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One highly opinionated feminist YA nerd's twisted, snarky and informative journey through the genre's perils, pitfalls and sparkles.

How am I writing? Another open thread.

I managed to write just under 1500 words of my book today so I'm feeling particularly jazzed up. The scene is mainly talking with a lot of exposition but I'm hoping that to others it reads as snappy and interesting. It probably won't but right now I just want to get the first draft finished by next year, my 2011 resolution.

Let's talk about protagonists. What do you look for in a hero/heroine when you write/read? I'm a strong supporter of a kickarse protagonist although true strength isn't just in how well you can kick and punch (although if I do say so myself, my heroine is a bit of a show off with a sword!) A weak heroine can kill a story stone dead for me, especially when it's left to other, usually male, characters to do all the legwork. I think through the process of attempting to write this story I've spent most of my worrying time (for I worry a lot) fretting over my heroine. I want her to be strong, confident and smart but not verge into the dreaded Mary Sue territory (true story; when I was writing her appearance I wanted to give her the initial characteristics of the archetypal Disney princess except have them end up not being attractive which I thought was a good idea until I realised the description sounded a lot like myself, so she now has a completely different appearance!) Being able to relate to a character isn't always necessary, although it does help with some stories, but being able to empathise with them is if you want to portray them as a hero.

Which book characters do you consider great heroes and heroines? If I had to pick just one character to be my absolute favourite it would be Sally Lockhart from Philip Pullman's Sally Lockhart quartet, which I actually prefer to His Dark Materials. Sally's a strong, independent woman working to look after herself in a time when it was uncommon for women to do so, she scowls then laughs in the face of adversity, uses her brains, can handle herself with a weapon and doesn't let anything stand in her way. She shudders at the idea of having a man own her and always makes sure equality is key. I'm such a sucker for Victorian detective stories and Sally Lockhart is the standard I hold every other YA heroine up to, and that's one bloody high standard for me. Just don't talk to me about the TV adaptation - I'm still annoyed at Billie Piper being miscast in that role.

Friends, writers, bloggers, how have you been writing today?

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Sequel reviews! "Beautiful Darkness" by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl and "The Dead Tossed Waves" by Carrie Ryan.


“Beautiful Darkness

Authors: Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl.

Publisher: Penguin Razorbill.

Pages: 503.

Synopsis (taken from GoodReads): Ethan Wate used to think of Gatlin, the small Southern town he had always called home, as a place where nothing ever changed. Then he met mysterious newcomer Lena Duchannes, who revealed a secret world that had been hidden in plain sight all along. A Gatlin that harbored ancient secrets beneath its moss-covered oaks and cracked sidewalks. A Gatlin where a curse has marked Lena's family of powerful Supernaturals for generations. A Gatlin where impossible, magical, life-altering events happen. Sometimes life-ending.

Together they can face anything Gatlin throws at them, but after suffering a tragic loss, Lena starts to pull away, keeping secrets that test their relationship. And now
that Ethan's eyes have been opened to the darker side of Gatlin, there's no going back. Haunted by strange visions only he can see, Ethan is pulled deeper
into his town's tangled history and finds himself caught up in the dangerous network of underground passageways endlessly crisscrossing the South, where nothing is as it seems.



“The Dead Tossed Waves”

Author: Carrie Ryan.

Publisher: Delacorte Books.

Pages (in ARC): 402.

Synopsis (taken from GoodReads): Gabry lives a quiet life. As safe a life as is possible in a town trapped between a forest and the ocean, in a world teeming with the dead, who constantly hunger for those still living. She’s content on her side of the Barrier, happy to let her friends dream of the Dark City up the coast while she watches from the top of her lighthouse. But there are threats the Barrier cannot hold back. Threats like the secrets Gabry’s mother thought she left behind when she escaped from the Sisterhood and the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Like the cult of religious
zealots who worship the dead. Like the stranger from the forest who seems to know Gabry. And suddenly, everything is changing. One reckless moment, and half of Gabry’s generation is dead, the other half imprisoned. Now Gabry only knows one thing: she must face the forest of her mother’s past in order to save herself and the one she loves.

Cover impressions: Here at the Sparkle Project we’ve got sequel-itis! The festive period has blessed me with more reading time and my old job blessed me with books to read! I found an old advanced reader copy of the sequel to ‘The Forest of Hands and Teeth’, the one book in the original Sparkle Project I actually gave a positive review, in my old staff room and luckily even Xmas booksellers get to take them home. I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Beautiful Creatures’ when I first read it, finding it to be a well crafted, interesting story with a unique mythos and an atmosphere steeped in the Southern Gothic traditions, one of my favourite things in literature. I’m always weary about committing to a series but since I enjoyed the first book so much I knew I had to give this one a go. As for ‘The Dead Tossed Waves’ it was something I was wary about picking up at first – I liked it but still had problems with it – but the possibility of answers for the plot holes that bugged me was too good to resist.

Starting with ‘Beautiful Darkness’ I am sorry to say it was a disappointment. The first book had moments of pacing difficulties but here they seemed to spiral out of control. There was no real beginning, middle or end to the story; it all just dragged out and felt like it was pushed together out of scraps of story and scenes. This book is over 500 pages long and you feel each of those 500+ pages, especially since the plot seems to have wandered off somewhere. Everything wandered from one scene to another with no real order or point. A strict editor could easily have taken a hundred or so pages from this story. It wouldn’t have been perfect but it would have flowed much easier.

I really liked ‘Beautiful Creatures’ for a number of reasons as I mentioned above, but none of these things were present in this sequel – the mythos remains interesting and well crafted but it’s so clumsily put into the story with giant chunks of show-don’t-tell that it adds yet more speed-bumps to a story that desperately needs an energy boost. Ethan’s narration remains likeable enough but there are more points in this story where he doesn’t feel authentically male than in the previous story. Love stories may not be my favourite element in paranormal YA these days but it’s still important to make me care about the romantic leads and I just didn’t care about Lena in this story. Forget the fact that she’s barely in half of it; when she is there her actions didn’t do much to make me sympathise with her. In the previous book I understood her emotions and while I empathise to an extent here, her moments of ignorance, cruelty and just plain old stupidity drove me nuts. Stupidity should not drive the plot. This also left me wondering why the hell Ethan was so obsessively in love with Lena, especially since there were so many more interesting things about Ethan I wanted to know about, such as the return of his dad into his life after the events of the previous story. There were some small moments between Ethan and his dad where I really wanted to read more instead of that dreaded yet inevitable trope of the YA genre – the love triangle. Or rather a love square if I must be precise.

Let’s talk about love triangles since it’s a relevant topic to both of these books. I cannot for the life of me understand why they are so popular in young adult fiction. A great romance is a hard thing to write well, romance detractors be damned, and a love triangle even harder. I’ve never seen it done well yet in YA, or at least not up to my stupidly high standards of literary romance. The basic idea of making love a competition feels disingenuous to me. When ‘Twilight’ first became popular the publishers started to push the ‘Team Edward’ and ‘Team Jacob’ fan competition as part of the publicity campaign (which I’ve always found odd since there isn’t a more obvious conclusion to a love triangle than the one in Twilight. Be honest, Jacob never had a chance.) I see the team element being pushed a lot with other books, for example ‘The Hunger Games’ (because the idea of a strong, independent female character ending up without an unnecessary romantic lead is unthinkable I guess) and ‘Wings’ (oh dear god, that book was terrible.) The emphasis on romance over plot and character aside, the love triangle competition element bugs me because in a love triangle someone is always going to be disappointed. I often find it harder to make a connection with characters when I’m supposed to be actively rooting for one over another. A lot of the time it’s also lazy writing, like I found with ‘Beautiful Darkness.’


Awkwardly segueing back to the review, with the added possible love interests in the story, I just didn’t care if Ethan or Lena ended up with someone different, although I admit to liking Ethan’s possible future English girlfriend Olivia more than I liked Lena. The moping and wondering just added more padding to a story that really doesn’t need it. But what disappointed me most about ‘Beautiful Darkness’ was something missing from the first book – the atmosphere. Garcia and Stohl did a great job in capturing the claustrophobic feeling of being stuck in a small town where everybody knew everything and gossip could ruin your life. It was like a lighter Southern Gothic but every bit just as effective and it was completely missing in this book. There was no tension, no atmosphere, no foreboding sense of something suspicious in the foreground and the book seriously suffers for it. That’s why this book was such a disappointment. I expected so much more and it just fell flat and didn’t deliver.

On the other hand, ‘The Dead Tossed Waves’ seriously surprised me. While I still had similar problems that I had with the first book, Ryan’s wonderful prose kept me gripped throughout. She has a serious gift for creating fear out of the small moments and that which we find to be so normal, like the ocean (water zombies FTW!) The feeling of claustrophobia, even in the wide open spaces that Gabry lives in, is constant, and Ryan does a fantastic job of crafting a secret filled, constraining society in a situation where one would think such a thing isn’t even possible. We also get answers to questions posed in the first book which is always a good thing. The mythos of the zombies, known here as the Mudo, is fleshed out further, no pun intended, and we get a wider view of how the world has been affected by the epidemic. There are some very interesting twists in this tale that I won’t spoil for you.


But the love triangle problem looms in the distance and I just can’t ignore it. I was seriously bugged by Mary’s love-sick moping in ‘The Forest of Hands and Teeth’ because it seemed like a ridiculous priority to have when one’s life is at stake and it just dragged the plot down and sadly the exact thing happens here. While I like the protagonist in this book more than I did with Mary, it still feels highly unnecessary and uninteresting. Like her mother, Gabry suffers from some real moments of head-desk inducing stupidity. The adult Mary also gets a couple moments to display her unchanging personality from the first book. I’m disappointed that Ryan decided to repeat this plot element from the first book since it was evidently the weakest part of the story and weighed down the rest of it so much. I’d love to see her try this story without the love element in it. She manages to pose some very intriguing philosophical questions – what does it truly mean to be alive? When you are undead are you still you? – in an interesting way that keeps the plot moving, as well as some genuinely eerie moments, mixing together themes of religion, power and responsibility, and they’re all so much more interesting than the teenage romance, although I give credit to Gabry for being so much less selfish than her mother, even if she does spend a lot of time comparing herself to her. I’d love to see a story set in this world around the time of the Return. It would probably be as depressing as hell but Ryan could definitely pull it off.

I end this bout of sequel-itis with one disappointment and one surprise. ‘Beautiful Darkness’ was such a letdown and I’m so disappointed that it didn’t live up to its predecessor. While the prose is still serviceable, the majority of the characters likeable and the mythos unique and interesting, the lack of plot, terrible pacing and lack of anything actually happening vastly outweigh the positives. If I’m completely honest, a lot of the time it felt like Garcia and Stohl were making it up as they went along, and with news that the series will go onto book 4 with more possibly on the horizon, I can’t see that as a good thing. The novel ends on a sort of (lazy contrived) cliff-hanger for book 3 which feels like the story is being dragged out like it’s part of the Saw franchise, and beyond it being uninteresting and thrown together solely for sequel bait, the story can only suffer as a result. I don’t think I’ll be reading the rest of the ‘Beautiful Creatures’ series, I just don’t care enough. On the other hand I will definitely be picking up the final book in Ryan’s trilogy, ‘The Dark and Hollow Places.’ Soap opera moments and unnecessary love triangle aside, I love Ryan’s prose and the world she has created. ‘The Dead Tossed Waves’ builds upon its predecessor and even beats it on several levels and I was highly satisfied with it. Ryan’s a great storyteller and I hope she sticks with the stuff she’s great at and makes the final book in her trilogy everything it deserves to be.


Beautiful Darkness: 2/5.



The Dead Tossed Waves: 3.5/5.

(apologies for the terrible HTML here; I am a technological nightmare.)

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Open thread - how/why/where/who do you review?

I apologise for my lack of productivity on my own blog over recent weeks. I have just finished my Xmas job and I am back home for the festive season which means I'll have more free time to read and write (I swear that YA book in progress has developed eyes to death-stare me with) and share my as always unwanted thoughts with you all. I got a great response on my last post so I have decided to make these open threads a regular thing. I'll try and get one up once a week so there can be lots of discussions about how you're all getting on with writing your own stories and we can console each other and procrastinate together like an Olympic team! It's my new years resolution to actually finish a first draft of something so I'll need all the support I can get!

But I thought this thread could be an open forum to talk about reviews. I write them, obviously, but I also read them a lot, especially on places like the incredibly addictive GoodReads. A well written review, be it positive or otherwise, can make or break a book and mean the difference between one sale and ten. I spent my Xmas job in a bookshop recommending YA books a lot of the time which I loved (how can you hate a job where you get to fangirl over Celia Rees books?) But there can be a lot of problems with reviewing. I recently read a post sent to me by Catherine Haines where YA writer Miranda Kenneally talked about being hesitant about giving negative reviews for fear of offending people, and went on to discuss the clique nature of the industry, something I've been vocal about myself. It made me think a lot about the way I review books. I've been called an over-vitriolic blowhard who rips off people like Cleolinda Jones (who I am a huge fan of and have communicated with several times on Twitter but I am certainly not ripping her off, and neither are the majority of internet critics.) and I've also read comments where people say that snarky reviews are counter-productive and they won't read them. Since I'm a self confessed snarky reviewer I took a moment to think about this and wonder if my reviews were doing what I want them to do.

I love books and I love young adult fiction. I've always stood by this statement, even when I'm being very sarcastic and mocking books. My original intention with my recaps of the original project was to look at the stories from a feminist point of view, critique what I saw as problematic and see how the genre has been influenced by the recent rise in popularity of things like Twilight. It was also my intention to be entertaining (believe me, that doesn't come naturally, I am not a funny person at all and really have to work at it.) I know a lot of people disagree with me but I think if you back up whatever you say with evidence then that's more important than the way you write the review. I called Hush Hush a whole lot of nasty things but I always backed up what I said with quotes and the like. With something like Hush Hush, where I was so angry at the relationship in the story being portrayed as romantic when it was clearly abusive and unhealthy, I can't help but worry at this compulsion to avoid offending people for fear of being shut out of the business just because you critique something.

I wrote a rebuttal to a YA writer who defended Hush Hush and called bad reviews a form of censorship (the writer of that post, who admitted to being friends with Becca Fitzpatrick, has since acquired an agent and deleted her post) because it was important for me to express why I said what I did about that book. The division between writers and fans has blurred since the internet became a major player in YA promotion and people are afraid to step on others toes for fear that it will ruin their own chances of future success. I have been directly told on more than one occasion that I will never become a published YA author because of my reviews. I never wrote my SP reviews just to piss off people, although I'm sure some would say otherwise, and I genuinely wanted to provide a strong, entertaining feminist critique of the genre because right now it still feels like the F word is a dirty one in this genre. I do give out good and great reviews and I actually enjoy them more because it's great to recommend books to others. I don't want to bubble wrap bad reviews for fear of wounding egos or something like that. I'm still amazed that as many people commented on the original Sparkle Project as they did. I'm thankful for every comment I receive, even the ones disagreeing with me. I've still got a lot of work to do on becoming a better reviewer and I hope you'll stick with me throughout the next year. But I will say this - if writing bad reviews somehow stops me from becoming a published writer, if it's more important to molly-coddle your BFFs than to critique genuinely problematic areas of a genre that has such an impact on a large, impressionable audience, then frankly I don't want to be a part of that industry.

Thoughts? Opinions? Want to call me a blowhard bitch to my face? Go for it!

I'd also like to wish you all seasons greetings, a very merry Christmas and happy Hogmanay! I'll leave you with my new favourite Xmas song. Warning; it's naughty!


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How am I writing?

The end (of the year) is nigh, the snow has melted from the streets of my city (and not a moment too soon, I was getting sick of slipping on the ice and falling in the slush like something out of a Charlie Chaplin routine) and we all look forward to the shiny new year that will be 2011. It's been an interesting year for me. I don't know if it's been more good than bad or vice versa but either way it's been interesting. On the positive side I started the good old Sparkle Project and I also started trying to write my own YA book. Heavy emphasis on the try.

Procrastination is not a hard thing in this writer's cosy household; I could win a medal in it, or I'd find something else to do mid-way through. If it wasn't university work, it was something else, like reading for classes, or doing housework or more recently my Xmas job (in a bookshop!) so unfortunately my lovely Princesses, fairy godfathers and sexy snarky sword-fights were put on hold for a while and I've never really gotten back into the groove. I've written bits and pieces here and there but certainly not enough. So of course my new year's resolution is to write more and actually finish the book by the end of 2011. Remember, the world's supposed to be ending in 2012 so there's a serious deadline to meet.

Are there any other wannabe writers out there? Don't lie, I know there are. What are you all writing? What are your methods/worries/annoyances/general thoughts?

I'm trying to write a YA novel which is part fairy-tale parody, part Disney-princess deconstruction and part queer feminist romantic comedy. That's a lot of parts. I have it all laid out in my head and on notes as to how it should unfold but of course it's seldom ever that easy. I really don't want exposition info-dumps since I so loathe them in books I read and I'm still working on improving how to write action scenes since it's something that's sort of new to me. As someone who is so opinionated about the faults of the genre (I'm also apparently cruel, over vitriolic, copying other people's review styles and being bitchy for the sake of it) it's really important to me to get the relationship and character dynamics down as perfectly as I can. I want the balance - a couple that grow to love each other despite a bumpy start, genuine chemistry, occasional doubts but a happy ending but nothing too predictable, equality in the relationship and no resorting to gender stereotypes (my main character is gay). Easy peasy, right? Well, it's often hard to translate what I see in my head onto something readable on the blank page. It's far too early and far too smug/presumptuous to be thinking about what others would think of my book (beyond the few people I send it to for beta purposes and occasional check ups because I'm sort of paranoid and need reassurance that it's not complete bilge since I'm sort of a self loathing creative mess at the best of times) but I do wonder what possible things people could say about it. I love to engage in debate and I don't mind bad reviews despite my lack of self confidence but I do want it to be the best story I can make it. That's another reason my friends/editors are so helpful because they're willing to tell it like it is and point out exactly what I'm doing wrong. I need that; all writers need that. Remember to leave some comments and I'll leave you with some much wiser words of advice, ones that don't reek of pretentiousness (seriously, if I start moaning about 'my muse not being responsive to my needs' or something, just put me out of my misery!)

"Write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I'm not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter." (Neil Gaiman)

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Review: "Halo" by Alexandra Adornetto (Plus why you are NOT your virginity.)


“Halo”

Author: Alexandra Adornetto.

Publisher: Feiwel and Friends.

Pages: 496.

Summary (taken from GoodReads): Three angels are sent down to bring good to the world: Gabriel, the warrior; Ivy, the healer; and Bethany, a teenage girl who is the least experienced of the trio. But she is the most
human, and when she is romantically drawn to a mortal boy, the angels fear she will not be strong enough to save anyone—especially herself—from the Dark Forces. Is love a great enough power against evil?

Cover impressions: Oh goody, it’s angels again. My track record with angels in YA is dark to say the least. We’ve had one book thrown against a wall and another book so awful I couldn’t help but wonder if it was part of some Richard Dawkins style orchestrated plot to prove how awful religion is (not that any of these terrible books are in any way connected to religion beyond bastardising some of the most interesting elements of Christian mythology, but I digress.) I never swore to not review another angel orientated YA book again but I’ve remained weary and suspicious of others that have come my way and after reading the synopsis of this book as well two articles by the author herself explaining her abstinence (this liberal feminist has a deep opposition to abstinence only education and the deep underlying messages it sends to girls about their sexuality, more of which you’ll undoubtedly hear later since it’s something I love to rant about.) and why Edward Cullen is the perfect man (do you even want me to go there?) The author Ms Adornetto published her first book when she was 13. Now aged 17, the same age as my sister (who has much better taste in books, her favourites being ‘The Virgin Suicides’ and ‘Prozac Nation’), she has moved into the paranormal YA field with ‘Halo’ and wow, it’s...

Yeah, it’s awful. (As a brief warning, I sort of went off on a tangent of feminist ranting later on in the review but it is related to the book. If this bothers you somehow then please stop reading my blog.)

From the very first paragraph, Adornetto is trying so hard to be poetic with her prose but it just comes across as incredibly awkward and clumsily written. Everything as narrated by Bethany reminds me of when you write a story and just look up a thesaurus for every fifth word or so; it reads like someone trying to write way beyond their maturity. I think it’s unfair to comment on the author’s age in relation to their work but it’s so noticeable throughout the book. The very beginning of the story, with the three angels adjusting to human life, is a big tell-don’t-show info-dump that drags the story to a halt before it even begins, and this complete lack of pacing continues throughout the 400+ pages. We don’t need to know every single detail of the angel-to-human transition straight away; weave it into the story and let the plot continue. Well, what passes for a plot here.

I’m beginning to think that YA writers have become allergic to plots. The recent bunch of popular ones, anyway. Out of the original Sparkle Project 10, I counted 4 out of 10 as actually having a plot. That’s really not a good statistic. The constant meandering between moping and love and moping and feminist rage inducing love was so incredibly dull. Nothing happens for a huge chunk of this book and when stuff does happen it’s nothing to write home about. The book also suffers from the ever increasing trademark of this genre, as well as all Twilight fanfiction, in that Adornetto spends far too long describing thing that just do not matter. The clothes that Ivy wears are not relevant to the plot. The layout of their house does not further the story. None of these things matter in the slightest and even I, with my kink for lush descriptive scenes (although as I said previously, all the descriptive scenes were trying way too hard), was bored senseless.

Of course it wasn’t just the plotting and info-dump overloads that made this book terrible. Let’s not forget the characters. It’s all too common an occurrence to have the plain, boring girl fall in love with the powerful, enigmatic male creature of power in this genre so I was at least hoping for an interesting take on the gender roles being switched. Boy that was optimistic of me. Bethany makes Bella Swan look like Emmeline Pankhurst. For someone who is supposed to be a messenger of God, one of amazing power and strength, she comes across as a whiny, selfish little girl who is incapable of the most basic actions. She, the angel, is the one that needs saving by the human boy! It doesn’t help that the angels just made the stupidest of decisions (where do you station yourself if you want to fight evil? Of course, a high school!) But Bethany really takes the cake. I try not to let my personal opinion of the author’s life or views get in the way of my reviews but having read ‘Halo’ following that pro-abstinence article Adornetto wrote, I couldn’t help but read this book like some sort of silver ring pamphlet. Its desperation to be emotionally manipulative was infuriating. The characterisation was weak across the board, especially with Bethany and cardboard cut-out love interest Xavier.

But here’s the kicker. The bit that made me do the crinkled face in exasperated feminist rage:

“For this evening at least, feminist philosophy had been abandoned, and the girls, like fairy-tale princesses, allowed themselves to be led up the flight of stairs and into the foyer.”

...

So... you really want me to go there, don’t you, Ms Adornetto. Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Bullshit!

You heard it from the messenger of God yourselves, ladies. Feminist philosophy doesn’t allow you to wear dresses and have a good time. How dare all those old women whose names I have forgotten try and fight for countless generations of girls and women after them to be treated like normal human beings and be allowed to do such frivolous things as vote! It’s so much more fun to give up all your free will and independence, put on some sparkly skirts and be led around like an obedient little princess while your handsome prince does everything for you. Now put that silver ring back on and get into the kitchen, your prince wants his pot-roast on the table by 7!

Okay, I have to talk about this. The title of Adornetto’s piece for The Age, minus shitty editing, is “Guard your virginity; once lost it’s gone forever.” Newsflash – you are worth more than your hymen! Sex does not make you a bad person, wanting sex does not make you a bad person. Virginity is not a gift. I understand how sensitive the topic of sex can be and of course it comes with a degree of emotional attachment, but this bullshit idea that girls need to safe-guard it as if their lives depend on it isn’t just stupid, it’s dangerous. The attitudes that come with girls who want sex is shameful, as witnessed by the healthy dose of slut-shaming Adornetto does in her article. Guess what? Sometimes girls want to have sex! And that’s not a bad thing! Tying virginity to ‘dignity and self respect’ suggests that those who choose to have sex are somehow dirty and unworthy, especially when you wrap it up in a YA book so full of bastardised Christian imagery. This is what leads to bullshit organisations teaching abstinence only education as the only form of sex education (and let’s face it, the world needs less of that, and in connection, less Bristol Palin) and perpetuates bullshit stereotypes about women and sex that have been around since time begot. (For anyone who wants to read more on the subject of the purity movement and how it harms young women, pick up ‘The Purity Myth’ by Jessica Valenti.)

I know I went off on a huge tangent there but this idea that sex de-moralises women goes hand in hand with the Twilight-style love story, where teen marriage is the solution and feminism is a dirty F word. Even if ‘Halo’ didn’t have all that crap in it I would still be giving it a low rating. As such, this wasn’t worth my time and I’m sorry I even bothered picking it up. I think I’m done with angel YA books for now and my only hope is that Ms Adornetto at least tries to understand what feminism truly is at some point in her life.

1/5.

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Dear James Frey...

I have never read your work. I make a point of never paying first hand for books written by noted liars. So when I heard that you were writing YA novels under the pen name of Pittacus Lore, entitled “I Am Number Four” I was intrigued but not enough to put money down for the privilege. When I later discovered that not only had the movie rights already been purchased for the at the time unreleased book, but they were already making the $60million film, my cynicism fell from “glass half empty” to “glass empty and smashed across the floor.” Call me old fashioned but I can’t help but think there’s something incredibly artificial and greedy about churning out a book specifically to make a movie of it so you can see the Benjamins roll in. I disliked it when Thomas Harris did it for Hannibal Lecter and I dislike it in a genre I hold close to my heart.



Maureen Johnson posted this Wall Street Journal article on twitter and it’s safe to say you have not gone up in my estimation. Your business Full Fathom Five, created specifically to be a quick, effective conveyor belt of ideas for books solely to be sold to the film market feels incredibly disingenuous to me, not to mention working specifically in the field of multiple book series to milk the cash cow even further. I guess some people would call you a savvy businessman, especially since you employ many writers, pay them next to nothing, then get them to do the legwork. 28 writers working on 27 series? I can feel the creative integrity drain out of me just thinking about it.

But here’s what really got to me about this article, aside from one of your colleagues pitching a YA series idea and insisting that the heroine’s parents be dead (because parentless children have it so good and nobody’s ever read about that before). Your entire attitude to this venture is that of a man obsessed with nothing but monetary gain. The ideas you pitch are derivative but not without promise, yet you seem concerned only with how commercial you can make them instead of how interesting, intriguing or challenging your ideas can be. Teenagers aren’t stupid, they don’t deserve to be talked down to by businessmen in factories churning out stuff they are told they should like because it’s ‘bad-ass.’ You say that “the book world is less accepting of radical ideas” right after a mention of Dreamworks’ marketing team wanting you to create a saleable logo for your Pittacus Lore books. Here’s the truth – the publishing world has been accepting of radical ideas long before you were ever born. It’s how books like Lolita got published. There is a place in our world for low-brow trash and I happily indulge in it myself from time to time, but is there a place for buillshit? Not so much. Your books will probably sell well and the movies will probably make a lot of money too (I notice that there is interest in another movie of one of your company’s yet to be released books starring Jaden Smith) Literature is not something that can be churned out, packaged and dolled up in explosions, and if you seriously think that teenagers deserve nothing but the same old crap then I feel sorry for you.

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Review: "Across the Universe" by Beth Revis.

“Across the Universe”

Author: Beth Revis.

Publisher: Razorbill.

Pages: 396.

Summary (taken from GoodReads): Seventeen year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone—one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship—tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now, Amy must race to unlock Godspeed’s hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there’s only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.

Cover impressions: Admit it, that cover’s gorgeous. As many who frequent this blog and read my reviews know, I’m a little cynical when it comes to YA these days. I still really enjoy reading it and writing it (well, trying to write it) but after the project and general disappointment of the genre’s ways of business, quality of material and the like I was feeling somewhat jaded. While some things were grabbing my attention, nothing was really screaming out to me, telling me I had to read this or suffer the consequences. I don’t exactly fangirl over a lot of YA these days so you definitely know that when I say I loved this book I really mean it. I managed to get an advanced reader copy of the book from work (thank you, Waterstones!) and, while I’m something of a sci-fi novel novice, I was intrigued enough by the blurb to give it a go.

Set sometime in the future, Amy agrees to join her parents on a space-ship heading towards a new planet for humans to inhabit, which involves being frozen from 300 years. The very first chapter opens with Amy’s decision to go through the horrific process of being frozen and it’s highly gripping stuff. She awakes 50 years too early thanks to some sabotage and finds herself on the Godspeed, under the care of Elder, the boy who will become leader of the ship one day. Unable to be re-frozen to join her parents for the remainder of their trip, Amy is left being the freak on a ship where something just isn’t right and strange goings on are afoot. I don’t want to go into things too much because the real joy in this book was discovering the fascinating but closed in and claustrophobic world Amy is forced to live in. After generations of space travel in a mini-city inside a vast space-ship where the stars are a myth and individuality is frowned upon, the Godspeed is a cold place where everything seems fake and following the one man in charge, the enigmatic Eldest, is accepted without thought. What really grabbed me about this world was Revis’s attention to detail; while the ship itself is of the most sophisticated technology, the people are simple and dress like Medieval peasants, simple things like reproduction must be heavily monitored for fear of incest and even the air they breathe is artificial and recycled over the generations. Some of the best descriptive scenes come from Amy’s time in the freezer, which perfectly encapsulate every claustrophobic fear and thoughts of loneliness one could have in that situation. It’s highly unsettling stuff. In fact, there is a deeply unsettling current running through the entire novel, which I found fascinating.

At first I was worried that the characters of Amy and Elder, whom the narrative switches between, wouldn’t grab my attention. They seemed more like devices than characters, but luckily Revis proved me wrong and I found myself really interested and invested in them both. I could understand every decision they made – Amy is lonely, a complete fish out of water unused to this new world where everything she knew as normal just doesn’t exist anymore and people view her as a non-essential entity, and Elder is a boy with huge responsibilities on his shoulders, fascinated by this new and unique girl and battling with conflicting emotions over what is and is not the right thing to do for those he is responsible for. Consequences exist and terrible things will happen if they are not dealt with. I applaud Revis for not shying away from the difficult moments in the story. I was worried for a while that she would mess up a sensitive element in the story but she really pulled through with it. Revis handles issues like race, identity and sex in an interesting way and subverted a lot of my expectations.

While the book is marketing itself on its romance (the ARC is calling this Titanic crossed with Avatar which is a bit unfair since it’s a lot more interesting and unique than Dances with Smurfs) I really don’t think this book is a romance. I don’t think what Amy and Elder share really even comes close to romance. It’s more about fascination and discovery than love; actually, the whole story is about discovery and what it means to be human, which is a whole lot more interesting than teen love, even teen love on a shape-ship! She did keep the interactions between Elder and Amy fresh and threw a few curveballs at the reader which I appreciated. I can honestly say I didn’t find a thing in this book predictable.

Revis has managed to craft a really interesting, gripping story that throws a lot of questions at the reader about how you would handle things if you were in Amy and Elder’s positions. While I don’t think the book is perfect – the switches in narrative was an interesting choice I found very readable, I didn’t think Amy and Elder’s voices were distinct enough, especially in the beginning, and the mystery feels a bit rushed towards the end – I can only really nitpick. Everything feels very well thought out and, while it stands tall on its own, I heartily look forward to the remaining books in the trilogy. I am not a fan of the hype machine, especially in a genre where so much of it feels forced, but I’m calling it now; this will be big and it certainly deserves to be.

4.5/5.

Across the Universe comes out in UK in March 2011, and in USA January 2011.

I have 4 books on my TBR list - "The Eternal Ones" by Kirsten Miller, "The Thief" by Megan Whalen Turner, "Knife" by R.J. Anderson and "Pirates!" by Celia Rees. Whst would you like me to read next? General twitter consensus is on "Knife" but I'm open to more suggestions.

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Size-ism, Slut Shaming & All the Tools a Girl Doesn't Need.

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks in terms of pop culture, the phenomenon I am equal parts fascinated and horrified by. Between the Marie Claire article where Maura Kelly told the world that fat people repulsed her to Taylor Swift’s less than subtle attacks on exes and love rivals through the medium of terrible pop country music, one can’t help but wonder why the hell women still put up with this shit.

I was comforted by the justified backlash Ms Kelly’s article received, including planned protests, but we need to remember that Marie Claire deserve more blame than Ms Kelly, a self confessed recovering anorexic who really shouldn’t have been given that article to write in the first place. I’m not excusing her borderline bullying but let’s face it; Marie Claire knew exactly what they were doing. I shudder to think how many page views they got out of this debacle. When was the last time you saw a model or actress above a US size 10 on their covers? Actually, how often do non white, non skinny girls make it onto these magazines?

The problem with the show that repulsed Ms Kelly so much, CBS’s “Mike and Molly” has nothing to do with showing intimacy between the title couple (it’s one of the better aspects of the show – I can’t be the only one that thinks they are adorable on screen), it has to do with the overreliance on fat jokes and taking the easy way out, using the overweight characters as punch-lines rather than giving them the characterisation they deserve. There’s a good show in that mess somewhere (and if I’m being completely honest there, I keep watching in the hope that the good will one day outweigh the bad) but if we keep living with this attitude that it’s okay to mock, deride and bully people based solely on how they look, how are we ever going to change anything? Ms Kelly tried to apologise in the most half arsed manner possible, making the teeth-grinding claim that the severely underweight also make her feel uncomfortable – because eating disorders are such relaxing experiences. A lot of great bloggers have discussed this subject much better than I have and you should definitely check them all out.

Then we go to the opposite end of the mean girl spectrum and here we find Taylor Swift. Her latest album is selling like hotcakes but, as with her previous work, there are things that concern and annoy me. Full disclaimer; I don’t like Taylor Swift’s music. It’s catchy enough but her voice isn’t strong enough (even less so live) and she relies on clich├ęd, schlocky tropes of innocent love, believing Romeo and Juliet and the Scarlet Letter are happy ever after romances, teardrops in the rain and the infuriating virgin/whore complex she gets away with solely because she’s still seen as some sort of victim thanks to Kanye-gate. Her new album verges on psychotic with her less than mature and stable take on exes and in one song, “Better Than Revenge”, she takes a less than subtle swipe at a girl who apparently stole her boyfriend, believed to be actress Camilla Belle:

"She's an actress / But she's better known for the things that she does on the matress."

Now, who would like to tell me what’s wrong with this?





Slut shaming is common, far too common. I’ve discussed it during the Sparkle Project since it’s the easiest way to make a girl a villain (because as Ms Swift is so keen to point out in her song “Fifthteen”, a girl’s worth is in her hymen) and apart from unhealthy relationships being portrayed as positive, it’s my least favourite trope in the genre. Beyond it being incredibly lazy writing, it does nothing to help women. To quote one of my comedic heroes Tina Fey “You have all got to stop calling each other sluts and whore. It only makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.” Like with bullying and discriminatory attitudes, bad things happen when good people do nothing. Right now with everything going on in the world, where it seems like there isn’t a lot of love or hope for young people, we can do so much better than shameless victim playing, slut shaming, size-ism, anti-women attitudes and all that mess. We certainly don't need people like Swift's fans to be complete children doing stuff like this. Remember how I said that impressionable teenagers are influenced by entertainment and so called role models? There's exhibit A right there. It's Ms Swift's schtick to do stuff like this, to pretend to be the naive little girl who is always the victim fighting against the mean girls but rhe truth is she is the epitome of a mean girl. Genuine people don't slut shame others in the name of record sales and petty squabbles. We know better than that.

I spend a lot of time tearing YA books apart for stuff like this because I genuinely believe that we can do better than this. We certainly deserve better. We don’t need people like Becca Fitzpatrick justifying harassment by saying it’s sexy. We don’t need people like Maura Kelly and Marie Claire to tell us what is and isn’t beautiful. We don’t need mean girls like Taylor Swift to push the lies about sex and women being bad. We don’t need perverts like Terry Richardson trying to pass off sexism and harassment against women as art while the guys get off Scott free. There’s a whole lot that needs fixing, I hope we’re all up for the job.

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When lycanthropy goes viral...

So it's been a long, tiresome and very stressful week and what better way to calm down and relax from that all than with some YA discussion?

We know the YA publishing industry has come leaps and bounds in the past couple of years, and a not insignificant portion of that has come from the Twilight sparked paranormal craze. There's certainly a demand for this sort of material and now with the internet playing such a big part in promotion, criticism and readers' daily lives with sites like GoodReads and blogs like this (although I highly doubt I'm influential in this field, I'm just a ranter.) With so many copycats in the field right now, as covered by the Project, you really need to go that extra mile to make your book stand out, and the busy bees at Penguin have gone all out in their promotion of the upcoming werewolf romance YA trilogy, Nightshade by Andrea Cremer.

The promotional campaign for this book (as detailed in this post at ONTD) has included a massive multi-platform viral campaign, including the author having a Facebook page for the love interest of her book so she can reply to fans (are they really fans if they've never even read the book yet?) in character and an actor playing said role on YouTube videos inviting viewers to participate in a sort of mystery game. I have to say I'm very surprised that Penguin have gone to all this effort over this particular series. From the sounds of the synopsis on GoodReads, it's very derivative sounding material. Even the cover, while being quite pretty, feels very familiar in a Wicked Lovely sense. I obviously can't judge the book because I haven't read it but if I was to take the book based solely on that synopsis it wouldn't interest me.

There's also the question of how much influence can a marketing campaign have in this field. Most popular trends come out of nowhere and grow organically based on word of mouth, then there's a media urge to latch onto it and compare it to something else and seek out similar stuff to easily categorise as the next [insert popular thing here.] right now YA is hugely popular and people are looking for the next Twilight or the next Hunger Games (look at how much Matched by Ally Condie has been buzzed about - the author got a 7 figure 3 book deal for the series). Do readers really want the next big thing forced upon them or do they really want to willingly accept what publishers tell them to accept? Nowadays publishers need to work hard to make their work stand out - look how many books are getting YouTube trailers, something that wouldn't have been common a few years ago outside of James Paterson novels or something - but can a flashy campaign create enough window dressing to cover up the more derivative elements?

So dear readers of books and other shiny things, what do you think of this ad campaign? Has it made you interested in reading Nightshade, and is it for all the right reasons? Are you influenced by stuff like this? Can a trend really be created? Does this post have a point? Why do other brands of baked beans never taste as good as Heinz? The rest is up to you.

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Review: "Clockwork Angel" by Cassandra Clare.


“The Infernal Devices: Clockwork Angel”

Author: Cassandra Clare.

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (Walker in the UK).

Pages: 496.

Summary (taken from Amazon): Magic is dangerous - but love is more dangerous still... When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray arrives in England during the reign of Queen Victoria, something terrifying is waiting for her in London's Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Friendless and hunted, Tessa seeks refuge with the Shadowhunters, a band of warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons. Drawn ever deeper into their world, she finds herself fascinated by - and torn between - two best friends, and quickly realizes that love may be the most dangerous magic of all.



Cover impressions: Cassandra Clare is back and she’s brought some cogs with her. My review of the first book in her Mortal Instruments trilogy, “City of Bones”, was hardly the glowing review of the year, and anyone with a white belt in google knowledge can look up the less than clean history of Miss Cla(i)re and her fandom shenanigans. I bring them up here because, as I mentioned in my first review of her work, her work reads like fanfiction (with one whole passage of it taken from her most famous Harry Potter fanfiction, as you can see from here.) So I knew I’d never read the rest of her Mortal Instruments trilogy (now padded out to an upcoming 6 part series) but when the Mortal Instruments prequel series, The Infernal Devices, was announced and released to great fanfare, topping the New York Times children’s bestseller list, my interest was piqued. The added addition of the increasingly popular steampunk trend also intrigued me since there was absolutely no mention of steampunk in the first series and I wanted to see how Clare handled the topic.

The answer for the more impatient readers – she doesn’t handle it well. Actually, there isn’t much in this book that Clare handles well. The choice of Victorian London for the setting could have been interesting but instead of being given a proper insight into the city’s streets, atmosphere and way of life, we’re given a few generic descriptions that seem to have been taken from research notes without any care. A true setting feels alive, like it’s a character in the story, but here London feels lifeless. The Victorian setting also feels stilted and awkward. Clare doesn’t handle the language change very well as the dialogue reads as inauthentic in style as well as wooden and unoriginal in substance. Occasional name dropping of books from the period (and comparisons made to them) such as “Jane Eyre” does not make an authentic setting, nor does shoe horning in some clockwork creatures make this a Steampunk novel, as it’s been trumped up to be. Steampunk isn’t just about dirigibles, goggles and cogs, it’s about the entire world image it brings up and nothing about this weak attempt at setting the book apart worked effectively. It also doesn’t make sense seeing as this is a prequel series and the Mortal Instruments had absolutely nothing pertaining to Steampunk, clockwork creatures or similar technology. Let’s be honest; Clare’s trying to cash in on a trend and she fails miserably. If you want interesting YA set in Victorian times, try Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart quartet, or the adult Lucifer Box series by Mark Gatiss (also an excellent example of how to write a charismatic jerk the right way.)

Outside of the world itself, the characters are not only derivative and boring with all the Mary Sue connections one would expect from Clare’s writing, they’re the exact same characters as the ones from the Mortal Instruments series. I’m not even exaggerating; they’re exactly the same! Tessa is a carbon copy of Clary (oh, and Tessa Gray – Clary Fray... subtle, Miss Clare), boring Mary Sue super special prettiness and all, even though she shows incredibly moments of stupidity. She’s got this amazing ability and is super special even when compared to the other super special people in the book but is still barely capable of saving herself. I understand the difference in gender roles for the period but Clare sets up certain female characters as strong and capable of looking after themselves, so why not do the same for the supposed heroine? Will is Jace/fanon Draco through and though, because apparently being a complete jerk devoid of charm is still acceptable for a potential love interest in a half baked romantic element if he’s good looking (once again, the less than subtle undercurrent of beauty being the best thing ever is present and accounted for). The shadowhunters also still have the same holier than thou attitude towards humans/mundanes that they had in City of Bones, and yet nobody complains about it. Jem is Simon without the sense of humour and is clearly here just to be the nice, sweet alternative to Will so Clare can show how oh so different he is from Will, and Jessamine is Isabella, a.k.a. the token female character who exists to be a shallow bitch so everyone can see how much better Tessa is. Jessamine actually has some interesting moments, like her worries over never having a normal life, but any potential for depth is thwarted by terrible characterization. Fan favourite – and one of the few things I did like about City of Bones – Magnus Bane is here but with a girlfriend instead of a boyfriend and he barely makes an impact on the story. I was half expecting him to stand on a table and scream “Sexy cameo!”

And herein lies the biggest problem with this book. Clare is ripping off her own series. She’s just lifted characters from her original series and stuck them in a Victorian setting, hoping that petticoats and the London setting will hide her weak writing (also, I got really pissed off at super special American Tessa constantly going on about how terrible London was compared to lovely New York. Whining is still not a viable character trait in my book), although to her credit she has stopped using as many stupid similes as she used to so there’s no mind-boggling references to octopus tendril hair or the like. There are huge chunks of clumsy exposition as Clare shoves in mythology from the Mortal Instruments to make this series seem as if it’s a continuation of the world instead of a straight up cut-copy-paste job and the plotting is dull, derivative, predictable and loaded with plot padding material that's inherently useless to thge actual story, much like City of Bones, which in turn was derivative same old repetitive nonsense borrowed/lifted from her fanfiction. Going all the way back to her fandom days, Clare has proven herself to be a mediocre writer at best and a thief at worst. It’s not just that she plagiarised the fanfiction that made her famous and may or may not have played a huge part in getting her a book deal. It’s not just that her first book series was a giant rip off of her fanfiction that she ripped off of other works. It’s that her next venture, where she could have proven herself to have some creative ideas, often a saving grace in derivative plotting and writing, and just copied something she copied from something else. Essentially, Clare has written a fanfiction of a fanfiction of a fanfiction. And that’s why I cannot give this book anything higher than 1 star.

There will be people who will enjoy this series. Maybe they’ve read the Mortal Instruments, maybe they haven’t, but the writing style is easy enough to read, it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever read and some people might enjoy the extremely light dashes of so called Steampunk. But for me this book was a complete waste of time. I do not use the word ‘hack’ very often for a number of reasons – it’s overused and often loses its meaning, there’s a wide spectrum for definition when it comes to good and bad writing, et cetera – but when a writer is as lazy as this and clearly cares about nothing beyond jumping on trend bandwagons and making money, then I can say this with complete confidence:

Cassandra Clare is a hack.

1/5.

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Part-Time Indian competition winner.

Thanks to everyone who entered the competition, it's the first time I've tried anything like this and it wasn't until a few days later that I realised how badly prepared it all was. But anyway, onwards and upwards, the random number generation has given us a winner and that's:

Truthpact.

So congratulations to you, I hope you like the book. You can either drop me a message on LiveJournal (username: ceilidh-ann) or Twitter (see button in the corner). If I don't hear back from you soon then I'll DM you on LJ. Congrats again, I hope to do more giveaways in the future but with much better preparation! Continue as you were...

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Review: "Shade" by Jeri Smith-Ready.


“Shade”

Author: Jeri Smith-Ready.

Publisher: Simon and Schuster.

Pages: 309.

Summary (taken from GoodReads): Best. Birthday. Ever. At least, it was supposed to be. With Logan's band playing a critical gig and Aura's plans for an intimate after-party, Aura knows it will be the most memorable night of her boyfriend's life. She never thought it would be his last. Logan's sudden death leaves Aura devastated. He's gone. Well, sort of.

Like everyone born after the Shift, Aura can see and hear ghosts. This mysterious ability has always been annoying, and Aura had wanted
nothing more than to figure out why the Shift happened so she can undo it. But not with Logan's violet-hued spirit still hanging around. Because dead Logan is almost as real as ever. Almost. It doesn't help that Aura's new friend Zachary
is so understanding--and so very alive. His support means more to Aura than she cares to admit. As Aura's relationships with the dead and the living grow ever complicated, so do her feelings for Logan and Zachary. Each holds a piece of Aura's heart...and clues to the secret of the Shift.

Cover impressions: This cover is horrible. It looks cheap and lazy and not particularly exciting. That’s a real shame because believe it or not, I actually quite enjoyed this book and think Simon and Schuster really dropped the ball by not giving this book a more appealing cover like some of their recent YA output *evil stare towards Hush Hush*. I received my copy from the publisher thanks to a competition by the Book Smugglers. It’s the first time I’ve ever won a book as well. I haven’t seen a lot of interesting ghost centred stories in the YA genre right now so I was definitely intrigued by this book, terrible cover aside (the US one is much nicer apparently.)

Thanks to my recent reading choices of deadly masochistic tendencies, I’ve developed something of a paranoid fear over paranormal YA. I’m much more wary about dipping my toes into the pool to sample what’s out there for fear of head-desk inducing moments. But I have to say I found “Shade” to be very enjoyable. The basic premise – that everybody born after a specific date has the ability to see and communicate with ghosts – set up an interesting universe with the dynamics seemingly tilted favourably towards the younger generation. Since ghosts have become part of society in a way, it’s up to all ‘post-shifters’ to help out and Aura, our protagonist, who’s auntie and guardian Gina is a lawyer prosecuting in the name of ghost related cases, is particularly heavily involved in such situations. Smith-Ready did a pretty good job showing the dynamics between pre and post-shifters, showing the frustrations and problems encountered by both.

I won’t lie, I did a little air-punch when I realised how much I actually liked Aura as a character and all that credit goes to the author, who did a great job keeping her as a normal teenager and not a patron of the good ship Mary Sue. Yes, she has this amazing ability but so does everyone else under sixteen. She has her mopey moments but you as the reader actually understand why she feels the way she does. She’s hurt, confused and reeling with emotions much bigger than anyone her age is supposed to deal with. She’s grown up in a world where the seemingly impossible is the norm and while she is frustrated with having the dead surround her begging for her help, she understands the toughness of this situation for the others less fortunate than her. Even when the story falls into love triangle territory – probably one of my least favourite things in YA because it’s seldom executed well – I still sympathised with and understood Aura’s choices. And, here’s the kicker, she has a fantastic and responsible attitude towards sex! Okay, the derogatory whore terms are mentioned once or twice in passing which made me flinch but otherwise Aura is not ashamed of her desires and needs. For the more fragile of nature (or whatever you want to call it) there is a brief scene where Aura is on auto-pilot but it didn’t bother me at all. She’s a teenager; of course she’s doing that! Most importantly, she’s a believable teenage girl. She also has a hilarious line slyly lamp-shading a certain series about sparkly things that I daren’t speak of in public.

It’s such a shame that the two objects of her love and confusion weren’t as interesting as Aura herself. On the plus side they’re not deathly dull YA romance stereotypes. Logan is flighty, irresponsible and a little naive but he genuinely loves Aura and regrets his mistakes. While Zachary, the sarcastic Scottish exchange student (hell yeah, patriotism rules!), is probably a much more archetypal character – the witty, slightly smug but gorgeous exotic figure with eyes for only one – he has some interesting traits. Smith-Ready also managed to keep the Scottish-isms to a low, keeping the slang natural and not too distracting. While I still hope that one day love triangles will become as outdated a literary fad as sparkly creatures, in this book I didn’t mind it and it grabbed my interest long enough.

The pacing suffers a bit in the middle and the plotting wavers in places since most of the really exciting stuff doesn’t come until towards the end, and the last few pages definitely feel a little rushed. The story itself feels a little too familiar, even with the interesting mythos in place. While I can forgive a couple of plot holes when the first book is a set up for a series, as this one is, but there were a couple of moments where I was distracted by them so I have to mark the book down for that. This was an enjoyable read and I’m glad I read it but I can’t call it a must buy read. It’s definitely worth checking out if you’re sick of the same old creatures and love stories though and I’ll definitely be checking out the sequel “Shift” when it’s released.

3/5.

Next on the Sparkle Project - I've a couple of things lined up but we'll need to see how much real life gets in the eye. Damn you real life!

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Celebrate the controversial - banned book week!

September 25th to October 2nd is Banned Book Week so we are currently in the midst of celebrating all that has been banned, challenged or frowned upon. While this isn't as huge an issue in the UK as it is in America (although we do have a lot of church anger over His Dark Materials), censorship is something that needs to be talked about and tackled worldwide. This is something that happens everyday and is often allowed to happen without any real discussion over the issues at hand or the topics considered so terrible that they must be sealed away and forgotten about. According to the American Library Associaton, the ALA, over the past 9 years, American libraries were faced with over 4300 challenges and over half of them were because of "sexually explicit material" or "inappropriate language." But genuine fears have been twisted into something unrecognisable just so they match the perceptions bigoted and ignorant people already have (such as the recent case with "Speak") and people get scared about what's out there so are afraid to fight back. And so often it's children and young adults that end up missing out. Last year, out of the top 10 most challenged books in USA, 6 were childrens or young adult books:

1. “TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series), by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs

2. “And Tango Makes Three” by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Reasons: Homosexuality

3. “The Perks of Being A Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Anti-Family, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint,
Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide

4. “To Kill A Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee
Reasons: Racism, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

5. Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group

6. “Catcher in the Rye,” by J.D. Salinger
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

7. “My Sister’s Keeper,” by Jodi Picoult
Reasons: Sexism, Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide, Violence

8. “The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things,” by Carolyn Mackler
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

9. “The Color Purple,” Alice Walker
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

10. “The Chocolate War,” by Robert Cormier
Reasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

(Side note: Twilight? Sexually explicit? Okay, Twilight does sell sex, albeit in the same way that Disney sells sex but seriously, those books are the anti-viagra. As if you needed any more proof that book banners are stupid. And no, I don't feel bad saying that.)

So what can you do about it? Simple - read. Buy books, go to the library, request these books, do some e-book downloading or hit the web at Amazon. Nowadays it's becoming harder and harder to hide information so take advantage of that and don't be afraid to fight back. Take full advantage of your freedom of speech and don't let anyone tell you differently.

Giveaway time!

As seen in my previous post, I reviewed one of the most challenged YA books in recent years, "The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie and gave it a rave review which, coming from me, is a big deal. To pass on the love and information, I will be giving away my copy of the book (slightly battered but I prefer the term 'well loved') to one lucky commenter. To enter, just leave a comment in this entry before Monday 4th October and I'll pick one person at random.

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Review: "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie.

“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian”

Author: Sherman Alexie.

Publisher: Andersen Press.

Pages: 230.

Summary (taken from Fantastic Fiction): In his first book for young adults, bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story
of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully
written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author's own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by acclaimed artist Ellen Forney, that reflect the character's art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.


Cover impressions: My copy of the book comes with a glowing quote from Neil Gaiman that declares “I have no doubt that in a year or so it’ll be winning awards and being banned.” Now that Banned Book Week is upon us and the brain melting mess that was “Speak-Gate” has highlighted just how big a problem book banning is, I thought there was no better time to review this book than now, especially since this book was also recently removed from a school library not too far from the district where rape apparently equals soft core pornography.

Junior, a.k.a. Arnold Spirit, is in many ways a typical teenage boy. He’s often foul mouthed, thinks about masturbation quite a lot, often bottles up his feelings and has a wicked yet frequently bleakly dark sense of humour that reflects his situation. Regularly mocked and bullied by the rest of the ‘rez’ because of his disabilities (he was born with water on the brain, much like Alexie himself – the book is evidently semi-autobiographical), Junior’s struggle for identity and independence is something I think is universally relatable. His witty and relatable narration tackles some pretty hard hitting topics, like alcoholism, poverty, racism, bullying and the struggles still faced by the Native American community to this day. I give major credit to Alexie for his skill in describing the heart breaking conditions and circumstances that surround Junior in his everyday life and not once making the story feel over wrought or full of drama for the sake of drama. It’s genuinely heart wrenching stuff to read the scenes where Junior talks about being poor. The equally witty and hilarious illustrations, provided by Ellen Forney, work hand in hand with the rest of the novel to show Junior’s thoughts and feelings in ways he has difficulty expressing aloud.

The book is often challenged for its strong language and sexual imagery but it feels natural to the voice of a frustrated teenage boy. It’s a very personal book that doesn’t shy away from Junior’s difficulties as he tries to balance being the outcast in the reservation, who sees him as a traitor for wanting to leave, with being the outcast in his new all white school. While it’s a deeply personal story, the supporting cast is full of interesting characters, such as Junior’s first new friend at high school Gordy, possibly the biggest geek ever created. While the book is a quick read at 230 pages and some of the storylines just seem to fade away into the distance as the book ends, that’s just a small fault and in no way spoils the book. I can understand why cowardly censor loving book banners would want to remove this book from libraries – it’s a powerful book that has more guts than half the stuff currently on the shelves. It’s an unforgettable book that tackles subjects a lot of people would rather forget about and it’s a perfect example of why I love YA.

5/5.

Remember to buy, read or borrow as many banned books as possible. Nothing scares a coward more than knowledge! Here's the American Library Association's page on Banned Book Week.

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Rape = softcore porn, apparently...

"Speak" by Laurie Halse Anderson is about rape. It's a wonderful book but it's not an easy read. It's honest, brutally so, and often heartbreaking, but it's brave and tackles issues that are still seldom talked about today. It's a modern day YA classic so obviously it's a top target for book banners.

Like this jerk.

No, I don't feel bad for calling him a jerk because this man is so ignorant it makes me feel angry just to think about him. In his so called Christian crusade to rid schools of filth, he calls for the removal of "Speak" from the shelves (along with "Slaughterhouse Five" which is just so ridiculous I can't even find the words to describe how stupid it is) because it is "soft pornography." For him to think that about a book containing rape is disgusting, not to mention him outright lying about the book's intent. But the wider issue here is censorship.

Books are powerful things. They can change people, change opinions and hell, they can change the world. Books like "Speak" are why I'm a YA fan. It's gutsy and talks about a taboo issue with unflinching honesty. It doesn't talk down to teenagers or dress up issues. It's not afraid to talk about rape, even when others are. And fear is what really drives censorship. Fear and ignorance. It's the equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and refusing to listen to reality. By pulling the book, or any book, from the shelves of a school or library or bookshop, you are denying people, especially young people (the vast majority of the top 10 most challenged books in USA are aimed at teens and children), the chance to explore new topics and new worlds and maybe even think twice about things. What message does it send out when you write incoherent rants about rape being equivalent to soft core pornography? Don't teenagers and young women have enough to worry about? It's crucial that we change perceptions about women and rape. In Scotland, a recent Rape Crisis Scotland survey of more than 1000 people found that 23% of people thought a woman was partially responsible for her own rape if she was drunk, while 17% thought she bore some responsibility if her clothing was revealing. No. Rape is rape. It's not sex. It's NEVER the victim's fault.

"Speak" authour Laurie Halse Anderson rebutted this stupid man on her blog and offers links and advice on how you can tackle this issue head on. Banned Book week is coming soon and I heartily recommend you pick up "Speak" and read it if you haven't already, or any number of books people try to take away from readers. The strongest weapon readers have against people like this is just reading the books.


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The YA Mafia Ninjas - On the clique...

When I first started the Sparkle Project all those months ago, my friends and I joked that my reviews would somehow get me blacklisted from every YA publisher in the world, or the disgruntled authors would send out the ninjas to silence me. It wasn’t until my “Shiver” review that I started to take my jokes a little more seriously, then noticed something about the genre that set my brain firing.

The publishing industry is full of close connections and friendships and the YA market is no exception. I for one find great enjoyment out of watching some of my favourite writers tweet each other or blog about their misadventures together. I’m fascinated by the way they work together and their differences in techniques, characters, etc. It appeals to the part of me that loves the mental image of a group of writers getting together on dark, stormy nights to compose stories together like they’re Byron and the Shelleys or something. But recently, as I’ve written my reviews and done far too much research for this project, I’ve begun to think that maybe this isn’t such a good idea.

The YA community has begun to feel very cliquey. Authors become good friends with bloggers and reviewers (I myself follow several writers on Twitter and one on LiveJournal although they don’t follow me back), giving interviews and freebies to give away, organising competitions and web-chats, and then they have these glowing reviews pop up everywhere. We have writers defending each other online from criticism because they’re friends with each other (the most infamous example I myself have talked about is the “In defence of Hush, Hush” post which has now been deleted from the now agent represented author’s blog). We have authors giving each other glowing reviews and cover quotes often as big as the book author’s name without any sort of disclaimer that the writers are good friends. We have books that aren’t very good being trumpeted as the hot new thing because of combinations of all the above. If you’ll forgive my admittedly sketchy word choice, it’s all begun to feel a little incestuous.

I’ve had one personal instance of reaction to this clique-like behaviour when my review of Maggie Stiefvater’s “Shiver” brought about some comments from the author herself. Maybe I overreacted of maybe something was mistranslated over the internet as it often is, but I genuinely felt a little threatened by Ms Stiefvater’s comments, especially the part about how my reviews may prevent me from being published in the future. But her final comment mentioned that she was good friends with Carrie Ryan, author of “The Forest of Hands and Teeth” the next book I was planning on reviewing, and how she would be very hurt if I wrote a bad review of it (I didn’t, by the way, it was the only book in the Project I really liked, but that’s beside the point.) This felt very weird. A huge part of being a writer is being criticised.

I write stories. I’m trying to write a YA novel right now. I have a few friends who help me edit it and check my work as I go along and I ask them to be as critical as possible, otherwise I would just write the biggest heap of crap. Criticism makes me a better writer and it stops me from making huge mistakes over my content. I can’t help but wonder why professional authors in the YA genre aren’t calling out problematic elements of the genre, even if they are friends with the culprits. It’s possible to be friends with someone and not kiss their backsides all the time, especially when they don’t deserve it. Maybe pointing out possible problems is exactly what they need. There’s a huge difference between the author’s intent (wanting to write a romance with a bad boy) and the resulting reality (sexual harassment masquerading as love) and maybe they don’t realise this. This isn’t just the job of other writers of course, the publishers and agents need to step up and do their jobs too. I know I’m just the ranting feminist blogger who seems impossible to please but I genuinely love this genre. If writing things like this do stop me from being published, if criticising the genre and its faults makes me some sort of enemy, then I’m not sure I want to be a part of that industry. I’d rather be the rambling, opinionated nerd than the mafia ninja.

Thoughts? How do you feel the internet has helped/hindered the market? My next review will either be a House of Night recap or The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie as part off Banned Book week. Tell your friends!

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