Monday, April 4, 2016

What I Learned from The Lunar Chronicles


For the last couple months I’ve been enjoying a book series, The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. And by “enjoying” I mean flailing and screaming and crying and fangirling and all around obsessing. It has kind of been my world.

As I writer, my brain automatically soaks in writing lessons while reading. Subconsciously, I’m constantly asking myself questions as I read like, “Why do I love this part so much?” “Why does this feel slow?” “That was such a good scene, what type of wording was used?” It’s a curse of the writer, we can’t help it.

So since I enjoyed obsessed over The Lunar Chronicles so much, I decided to share some writing lessons I learned along the way. (No, this is not an excuse to fangirl about the books. Of course not. . .)

Unique Conglomeration

On the back of one of the books it has a quote by Entertainment Weekly saying, “A cross between fairy tales , the Terminator, and Star Wars.” They weren’t even kidding. This series is fairytale retellings, but set in a futuristic, sci-fi version of our world. The Cinderella character is a cyborg. Then you have a little Rapunzel who can hack her way into any computer. Little Red Riding Hood wears a red hoodie, flies a spaceship, and is a good shot with a shotgun. While Snow White lives on the moon. That all sounds absolutely crazy, but Marissa Meyer made it work, and made it fun. It’s own uniqueness causes it to stand out, to be intriguing. Marissa Meyer thought of something insane—Cinderella being a cyborg—and turned it into one epic tale.

Writerly Tip: In a large world with so very, very many books, movies, and TV shows floating around, it can be hard to write something unique. Choosing two or three or even a dozen completely unrelated genres and smushing them together (such as sci-fi fairytale retellings) can make one’s story stand out amidst the millions.

Varied Cast

When I first started diving into these books, I feared a lot of the characters would be similar. At first, Scarlet seemed a lot like Cinder, while Winter reminded me somewhat of Cress. But after first impressions, I quickly realized these characters were all very different people. Not a single character in the entire cast were copies of each other. Every single one had unique traits and personalities, resulting in the perfect mix of people. I loved how their opposite personalities bounced off each other, each in different and interesting ways. I also liked how there was at least one character for everyone. This cast had enough diversity that anyone could find someone they liked. For example, Scarlet wasn’t my favorite character, but I’ve seen a lot of people say they loved her. There was a nice balance between each character and points-of-view, to keep everyone happy, no matter who is their favorite and least favorite character.

Writerly Tip: If you’ve found you have similar characters in your novel (I’ve been soooo guilty of this!), try changing one of them up, give them something to set them apart from each other. It’s also great when there’s a mix of people in the cast. Readers are going to be various, and though no writer should ever attempt making everyone happy (trust me, you’ll never be happy yourself if you try that), it’s good to have some diversity in your cast.

Friendship

These are fairytale retellings, so obviously there’s a lot of romantic relationships (which is another thing the author did so well, I was shipping everyone like crazy!), but what really struck me were the friendships. We start out with complete strangers and follow their journey and get to know them for a while. But then, by the end, we have a crew of wonderful friends who makes us readers yearn to have our own awesome friendship group to save the world with. As I said in my last point, each unique character bounced of the other in an interesting way. What I really liked is how they were all constantly paired off in different sets. One would think whenever they split up, the couples would stay together, but that wasn’t the case. Sometimes you’d have Cress and Scarlet’s guy off on an escapade. Sometimes two of the guys would split off together for a mission, etc. As a result, even though there were quite a few characters, they had each formed special friendships with the other, and all together made a spectacular (and adorable) crew.

Writerly Tip: I’ve found people love reading about friendships (I certainly do!). So even if you’re writing a romance book, don’t forget friends can be a fun part of the story as well. It’s also important to establish the different dynamics between each character. Character A and B may be in love, and character C is A’s best friend. But what kind of relationship does characters B and C have? Everyone reacts differently toward people. It’s important to remember that while writing, especially if you have a large cast. Plus, establishing different relationship dynamics between all the characters is just FUN.

Large and Diverse
(without being overwhelming)

One of the biggest things I noticed while reading this series is how the author seamlessly made it seem so large and diverse without overwhelming her readers. Essentially, this story is about an evil queen who lives on the moon attempting to take control of Earth. So, basically, you’ve got a story about all of Earth and a big civilization on the moon. That’s two entire planets and, somehow, Marissa Meyer magically made it feel like both planets and all the people within were ALL characters. I know that sounds crazy and overwhelming but don’t worry, there was obviously still just the few main characters. These main characters, though, traveled a lot, and met a lot of people, and dealt with a lot of world leaders and aristocrats and laborers, etc. etc. As a result, it felt so big, like all of Earth and the moon were included in the series. And yet, sometimes it feels like a simple storyline. The way Marissa Meyer managed that blows my mind. It was masterfully done, and I only wish I could make my stories have such a large scale! Without completely confuzzling my readers that is.

Writerly Tip: As I said, the characters traveled a lot and came across many different people groups, which I think was the biggest key in making it feel so large and diverse. The characters themselves were also varied (as mentioned) and had drastically different life experiences that added in the diversity and impression of largeness.

Body Language

This was another thing I absolutely loved about Marissa Meyer’s writing. Her writing style is very simple, not heavy or flowery (which I actually love with these types of books). So very, very many times I got so lost in it I completely forgot I was reading, to the point that one time I got disoriented after reading because I seriously forgot I even existed. That’s always what I want in a book! But what I found was the best part of her writing style was the body language descriptions. I fail at describing body language so bad. Far, far too often I fall into that “he smiled, she laughed” pit and can’t find the imagination and words to climb out. Like I said, these books have a simplistic style, and often there are “he smiled” descriptions. But between those are little gems of body language that gives you such a clear picture of what the character is doing.

For example: “She sniffed, then tilted her head way back and inhaled deeply in an attempt to keep tears from falling.”

See? It’s nothing complicated or flowery, yet it gives you such a clear picture. We’ve all done this gesture before. I bet you’re seeing yourself doing this at some time or another right now. I found all sorts of these little descriptions in the books that gave me such a vivid picture, while steering clear of the cliché “she smiled” sentence.

Writerly Tip: You can tell Marissa Meyer studies people and takes note of our little everyday gestures. As a writer, it’s important to observe. To grasp things from real life and put them into words to give readers a clear, realistic picture. Like I said, body language descriptions is one of my weaknesses. This series has inspired me to be more observant, maybe even jot down little gestures I take note of and see if I can describe them well. I think it’ll be very beneficial for my stories.

Love the Story

I have absolutely zero doubt in my mind that this author loved her story and characters. The passion she put into these books oozes right from the pages and makes them shine.

Writerly Tip: We should all write what we love. Yes, we’ll have bad days and struggle to get the words out and need breaks. Even feel like quitting. But, deep down, we keep going because we love the story. If you’re writing a novel just to get it done, that’s going to show. If you’re writing a novel because you love it, others will love it too, because you put your love and passion right into the words. You put effort into it. I’ve read books that were bland because the author just wanted to get it done and put no real work into the story. Writing is HARD. We should only ever put all that time and work into something we absolutely love. Trust me, your readers will thank you.

Give Us ALL the Feels

This sort of goes along with the last point I made. This series gave me allllll the feels. One time I was so amused I had to put the book down and take a second to compose myself. Multiple times I got teary-eyed. A few moments I wanted to scream. My heartbeat sped up during plenty of scenes. It was intense and hilarious and ridiculous and fun and heart-wrenching. It had it all, and I believe that was because the author loved it. She wasn’t just trying to get from point A to point B and be done with it. She put effort into making her characters loveable, into causing all sorts of crazy disasters for them, into making meaningful scenes and ridiculously amusing ones, sometimes both at the same time! That kind of writing takes work, but if you love your story, it’ll hardly feel like work at all.

Writerly Tip: I strongly believe filling a novel with a mix of emotions is important. I don’t want to read a book that makes me depressed the whole time. Give me a few laughs, please! Yet I also enjoy crying over fiction. I don’t know why, but I know I’m not alone. Us readers want to feel, in every way. I personally believe pacing is a strong factor in this. (Which may become a topic for a blog post, I have quite a few thoughts on the subject, but I’ll summarize it here.) I’ve read books that were so action-packed they left no room for me to feel anything for the characters. On the flip side, I’ve read plenty of books that dragged on and on and oooon and was basically nothing but the character talking about their feelings. Balance is key here. The Lunar Chronicles provided plenty of sweet scenes with the characters talking and pouring out their feelings or just having some deep inner monologue. But in between these scenes there was action and danger around every corner. It sent my emotions on a whirlwind, and I absolutely loved it!

~ ~ ~

In conclusion, this was a really, really good series! It wasn’t perfect, no story is. To contradict my last point, the pacing sometimes felt slow. Well, not slow exactly, there were just a lot of scenes that I felt could have been skipped or compacted into smaller scenes. Mainly in the last book, Winter. While the first book, Cinder, was a good size with tight writing, Winter was a 800+ page monster and had a few parts I felt weren’t entirely necessary to the overall story. But I didn’t even mind because I didn’t want the story to end at all. Aside from that, a lot of the plot was cliché and I didn’t absolutely love all the characters. Though I came to love most of them, two in particular are officially some of my favorite fictional characters ever. All in all, it was a well told story. And hey, even though I chose to focus on the positive parts of the book to glean writing knowledge from, we can absolutely learn from negative parts of books just as much.

Note: These books are a secular YA series, but as far as secular stories go, they were quite clean. There was the occasional curse word, and I very much mean occasional. There were about two or three bad words per book. Nothing major at all. The violence never got too graphic. These are fairytale retellings, so there’s definitely some lovey dovey stuff. Lots of touching, hugging, kissing, etc. But again, everything stayed surprisingly clean.
With all that said, the prequel novella Fairest was not clean. This little story is about the villainess, so I guess it’d make sense it had some pretty icky stuff in it. But I was still disappointed. I very much think series should stay consistent with the type of material they have, and Fairest almost felt like a book from an entirely different series. It had a lot of adult content that I felt did not belong in The Lunar Chronicles.
But anyways, I didn’t mean for this post to be a book review or anything (though it kind of turned out that way). I just wanted to give a warning before anyone goes rushing out to buy the books. If you do read the series, I’d suggest skipping Fairest. It’s not important to read it to understand the rest of the books.
Also, in addition to the prequel, this series has a ton of short stories that go before or between and even after the series which can get confuzzling, but I enjoyed the overall story way more reading the short stories along with the main books. If you’d like a list of them and my personal recommendation of what order to read them, do ask in the comments!

Who else ends up accidentally (or purposefully) analyzing books to improve their own writing? What’s the biggest writing lesson you’ve learned from reading? Most importantly here, have you read The Lunar Chronicles? If so, FANGIRL WITH ME. Who’s your favorite character? (Cress and Thorne forever! <3) Do you agree or disagree on any of the points I made?  Share away!

28 comments:

  1. I KNEW IT WAS COMING. I saw your "monster comment" on Tracey's blog and thought, "Yep, she's totally gonna explode sometime soon." XDDD (But really, dear, I could talk books ALL. DAY.)

    I've heard SUCH great things about these books! I saw Cinder at a used bookstore but opted not to buy it because I didn't really know much about it content-wise. Ack, the characters though!! They sound so ADORABLE. Like, how even??? And the premise of the series sounds so unique and creative and intriguing. I mean, a sci-fi fairytale retelling? HECK YEAH.

    Friendships and feels...oh gosh. There are oh-so-many literary friendships I adore. Sam and Frodo, Legolas and Gimli, Jane and Elizabeth Bennet, Billy and Walter (from DiOM)...I could go on and on for days if you let me. But the feels are what really get me. If I don't connect to a story on an emotional level, chances are I won't really like it. (And I'm one of those weird people that sorta enjoys crying over books. *COUGH*)

    This was a really fun post to read! I prooobably won't be getting the books anytime soon because 1) my TBR pile (nuff said) and 2) I have a very strong aversion to bad language. It bugs me way more than most people. I don't even know. *shrugs* But all that is to say, they sound utterly delightful, and your "review" made me want to read them someday. ^_^

    (Also, I've been noticeably absent from your blog and HAVE MISSED COMMENTING SO MUCH. But I'm back now to crash your dashboard with my immense comments. *cue evil laughter*)

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    1. Oh my goodness, that is HILARIOUS! You psychic you. XD What's really hilarious is you seem to know me better than I know myself. Because I didn't have any intention on doing a blog post on the books. Then Monday morning I was racking my brain figuring out what to post and this popped in my head. You know me so well! XDDD

      They are spectacular, they really are. I love how unique they are and how human and different the characters are portrayed. It's just soooo much fun!

      YES YES YES YES AND YES. Literally every single friendship you mentioned. I love them ALL. I'm going to also add Sherlock and John in that list.
      I am the exact. same. way. I want a book to really tug at my emotions. If it's just kind of a mellow story I probably won't be too into it. Bring on the waterworks! (Crying buddies, right? XD)

      Oh TBR piles. Never ending. Definitely understand that.
      I understand hating bad language, as well! I used to avoid it like the plague, but these days I've been branching out with my reading and accidentally coming across books with language in it. It makes me so very upset. Blargh! Stick to your guns! It's a very good thing you avoid it. I need to start being more careful again myself.

      (I am so loving you crashing my dashboard with all the comments. I have MISSED your comments. Like, a lot!!!)

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  2. I feel terrible. Why? This series has been recommend to me multiple times and I located it at my library. BUT I HAVE NOT READ IT. I will now remedy that.

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    1. YOU MUST REMEDY THAT, YES. I'm glad I could be of service. XD But hey, don't feel bad. You get the enjoyment of reading through them for the first time ahead of you. I'm so sad I've finished them. I think I'm going through book withdrawal.

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  3. I'VE BEEN WANTING TO READ THESE. Except, you know, they cost money... ;) And I read super slooow; I'm always analyzing and taking notes on ideas or how I can apply what I'm reading to my own writing. Which results in only one or two non-school novels read a month. :)

    And yes, I've heard about how, erm, inappropriate Fairest is. Whenever I get my hands on the Lunar Chronicles, I'm skipping that one.

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    1. They do cost money...quite a bit. Which is why I've only just now gotten them.

      That is fantastic you take your time and take notes and things! I...never take notes, even though I tell myself I need to. I lie to myself that I'll remember everything. HA! It's bad. Though, even without taking notes, I've been a pokey reader lately. I've been doing just about 2 or 3 a month myself. But as long as we're enjoying ourselves I guess it doesn't matter what pace we go. *nods*

      Yeah, I would recommend skipping it. You could always look up spoilers if you want to know what happened or ask me or something. Though a lot of it is covered in Winter, so I didn't find it all that necessary to understand the full story.

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  4. I LOVE this post! I'll definitely be coming back to it later for reference :)

    Ellie | On the Other Side of Reality

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    1. Well, you just made my day. So happy it was of some use! ^_^

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  5. Aaagh what a cool post! Leave it to Lauri to write an awesome half-writing-tips half-fangirl-review post. I love this! :D Very thoughtful tips, and it makes me want to try these books even more... o.o

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    1. D'awww, thanks! I really enjoyed doing it. I LOVE talking about writing, but am not wild about doing book reviews, so I'm thinking maybe I can start doing things like this for reviews? I don't know, we'll see. But it was fun!

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  6. Great post! I need to read this series.

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    1. Thank you! And... *GASP* SKYE. You haven't read the Lunar Chronicles? :O I feel like they're totally up your alley. I think you'd love them. You must try them someday!

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  7. I loved this post it's AMAZING! I have often thought "I wish I could write like Marissa Meyer" because she's so much of what I want to be as a writer - funny, creative, good at action scenes and worldbuilding, the list goes on. Thank you Christine for breaking down the books so we can get a better look at what makes them so great!

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    1. Thank you so much! And thank you for the tweet earlier today, totally made my day!

      I'm with you. It'd be the dream to write like her. Her action scenes are great, she's HILARIOUS, the worldbuilding is spot-on without ever info dumping (actually, that was another point I probably should have made), it's just great!

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  8. This post was so awesome, Christine! *piles Cinder and Scarlet and Cress and all the Lunar Chronicle books onto TBR list* I really must read these books :). Do you have a favorite in the series?

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    1. Thank you! ^_^ *cackles* My evil plan is working, getting every person one by one to read these books. *griiins*

      Cress was absolutely my favorite, but they were all wonderful! And as a whole a fantastic story, since they go together and all.

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  9. So, I was trying to figure out how to send you a message without it being through a comment... but I'm google+ illiterate... and I'm not seeing a "contact me" sort of form here on the blog. So... wanted to let you know that DJ Edwardson and I are creating the first ever annual (haha) Silmarillion Awards blogging... er... tour? And I was wondering if you'd be interested in participating? It's just for fun, not a huge time commitment or anything, and it's basically a "fantasy oscars" sort of thing. Anyway, if you're interested, you can shoot me an email at jenelle.l.schmidt (at) gmail (dot) com and I can send you the details.

    (these books sound very intriguing, as well)

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    1. Oh man, yeah, I do need to add some sort of contact link. Thanks for pointing that out! And don't worry, I don't really get Google+ myself... One time someone messaged me on there and I hardly knew what to do with it. XD One of these days I need to get on there and actually learn how to use it.

      That sounds like a lot of fun!! I'm so honored you would ask me. I'm not 100% sure I'll be able to join in, but I'll certainly email you for the details!

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  10. Yeeeees the Lunar Chronicles are awesome!!! I am in awe of Marissa Meyer's worldbuilding skills. Cress and Thorne ARE SO CUTE! :D I didn't like Scarlet very much at first but I grew to love her in Winter cause she just got stuff done and toughed it out. Her friendship with Winter is such a sweet relationship.
    I love the idea for this post... I might have to do something like this. :D

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    1. Another person who has read them! :D *highfives* Her worldbuilding is fantastic, and Cress and Thorne just... <333333 ALL THE HEARTS. I adore them so much.
      I grew rather attached to Scarlet, she was a nice addition to the crew, but I don't know. She just got on my nerves a lot. But she did endure so much, I can't be too hard on the poor thing.

      Thank you! I've kind of been obsessed with analyzing stories--whether it be books, TV shows, or movies--for years. It occurred to me the other day why not share some of my finds? You should totally give it a try. It's a lot of fun!

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  11. Love your blog. Also I've seen these, going to have to read them now. Heard they are really good.

    //Hannah//
    hannahrodzzz.blogspot.com

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    1. That means so much to me. Thank you! ^_^

      Oh yes, you absolutely should give them a try. I love them! (If it's not obvious. XD)

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  12. HOW ARE WE SO CONSISTENTLY DOING/THINKING THE SAME THINGS? Because, as you know, I recently read Cinder for the first time too, and now I am EXTRA sure I want to read the rest of the series! (It's funny, because when I was reading Cinder, I thought to myself, "Hmm, I think Christine would like this.") So yes. Hearing how much you loved it makes me certain I will as well. ;)

    And I'm always subconsciously studying novels too! When something works, I want to know how and why. Likewise with stuff that falls flat.

    All the great reasons, though!!! Varied cast and friendships and body language and unique combinations... These are all definitely things I can apply to my own writing. Also, great idea for a post! I'd love to see more!

    Okay, but now I'm curious about Fairest. I've heard elsewhere too that it's a dark story, but what were your content concerns, if you don't mind me asking? Feel free to shoot me an email on that if the comments aren't a good place to discuss. I just don't know if I'll want to read that book or not... :/

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    1. P.S. I was just at the library, but Scarlet wasn't in. Just Cress. *pouts*

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    2. I DON'T KNOW. IT'S CRAZINESS. That's funny you were thinking about me while you read it. Makes me feel specials. ^_^ I had actually first read Cinder a couple of years back, I just hadn't read the rest of the series yet. So I ended up recently splurging and getting all of them and rereading Cinder so I could read the whole series together. I don't regret the decision one bit.

      I think it's a blessing and curse of writers. We just can't seem to help it.

      Thank you! I had a lot of fun doing this. For some reason I'm not wild about doing book reviews, but I love talking about writing, so this was kind of a compromise I guess. XD

      Yeah, Fairest. >.> Well, it's about Levana, ya know, and her people which are all basically horrible, manipulative, selfish people, Levana being one of the worst. I kind of felt like the whole book was just about her trying to get this man she think she's in love with in bed with her. Yeeeah. Now, it never gets graphic or detailed with things like THAT, but still the whole subject matter made me upset and very uncomfortable. Then there's another character who is even worse than Levana who is constantly sleeping around and just being horrible. Again, nothing was ever explained in detail. It wasn't like one of THOSE books, if you know what I mean. But to me it almost felt like it was trying to be a YA version of a trashy romance book. I just felt like it didn't fit with the rest of the series at all and I was super disappointed with it. I felt grossed out and empty after reading it. So, it's up to you. Nothing was really graphic or anything, and it wasn't like it was portraying these things as GOOD. This is clearly about the villainess after all. Marissa Meyer was in no way trying to make us like or root for these characters, which I was glad of. But it was still stuff I just didn't want to read about. I hope that answers your question.

      Boo on your library! D: You need to continue the series!

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    3. That's because you ARE specials. ^_^ Ahhh, okay, so Cinder was something you discovered earlier. So fun that you bought all of them together like that!

      Totally agree with you there. Oftentimes I'm glad that I subconsciously analyze whatever I read, because it means I'm learning without even trying that much . . . but there are other times when I wish I could just turn it off, turn a blind eye to the book's flaws, and simply enjoy it as it is.

      It's a great compromise! And I might want to do something similar in the future (not to copy! you're just inspiring, and you'd get full credit!), because like you said, talking about a book in terms of writing rather than reviewing is so fun. (I personally feel like I'd have to read more slowly, or read something twice, if I were to seriously review it. *shrugs*)

      Yeeeah, I don't much like Levana. She's horrid. And ugh, that's disappointing about how THAT'S her focus in Fairest. That doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the series (or Cinder) at all. Cinder was such a clean book. Well, I guess I'll see once I get to the point of deciding whether or not to skip Fairest. I may read it (guardedly). Then again, I might not. At least the author wasn't promoting Levana's behavior! Thanks for the helpful answer! It gives me more to go on for when I have to make a decision about reading this book.

      Haha, I'll keep checking back for it, don't you worry! :D

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  13. I LOVE THE LUNAR CHRONICLES!!!!!! I’ve read them all except the last two….because I have no money and Winter hasn’t arrived at my library yet. *cries* But I want to read it so badly. I personally didn’t have a BIG problem with Fairest…compared to a lot of YA it’s not that dirty, really, but yeah. I love (and by love I mean obsess like a maniac) those books. DEFINITELY CRESS AND THORNE FOREVAH. I really love Kai though...he’s so sweet and adorable. :)

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    1. A fellow Lunartic! :D *highfives* Gracious, they're good!

      ACK. You need to read Winter!!! Although I totally understand the no money thing. Bookworm probs. Too many books, not enough money. >.>

      Yeah, Fairest could have been worse. I'm just pretty picky about what I read. I'd rather my fiction not have TOO much ickiness in it. I think my biggest problem was that its contents didn't really fit with the rest of the series, so it took me off guard. If that makes sense.

      CRESS AND THORNE FOREVERRRRRRR. I love them so much it hurts! Kai is totally precious as well, yes! They're ALL precious. <333

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