Judging Contest Entries

So I've been putting off judging the 15 entries that I signed up to judge for the contest my RWA chapter hosts and that's probably not a good choice to have made. I know that 15 doesn't seem like a lot of contest entries to judge, but at 30 typed pages a pop I'm looking at 150 fully typed pages to read and critique. That's in size 12 font, people!! I feel like curling up in a ball and crying. Don't get me wrong, I love seeing how many other people have great ideas that they are trying to get out there. But I'm gonna be honest right now. For every 1 legitimately good entry I come across, there are about 6 bad ones. And it's terribly difficult to be nice to someone that can't write but hopes desperately that they can. Why do I have to be nice? Why can't I be the Simon Cowell of contest entry critiques? Brutal honesty only helps in the long run! So my big dilemma this evening is whether or not to put off the judging even longer... I did just start a new book (Across a Star-Swept Sea) that I would rather dive into. Decisions, decisions.
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by Marissa Meyer

Cover Beauty Score: 7 out of 10
Goodreads Score: 5 out of 5

Plot Blurb: Picking up where book 2 left off (Scarlet - read that review by clicking here), we get to finally follow the story of Cress, that charming little computer hacker from Cinder. A modern take on the Rapunzel tale, Cress has been kept in a satellite orbiting earth for 7 years, acting as the evil Lunar queen's go-to hacker and computer aficionado. Convincing the gang (lead by Cinder) to rescue her is simple until it all goes wrong. The crew has to get past the obstacles and figure out a way to stop the Royal Wedding before the Earth really becomes doomed by Queen Levana's rule.

My Reaction: So I just read that book in under 24 hours. Thankfully after enjoying Scarlet so much, I was prepared to be in love with this one. And it didn't disappoint! Cress was an adorable character with a lot of gumption of her own, despite her sheltered existence and rather sheepish personality. You root for Cress from page one and just thinking about her hooking up with the vain and in-your-face Thorne has me grinning from ear to ear. I just knew from the idea itself that this was a match made in entertainment heaven.

I'm amazed at Meyer's ability to really create unique characters. I mean, these women are all their own individuals interacting with their own partners and each other with a talent of writing that I haven't seen in a while. I think it's difficult to establish these real, likeable people and have them all be so different at the same time.

Cress and Thorne. I mean, I can't even describe the smiles I got from these two. I have enjoyed Thorne's easy banter and humor from the first time I read his lines, and boy do they work playing off of Cress' sentimentality and naive eagerness. I'm sure I'm not the only one that was rooting for that "before death" kiss... I mean... is it hot in here? I think I need to go fan myself a bit...

And Scarlet! Poor Scarlet! WOLF!!! My two favorites have been thrown for a loop and it nearly breaks my heart! This bit right here:
She’s my alpha.
Like the star?
What star?
In a constellation, the brightest star is called the alpha. I thought maybe you meant that she’s…like…your brightest star.
Yes. Exactly like that.
I mean... it makes me want to cry all over again!!!! The feels!!

All plot details aside - I love the style of writing that Meyer uses. It's very theatrical, in the sense that it's almost like watching a movie. This is so difficult to accomplish in a readable way, but she kills at it! And I really think that dialogue makes or breaks a book... if she decides to quite novels, I think Meyer has a credible future in screenwriting. 

We finally get to see Cinder take up some responsibility in a real way, which is gratifying in and of itself. And she FINALLY gets back together with Kai. I mean, that is why I picked up book 2 even though I wasn't really into their relationship... I just wanted to see it through. And I'm so glad I did because I never would have found Scarlet and Cress.

Meyer has found her niche and I, for one, will by buying book 4 when it comes out next year.
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In the midst of Cress

Enjoying the third one in this series! Excited to review it soon!

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by Marissa Meyer

Cover Beauty Score: 10 out of 10
Goodreads Score: 5 out of 5

Plot Blurb: Picking up where book 1 left off (Cinder - read that review by clicking here), we are introduced to a girl named Scarlet Benoit who lives in France with her grandmother and farms vegetables. When her grandmother mysteriously disappears, Scarlet runs into a guy nicknamed "Wolf" that is pretty mysterious himself. When she finds out that he may have connections to her grandmother's kidnapping, she is forced to team up with him to follow the leads to find her, before it's too late. We also get to follow along with Cinder's story as she makes her way to find Scarlet's grandmother as well, who may have the key to her shrouded past.

My Reaction: Holy hell, where did that come from?! I mean, I enjoyed the first book well enough... obviously enough to pick up the second one. But I never even saw this little gem coming! Scarlet was a kick ass character... tough and independent in all the right ways without coming off as a bitch, which is a pretty tough thing to write, in my opinion. And Wolf blended perfectly with her... his brooding and mysterious nature mixed with the bit of danger he presented seemed like an excellent match for Scarlet. His gruff affection was swoon-worthy, and I can almost see how you could fall for him in the space of 24 hours.

But let's touch on the only shit thing about this book... a romance after a day? I mean... how much effort would it have taken to give him that job on the farm so she could fall for him over the space of a few weeks? Love at first sight stories make me want to vomit, so that should tell you how good the rest of this book was if I'm willing to skirt past this part as an afterthought. Hubba hubba, break me off a piece of any of those Lunar monsters... I like !!LOVE!! me some bad boy turned good!

And let's not forget the excellent pairing of Cinder and Thorne in this one... begrudgingly witty and snarky best friends? Yes, please! Thorne is a character that I really freaking enjoy. I felt like their adventure scenes were straight out of Firefly... the suave debonaire captain that is slightly less than morally driven (but really we know he's a good guy) is one of my favorite tropes! I'm super excited to follow him in the next book, because I'm sure it will be entertaining as hell!

The writing flowed well throughout the book, and I didn't find any slow parts. It was faster paced than the first one, sublimely more humorous, and contained a dark reality that I love to find in my fantasy sci-fi choices. I feel like Meyer just used Cinder as a jumping off point to catapault her into awesomeness with this one. Who ever said second books can't be better?

Go read Cinder if only to get you to Scarlet. It will be well worth the read!
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Cruel Beauty

by Rosamund Hodge

Cover Beauty Score: 9 out of 10
Goodreads Score: 5 out of 5

Plot Blurb: We follow the story of a girl named Nyx who has been betrothed since birth to the evil demon lord that rules and controls their land. She resentfully takes her place as his bride and lives in his enchanted castle/house, but she has trained her whole life to take the evil lord down. Desperate to save her people, she fights against her attraction to her demonic husband and struggles to find a way to bring his rule to an end.

My Reaction: I'm not gonna lie. I thought this book was a bit slow at first. From the beginning, I disliked Nyx, the main character, and thought she was self centered and pretty bitchy to be a hero. I mean, she was totally unfair to her sister and unbelievably cruel when she finally left home! There was a lot of poison in her heart and I just can't admire that in a person! But then EVERYTHING CHANGED!

As soon as Nyx started really interacting with her new husband, Ignifex, it's like her character came alive! I could see the complexities of her character and how true love was able to change her and help her let go of her past hatred. Even if it was at the hands of a demonic evil lord, unconditional love taught Nyx how to love for the first time in her life. The interactions between Nyx and Ignifex jump right off the page and make you fall in love with their romance in a very real way. They are two characters that play off of one another and in so doing, they come alive as individuals.

Despite her love, Nyx has to make a decision that has haunted stories and mythology (something that Hodge obviously loves, as myths are alive and well and living in this book). She has to ultimately choose between her love and the fate of the world she knows. There is some deep shit that goes on here, and it is real and heartbreaking... I may or may not have cried.  

Is there a love triangle in the book? Yes, but not in the way you would think. I had an inkling early on that this would be the case... but no spoilers so you'll have to read for yourself!

So going beyond the complexities of the characters and their changes, the plot of this book is fabulous! A house that is magical and tricky and alive in and of itself? Yes, please! It felt like Alice in Wonderland mixed with Tim Burton, Doctor Who, and Howl's Moving Castle... rooms of water, rooms of beautiful sunshine filled fields, neverending spiraling staircases, moving doors and floors, and rooms full of darkness that you must never enter (but let's be honest. Do you really think any good heroine would listen to a "it is forbidden!" command? No. I didn't think so.).

Just when you think you have Ignifex's castle and Nyx's world figured out, BAM! Hodge throws you for a loop. There's nothing that I don't appreciate more than a well conceived and complex plot full of hints that you don't understand until you finally do!

Overall? Stick it out through the whiney beginning and you won't be disappointed. The writing is excellent, the characters are fabulous, the romance is intoxicating, and the story will confuse and delight your detective skills... Go out there and buy it right now!

(Did I mention that the cover art is GORGEOUS!?) Seriously folks... this is the book that I wish I had written. Just make it happen.
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by Marissa Meyer

Cover Beauty Score: 5 out of 10
Goodreads Score: 3 out of 5

Plot Blurb: Set in futuristic Beijing, a girl named Cinder, who also happens to be a cyborg, runs a repair shop in the slums and supports her spoiled step/adoptive mother and two step sisters. A unique take on the Cinderella fairy tale, obviously there's a prince of Beijing (who is also kind of prince of the world) that meets her and lovey dovey feelings ensue... along with quite a bit of darkness and sci-fi gore, but in a good way! Cinder is suddenly the key to curing an incurable disease that has plagued the world for years... but she fears it may cost her life. She also learns some pretty big things about her past (which she can't remember) along the way.

My Reaction: I was a little bit prepared to dislike this book, honestly. Although I've seen it taunting me from the bestseller shelf for quite a while, I've been resisting trying it out for the mere reason that I felt the cyborg thing would be a bit cheesy. But Marissa Meyer really followed through and gave me a good story and likeable character to read... it's a very refreshing take on a good story (I mean, who doesn't like Cinderella?)

Did it flounder a bit at times? Yes. Was it a bit Twilight reminiscent in its juvenile simplistic writing? Certainly. But that's not to say I didn't enjoy it! I read that puppy in like 1.5 days because I just wanted to get to the good stuff. Although I found Kai (the prince) to be a very admirable character, he was a bit too tame for my taste. I'm excited to read the other books where I hope I'll see a little more characterization for him. While I found the romance quaint, it didn't make jump up and down on my couch like a lunatic, which is really what I quite like in a book.

Did I just buy the second one in the series, though? Yes. Yes I did. It was fun!

And can we discuss for a second how Sailor Moon this book is? As if having a princess exiled from the moon was bad enough... naming her Selene? Selene... Serena... see where I'm going with this? And then she is in love with the prince of the earth? You might as well have just been honest that this is Sailor Moon fan fiction. Not that I don't enjoy the nod to the best anime ever created - I'm a bona fide Sailor Moon buff... nobody loves the moon kingdom as much as this gal! I was just waiting for Cinder to throw her cyborg-y hand up in the air and shout "MOON PRISM POWER!"

Sadly, this never happened. More's the pity.
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Shadow and Bone

by Leigh Bardugo

Cover Beauty Score: 9 out of 10
Goodreads Score: 4 out of 5

Plot Blurb: A young orphaned girl named Alina Starkov grows up in a Russian-esque fantasy realm is drafted into the King's army with her best friend (a convincingly roguish boy... obviously also an orphan). After a brush with death and nearly losing her bestie, Mal, Alina finds a mysterious power within herself that sets her apart from the regular soldiers and elevates her to the rank of Grisha - the sorcerers that also serve the king's army. Torn away from Mal and her soldier life, Alina has to figure things out with her new powers and this whole situation where she is the chosen one sent to save the kingdom from doom.

My Reaction: I thought this book was great! I was very impressed with the writing and the story. It was very original in terms of what you find out there in the YA. Sometimes you just yearn for a well done fantasy and I felt like Shadow and Bone really delivered. Alina is a hero that you feel like you can really get behind... she has some guts and sticks up for herself, but I did think she's a little caught up on Mal. I was excited to see her develop and leave him behind for the Darkling (who was a phenomenally attractive character) who helped her grow, I felt.

But then Bardugo just plopped Mal back in there like nothing had happened. I would have really liked to get to know him a little bit better before suddenly having to jump on his ship. He's just all of a sudden there and like "oh yeah... I guess I loved you all along... sorry about that whole sleeping with the entire army and grishas thing..." without ever explaining why Alina should love him in the first place.

The action was very good and I felt like there was a sufficient amount of gore to support the darkness of the tale. Did I enjoy the highschool feel of the training camp for the Grishas? Meh... not really... but I guess it makes sense if that's your target. There was fantasy and science and romance galore, so that made me a happy camper.

Ultimately I saw the story going in a completely different direction than it ended up, and I kind of feel like I was super excited about it because of where I THOUGHT it was going to lead. Then by the end of I was just bummed out because the characters ended up being a bit flat. Bardugo leads us into the promise of complicated characterization and never really followed through.

But hey! I loved the writing and the concept of the story so that will keep me reading well into books 2 and 3 where I hope to get a little more of what I wanted... Mainly I just want to see the Darkling again. Damn... I am such a sucker for a redemption story... Here's hoping!
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