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

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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