Guest of the Month Club: Five Books Sophie Wants to Read in 2016!

Hey everyone! It’s the last Sunday of the month and you know what that means (or maybe not)—Guest of the Month Club! This amazing program was set up by Emily @ Emily Reads Everything. Each month, she pairs up two bloggers and gives us a topic, and then we write guest posts for each other’s blogs. You can get more information here. I love the program, and I am so happy to tell you that my partner for this month is Sophie from Sophie the Bookworm.

You have to check out her blog, guys! We’ve actually been friends for a while now, basically since we both started blogging (which was around the same time). I literally shrieked when I found out we were partners, and I’m so glad that you guys get to read her post!


Hello bookworms,

How are you doing? I’m Sophie, and today I am going to list the top five books I want to read in 2016. I won’t be listing any books which will actually be released this year, since I don’t really read a lot of series and am slightly too lazy to look up the release dates. I already own quite a lot of the following books, making this post basically an extension of my TBR pile. Maybe writing this post will finally motivate me to read those books, hope you enjoy!

  1. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

cover illuminae

I know I will say the following sentence a lot in this post, but, I really really want to read this book. I have heard so many great things about it (people compare it to Ready Player One, the best sci-fi/dystopian I’ve ever read), and I even bought the book already, but I just can’t get myself to start it. The reason for this is because I am scared that I’ll love the story so much I will be needing the yet to be released sequel right away, knowing that it hasn’t been published yet. Also I want to have plenty of time to read it (something that I don’t have), to enjoy it as much as possible. But 2016 will be the year I read this book, I’m sure.

  1. Tamar by Mal Peet

cover tamar

I bought this book over two years ago because it sounded amazing, and started reading it straight away. I loved the premise of it, but since I was only twelve I couldn’t follow the story at all, never mind how much I tried. Disappointed, I put the book back on my shelf where it remains to this day, with the bookmark still in it. I really hope to get back to the story this year and start over, even though I have forgotten what it’s about. I am going to trust the judgement of the twelve year old version of me and finally finish that damn book.

  1. Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

cover wolf by wolf

I saw this book on Jocelyn’s list and immediately added it myself. I, and you probably too, have seen this book floating around in the blogosphere for ages. I am not exactly sure what it’s about, but the cover is cool and it has 4,3 stars on Goodreads. Also I really want to be able to join the fandom, since they literally pop up anywhere (just like phan, do you guys know what phan is, I see it everywhere but I have no idea, I might try googling it but it sounds dangerous).

  1. A Monster Calls, the movie

cover a monster calls

I lied, this post was supposed to be about books, but I’m going to go ahead and ad A Monster Calls, the movie. I finished this book a few days ago and cried, twice. This story is just so incredible and it’s the ultimate epitome of everything that is Patrick Ness, and now it’s being made into a movie! I think it’s going to be released this October, but you can find the teaser trailer already somewhere on YouTube.

  1. Winter by Marissa Meyer

cover winter

I absolutely adore the Lunar Chronicles, and I can’t stand the idea for it to be over, so I have been putting of reading it (I am starting to see a pattern emerge here, do you?). But ah well, all good things come to an end, even if I’m in denial. I liked Cinder, Scarlet was okay, I loved Cress, and now I am hoping for Winter to be awesome (but judging by the things I’ve heard it probably is).

These were the top five books (actually four, but shhh…) I want to read in 2016. Thank you so much to Jocelyn for having me, I love your blog and have read every post (seriously, I am following you via email, so usually read it from there. And yes, I am aware how stalker-y that sounds). Also, having a pen pal is awesome, so yay for the Guest of the Month Club (and thanks to Emily for coming up with this concept). Please let me know what books you guys are looking forward to reading in 2016 in the comments! (Maybe we can even fangirl together!)

Bye, Sophie


Thank you, Sophie! Hope you all enjoyed her post and are going to check out her blog right now!

Book Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

A modern fairy tale that combines knighthood and high school with swoon-worthy romance and fairy princes.

5/5 stars

cover the darkest part of the forest

Goodreads Description

Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough

My Review

This book captured my imagination from beginning to end. The faerie elements in the setting were simple but interesting, just creepy enough to give the story an ominous edge. The descriptions of the different fae were always gorgeous and captivating, and I loved that even though the world building for the faerie court was simple, it painted a picture of a much more complex society.

Even though the town is filled with magical occurrences, the contemporary setting was realistic as well. A lot of books try to combine magic and high school, but this book actually succeeded.

This book created not one, but two unique protagonists. Hazel’s character was a new twist on the (now somewhat stereotypical) YA badass female. She was a fighter, and had been since she was a child, but there was a clear reason (and some psychological damage) for her need to be a “knight.” The juxtaposition between being a warrior child and an intensely normal teenager was bittersweet and relatable (in a loose sense); we all wish we were as amazing as we thought we were as children. In Hazel, I saw a strong female character whose power came from inner conflicts and growth, not just her ability to wield a sword.

Hazel’s brother, Ben, was unique in his own way. He wasn’t badass—not by any stretch of the imagination—but he was still complex and real. I loved his relationship with his musical side, as well as the fact that he wasn’t brave or reckless the way so many YA protagonists are. Though I’d love to be as strong as Hazel, I have to admit I’d act more like Ben, and I love that Holly Black was willing to create such a lovably flawed character.

The romance in this book was perfect—it never overpowered the plot, but it was always there, pushing the story forward and helping the characters grow. Though there could have been an incredibly awkward love triangle, there wasn’t one, which I loved. Jack and Hazel are perfect for each other, and I loved the slow-release way that the reader realized how much they liked each other. Ben and the faerie prince’s romance was almost instalovey, but in the end, I understood their emotional connection, and I shipped them just as hard as I shipped Hazel and Jack.

The only part of the book that I had a problem with was the pacing of the plot. The first half dozen chapters are mainly exposition, and throughout the book, much of the story is told through flashbacks. The pacing isn’t bad—it kept me reading—but if you are expecting a rapidly paced book, this isn’t one.

I kind of was expecting a more dramatic plot, but once I settled into the way the story was being told, I loved it. The flashbacks always revealed new information, even the ones later in the story. There were a lot of OH MY GOD moments, and I loved the way that all of the layers of the story wove together. Every character got to have their own plot line, their own struggles, and their own growth; the story was able to tie everything together into a powerful and whimsical plot. Holly Black’s writing is simple but gorgeous, perfectly conveying the sinister but fairytale mood of the story.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for the elusive mix of really good contemporary characters with the darker elements of fairy tales. Each of the characters is vividly portrayed, and though the plot doesn’t race along at a breakneck pace, you won’t be able to put the story down.

Short Story: The Hero Will Not Be Automatic

This story was inspired by Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Contest for this week, Ten More Titles. I chose “The Hero Will Not Be Automatic” as my title.


Trial #1

Lab tech: Jess K.

Observations: The robot responded to the stimulus (gunshot) by scanning for open wounds. Locating the bullet wound in the patient’s chest, the robot’s processors directed it to perform emergency surgery. The patient did not survive.

Comments: Chest wounds should not be operated on in the field. Coding should be adjusted to take into account this situation.


Trial #2

Lab tech: Jess K.

Observations: The robot’s response time (between the gunshot stimulus and wound recognition) is down to 2.5 seconds. The gunshot was in the leg this time. The robot followed the new coding advice and dragged the patient out of the field while initiating emergency distress calls. Being dragged through shrapnel increased the patient’s wounds; the robot then deemed amputation necessary. Patient is alive but unable to walk.

Comments: The leg is different from the chest—can we get a coder who has taken anatomy?!?!


Trial #5

Lab tech: Jess K.

Observations: Robot is now able to adjust response based on location of gunshot.

Comments: Perhaps amputation should not be such a knee-jerk reaction in the coding.


Trial #12

Lab tech: Jess K.

Observations: Battlefield risks have been added to the testing environment. Robot took three gunshots while dragging the patient to the medical tents and was unable to reach its destination.

Comments: Could this thing dodge bullets?


Trial #13

Lab tech: Jess K.

Observations: The robot’s new reinforced shell was able to sustain five bullet wounds without loss of operating capacity exceeding 35%. Patient was brought to a sheltered environment and a tourniquet was administered.

Comments: Robot’s response times to administrator commands were slower after the battle ended and the robot was retrieved.


Trial #15

Lab tech: Jess K.

Observations: The robot refused to respond to gunshot stimuli. Upon hearing the beginning of the “battle,” the robot’s processors entered forced hibernation mode. The patient received four bullet wounds and died while the robot stayed frozen.

Comments: Did you code this?


Trial #16

Lab tech: Jess K.

Observations: The robot shut down after being exposed to the battlefield setting. No stimulus other than location was involved. Technicians could not reboot the robot until it had been brought out of the battlefield and let to sit for two hours.

Comments: Fix this. Now.


Trial #17

Lab tech: Jess K.

Observations: The self-preservation process has successfully been destroyed. Unfortunately, the robot has lost its risk-processing abilities. Though scans and records indicated a 75% chance that the battlefield contained landmines in the immediate area, the robot dragged its patient across them anyway.

Comments: I hope you backed up your files.


Trial #21

Lab tech: Jess K.

Observations: The robot is unable to perform basic functions. Having dragged its patient within two feet of a land mine, the robot suddenly shut down. The patient received two gunshots—one to the leg and one to the stomach—before the robot rebooted and finished dragging the patient to the medical tent. Before the doctors could take the patient, the robot amputated its leg.

Comments: I thought you had fixed the amputation tendencies.


Trial #30-36

Lab tech: Jess K.

Observations: The robot’s response to stimuli is erratic. The sound of gunshots will force a shut down, then a rapid reboot. Land mines are sometimes run over in a frenzy to escape the battlefield. Sometimes just the threat of a landmine will keep the robot from moving, even to reach the patient. Sustaining gunshots to its shell will sometimes cause the robot to hibernate, sometimes to operate suddenly on the patient, sometimes to override system controls and attack the other field agents. Even outside of the battlefield, the robot will sometimes short-circuit, initiate worst-case-scenario self-destruction, or shut down. No coding method seems to be able to fix these problems.

Comments: This project is a bust.


The Automatic Hero Project was discontinued on February 4. All records will be archived, pending review.

The Struggle of Writing Short Stories

I know I said I’d write more discussion posts, but I haven’t thought of any great bookish topics, so I’m writing one about writing instead. Hope you enjoy it anyway (I bet some of you can relate to it)!

I love the idea of writing short stories. Condensing storytelling into a few thousand words, getting the creative juices going for a few hours and actually finishing something—it strikes me as the epitome of writing. Like, if I can successfully write a short story, I will have transitioned into a new phase of being a writer, I will have “leveled up” in some cosmic way.

I don’t know, that’s just me.

The problem is, short stories are hard. (That’s probably not surprising to most of you, but it always seems to surprise me when I sit down to write one and nothing magically comes together.) I seem to face three specific roadblocks:

1. What the heck should I write?

Probably the most obvious problem. There have been countless times when I sit down to write a short story and…nothing comes. I’ll even start with inspiration—anything from my countless Pinterest boards or the random writing challenges floating around—but no plot comes out of it. I have an easy time coming up with characters and worlds and funny one-liners, but stringing all of those elements together with the elusive device of PLOT???

Nope. That doesn’t happen often.

2. Well, that’s just an exposition with a dash of plot for flavor

So here’s what happens: I start with a picture or a prompt or whatever that sets off a lightbulb in my mind and the words start pouring out. After a little while, I have a few pages written and I’m feeling pretty darn proud of myself.

Until I go back and reread it, when I realize that everything I wrote is a great set-up for a larger story (read: novel), but it isn’t close to being a short story. Sometimes, I’m fine with this (my current WIP started off as a random idea for a short story), but now that I’m fully committed to my WIP and I just want to write short stories to blow off steam, this gets annoying.

Being a pantser definitely doesn’t help this situation. I figure out the story I want to write by randomly exploring characters and scenes. That works well (if slowly) for longer projects, but not for short stories. I can’t tell you how many Word documents I have saved on my computer that are three pages of abandoned exposition.

3. And that’s just a lot of dialogue…

Sometimes I over-correct and ignore exposition completely. The stories that result from this are 80% dialogue, with the sparsest descriptions added to give the story context.

I actually love these stories, though they feel like scenes instead of stories (less plot, more snapshot). And though I love writing snappy dialogue back-and-forths, I can never shake the feeling that these stories are missing the backbone that is, you know, scenery and all that.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, there’s the hope that some of you have struggled with these same problems and have useful hints to help get over it. There’s also the hope that some of you have been trying to write short stories and not knowing why they aren’t working, and you’ll read this post and go “ah-HAH, that’s my problem!”

Also, I’m curious: what types of short stories do you like to read? Are these actually problems, or am I just imagining them?

But really, I’m sharing this with you because writing it down helps me focus on what I’ll do better next time. and putting it online forces me to do better next time. I really want to write short stories, mainly because it means that I can share more of my writing with you guys, and part of that process is sharing why I haven’t been sharing short stories with you guys as much as I would like.

So…what are you thoughts? Relatable? A mountain out of a molehill? Do you have any tricks for conquering the monster that is short stories?

Book Review: The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

A dark and moving story of three independent characters coming together in a terrifying maze of drugs and crime.

4.5/5 stars

cover the walled city

Plot (via Goodreads)

730. That’s how many days I’ve been trapped.
18. That’s how many days I have left to find a way out.

DAI, trying to escape a haunting past, traffics drugs for the most ruthless kingpin in the Walled City. But in order to find the key to his freedom, he needs help from someone with the power to be invisible….

JIN hides under the radar, afraid the wild street gangs will discover her biggest secret: Jin passes as a boy to stay safe. Still, every chance she gets, she searches for her lost sister….

MEI YEE has been trapped in a brothel for the past two years, dreaming of getting out while watching the girls who try fail one by one. She’s about to give up, when one day she sees an unexpected face at her window…..

In this innovative and adrenaline-fueled novel, they all come together in a desperate attempt to escape a lawless labyrinth before the clock runs out.

My Review

This book was incredible. Dark, gritty, horrifying, and touching all at once.

From the first page, the setting fascinated me. Based on a real “walled city,” the Walled City is a labyrinth of slums and suffering, filled with gangs, prostitutes, runaways, and drugs.

The world-building perfectly set the tone of this book; it pulls no punches, and even though it is a YA book, The Walled City gets dark. There were moments when I was genuinely terrified, not because of any horror-movie tropes, but simple because of the intense pain that this book portrayed. And even with all of the darkness, the setting always felt realistic—which may have been the most horrifying part of all.

I also loved the prevalent Chinese influence. From the food that they ate to the metaphors that went through the characters’ minds, the story never let you forget that it took place in China. Having read mostly books set in America, or fantastical/dystopian spin-offs of America, I loved the way Ryan Graudin wove the Chinese culture into this story.

The thing that blew me away about The Walled City was the characters. TWC basically has three protagonists, each with their own distinct plot line and personality. I loved seeing all of the characters slowly bump into each other and form connections, all without realizing the significance of each other.

Jin was my favorite character; I loved her badass nature, and I understood her emotions. I seriously wanted to give the girl a hug, and I loved her dedication to her sister. I wish that the plot had spent more time with her, but Dai and Mei Yee were also great to read about. Watching each of the characters grow out of their shells and develop into new, stronger people—despite the horrors of the world they lived in—was honestly inspiring.

Though this could have weighed down the plot if it were written badly, Ryan Graudin totally pulled it off. The story was able to carry each character’s plot without losing its fast pacing.

I have to give this book a huge shout out for the way it handled the romance. There could have been a love triangle, but there wasn’t—and I was sooooo glad. Don’t get me wrong, I like love triangles when they fit in the plot, but one would have destroyed this book. Instead, I loved watching Dai and Mei Yee slowly falling for each other, while Dai formed a refreshingly platonic friendship with Jin. By the end of the book, all three characters are all tied together with strong emotional bonds, but they don’t all rely on romance, something that the YA genre often lacks.

I would recommend this book to anyone searching for a powerful story of courage and resistance even in hell on earth. Each of the characters is vividly portrayed and fascinatingly complex. The plot is gripping and perfectly paced—I couldn’t put it down. If you’re wondering what you should read next, just go buy this book. Seriously. You won’t regret it.

Poetry: Out of Nowhere

It came out of nowhere

They say

But they are the ones who taught us to be silent

 

It came out of nowhere

They say

Because we followed instructions

Until we couldn’t—

Until the dam broke

And all we could do was scream

 

It came out of nowhere

They yell

As if not seeing a problem

Means it doesn’t exist

 

It came out of nowhere

They shout

As if the shame and silence they have forced upon us

Discredits us, instead of them

 

It came out of nowhere

They scream

Louder than our own shouts

Because their voices are not hoarse

From disuse and self-exile

 

Yes,

It came out of nowhere

But it was never nothing.

Book Review: Melophobia by James Morris

A unique dystopian story that captures the beauty of music.

4/5 stars

cover melophobia

Plot

The time–now; the place–America, but in a world where the government controls all forms of art and creativity. Any music sowing seeds of anarchy is banned–destroyed if found–its creators and listeners harshly punished.

Merrin Pierce works as an undercover Patrol officer assigned to apprehend a man who threatens the safe fabric of society, only to confront everything she thought to be true–her values, upbringing, job and future.

My Review

*I was given a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my review.*

I was intrigued by the premise of this book: a world without music—how would that work? The answer, in true dystopian fashion, is that it doesn’t.

I was simultaneously pleased by and frustrated with the world building. Essentially, a civil war broke out in the 1970s between anarchist music lovers and the established government, leading to the War on Moral Decay. The government won the War, establishing a strict, almost Puritanical world where music is illegal and any strong emotion is seen as the beginning of anarchy. Raised in this society, the protagonist, Merrin, fiercely hates and fears music.

It is the kind of premise you just have to accept. It was believable to me that Merrin would hate music if she had been raised on a diet of anti-music propaganda—but that didn’t stop me from countering all of her anti-music statements in the beginning of the book. As a member of modern society, all of the arguments against music were clearly authoritarian propaganda, and I had to remind myself that Merrin’s emotions were logical for someone in her position.

Other than that, I was fairly happy with the world-building. We don’t learn everything about how music was eradicated or the specifics of what else is illegal in their society, but I never felt like that lack of information created plot holes. One thing I really appreciated was how the world-building continued throughout the story; even in the later chapters, I was still learning more details of the world, which felt natural.

Merrin was an interesting protagonist. She starts off the book your typical hard-ass female character, focused on her job, fueled by a deep inner rage against music. Watching her character develop was fascinating as she transitioned into a woman, unsure of her place in the world, torn between competing loyalties, and questioning the society she had been raised to trust. The fact that her father was a high-ranking government official only added to the tension, creating a realistic moral battle within Merrin.

The rest of the characters in the book held there own. There’s Anders, her ex-bf and current partner, pining for Merrin and loyal to the Patrol. He was a fairly frustrating character, but that was the point, and I appreciated that we got to see different layers of his personality. Then there are the musicians that Merrin meets as she investigates. These characters were the most fun to read about, mainly because they actually embraced having emotions, unlike the rest of the society.

And then there’s the romance. Merrin’s assignment is to go undercover and find the Source, a musician who has been creating and distributing music. Though the set-up isn’t exactly original, their romance had a unique realism. I loved watching Merrin’s affection for the Source develop, even in the face of all her other values. I appreciated that Merrin didn’t drop all of her distrust of music as soon as she met the Source; even when their relationship was getting serious, she still had her reserves. Merrin’s inner conflicts felt real, and it wasn’t just romance that finally made her realize the problems in her society, but a slew of other incidents.

All in all, Melophobia is an interesting read, but it didn’t blow me away. Having not really listened to the music that the book was rooted in, I feel like I was missing some of the emotional significance. Also, the writing bothered me occasionally. It had a habit of switching POV without warning and a tendency to “tell” instead of “show” emotions.

The beginning dragged a bit; it took me a while to get into the story. Once the halfway point it, though, I was hooked. There were a few “oh my god” moments, and I loved how the plot affected every single character, not just Merrin. The climax of the book literally broke my heart and effortlessly set up a second book.

I’d recommend this book to music fans, especially rock-n-roll fans, who want an interesting NA dystopian with complex characters and a surprising ending.