then placed them in chapter by chapter as what would be the best way to construct the plot. Now that I'm moving along my WIP, there have been changes to my outline. Which is totally cool. Outlines are flexible, which for some reason in my teenage brain, it hadn't gotten through. That's something I think is so great about writing, the flexibility of it all. But now I think outlines provide a focus and organize a writer's cluttered mind.

What are everyone else's thoughts on outlines?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A New Regime

Alright, alright, so it's not a new regime but I will be spiffing up the blog a bit. I've noticed that some of my favorite blogs have a schedule, so I know when to expect a post or when not to, and sometimes even what they'll be posting about. And so I present to you the schedule:

Tuesday/Thursday: General writing subjects
Saturday: Book review
Any other day: when something super amazing happens that I can't wait until Tuesday or Thursday to share

And there you have it! See you all on Thursday! :)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day!

After spending a ridiculous $4.79 on a card for my mom this past Thursday, I thought that maybe people were right, and Mother's Day was a sham put on by the card companies. But then on Friday I called my mom to talk to her about my sister's move, a favor I wanted to ask of her, and what my brother and dad were up to that night. And if it so be that Mother's Day was created by the card company, fine. Give them my $4.79. My mom is worth it (and more).

So here are two videos I love about mother's. The first is a poem about mothers called "The Lanyard" by Billy Collins which I find hilarious. The second is much nearer to me, as it was spoken by who I believe is a servant of the Lord. I won't post about my religion often or much at all, but for me motherhood is directly entwined with God and I can't separate the two. This second video, for me, is what Mother's Day is celebrating.



Saturday, May 7, 2011

Book Review: Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Title: Wither
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Genre: Young adult (dystopia)
Rating: 4/5 stars
Why I read it/how I found it: I kept on seeing it mentioned on twitter, so I read the description and knew right away I'd want to read it.

Description: By age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. She can thank modern science for this genetic time bomb. A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males with a lifespan of 25 years, and females with a lifespan of 20 years. Geneticists are seeking a miracle antidote to restore the human race, desperate orphans crowd the population, crime and poverty have skyrocketed, and young girls are being kidnapped and sold as polygamous brides to bear more children.
When Rhine is kidnapped and sold as a bride, she vows to do all she can to escape. Her husband, Linden, is hopelessly in love with her, and Rhine can’t bring herself to hate him as much as she’d like to. He opens her to a magical world of wealth and illusion she never thought existed, and it almost makes it possible to ignore the clock ticking away her short life. But Rhine quickly learns that not everything in her new husband’s strange world is what it seems. Her father-in-law, an eccentric doctor bent on finding the antidote, is hoarding corpses in the basement. Her fellow sister wives are to be trusted one day and feared the next, and Rhine is desperate to communicate to her twin brother that she is safe and alive. Will Rhine be able to escape--before her time runs out?

Review: This book is mostly driven by characters, but I found it done in a very elegant and intriguing way. My favorite part was getting to know all of the characters and all of their different reactions to the life they've been put in. But, if you are one of those readers who can't stand characters whose personalities are extreme, then you will have to be on your guard on this one with one particular person. As a character, I found Linden to be very well-sculpted, but I could not like him and found it difficult to even sympathize with him because I think he's a weak and cowardly character. This isn't a bad thing, and it made me delve further into the book, but I know that some readers have to like characters to go on. On the other side of the triangle (oh yes, this is a triangular book) there's Gabriel, who I did like. While he's not as seen as some of the other characters, little actions of his made me adore him. Rhine's two sister wives, Cecily and Jenna (yeah, I pretty much felt weird reading a book with my name in it), were also really well-done. Although it seems impossible at first, it's hard not to eventually adore Cecily in a strange, little-sister-that's-bugging-me type of way. The entire situation is creepy (stuck in a house sharing a husband with two other girls? Yeah, creepy!) that it's hard to turn away to see how things will go. However, I found the ending anti-climatic--there wasn't enough struggle and frantically turning pages to see how it ends. Action overall is low in this book, in fact almost non-existent. And FYI, if this is something to concern you, even though Rhine is married to Linden, there's no sex between them, and ergo no details. As for the other brides, who do have sexual relations with Linden, it's mentioned in passing.
Recommendation: Read if you like character-driven stories.
Should I buy it: If you spend money on books like it's no thing, go ahead and get it now. If not--library or friend until the paperback version comes out. I'd get it in paperback for sure.
Other information: This is the first book in The Chemical Gardens trilogy, and it was announced on Wednesday that the second book is to titled Fever. The official fansite is here and Lauren DeStefano's website is here.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

So many books!

In case I haven't said it before, I'm in Utah. Even more specifically, I attend BYU. And guess what the BYU Bookstore is holding June 4, 2011? The Utah Festival of Books! I nearly fainted when I realized what this meant. And not only will there be fun events (like learning to bind a book. Everyone, I will come back from this thing with a book I bound myself!) there are many authors which will be present and signing copies of their book.

And this is important to all of you because I will be holding a give-away of a signed book. But with so many awesome authors and books to choose from, I need your help to choose one to give away, and ergo the new poll at the side of my blog. These are not all of the authors that will be attending it, but the ones that I believed would be most popular (and if you look and see that Kiersten White, who will be there as well, is not on the poll, don't fret, for I am also from San Diego and will be in town when Supernaturally comes out and plan on getting goodies there at the launch party).

And if you can't decide, you can vote for all of the books you would love to have a signed copy of. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Stop the distractions

Since around, oh, October-ish, I actually hadn't been writing as much as I had in the past. I would still type up a bit a day, but my fingers dashing across the keyboard in a stroke of pure imagination? Nope, not happening so much. You want to know why?

I don't know if you're familiar with this social network, although it is rising in popularity to the dismay of the users there. It's a blog site, only tweaked a bit. October I decided to get one, and then last night, I deleted mine. There are a lot of reasons why, but part of it is that it was a huge distraction to my writing. Something about tumblr addicted me. I would spend hours there without even realizing how much time it took. But lately I realized how much it was hindering me from getting on with my manuscripts and just even life. So I deleted it.

I know that social media is huge right now. And tumblr is the next big thing, in my opinion. And for those who can control themselves, it's fun, and could be a future stepping block in publicity. But it distracted me way too much. What would be the point of having it to publicize something that I don't even have?

And so I suggest, if there is something that is your tumblr, either distance yourself from it or just get rid of it. For me, there were other reasons to delete my tumblr, so you may not need to go as far as I did. But anything extra in your life that you don't need distracting you, cut it out. You won't regret it, I promise.