Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Discussion: Shailene Woodley & Issues with Twilight

So I've seen a lot of fuss being made by Twilight fans on Twitter and Tumblr and other places about the comments Shailene Woodley made about Twilight. In case you haven't seen, she said this:

Twilight, I’m sorry, is about a very unhealthy, toxic relationship. She falls in love with this guy and the second he leaves her, her life is over and she’s going to kill herself! What message are we sending to young people? That is not going to help this world evolve.”

(I know Bella didn't literally try to kill herself, Shailene was being a bit hyperbolic with that bit but Bella does get really careless with her life and even jumps off a cliff into choppy waters just to see a halucination of Edward, so the comment isn't too far off...)

And then I saw a few people link this article in defence of it. The article points out three "good life lessons" from Twilight:
1. Carlisle Cullen: Stick to your beliefs, even if the world is against them. Respect the world’s beliefs, even if you are against them
2. Alice Cullen: You can be a girly girl and still kick ass
3. Edward Cullen: Let people make their own choices

Now, I'm a Twilight fan. I read all books including the companion one about Bree, I followed the movie progress, I pre-ordered the books each time, I even wrote some (hilariously bad) fanfiction. Twilight is at least partially responsible for this blog considering Julie and I first talked on a Twilight board during the production of the first movie.

I don't love it blindly though (and my positive feelings don't really extend to Breaking Dawn). If you tell me how poorly written it is, or Bella is a Mary Sue, or sparkling vampires are ridiculous, or tell me that the relationships aren't healthy, then I will wholeheartedly agree (although some of the criticism is subjective and I don't think that every fan has to agree with those things).

But tell me I shouldn't like it? That I shouldn't be entertained by it? That I can't like it in spite of its flaws? I'll probably tell you to piss off and stop being such a pretentious twat. Well, if I was in a more snarky mood. If I was feeling polite, I'd probably just go with,"Let's agree to disagree, shall we?"

The point I seem to be taking forever to get to: it is perfectly reasonable for people to hate Twilight. It is also perfectly reasonable for people to love it. But love it or hate it, talking about the issues is kind of important.

Some people will trash Twilight for just for the sake of it, it is an easy target after all (even I've made fun of it before and I'm a fan of it), but some people...people like Shailene, they're not just trashing it because they can. When they criticize it, they criticize it because it matters.

That post I quoted that talks about the positive life lessons? That's all well and good, but two of those three life lessons are about relatively minor characters and those "lessons" aren't particularly big parts of the story (and Rosalie and Jacob kind of contradict half of the Carlisle one). Bella, Edward, and Jacob are the ones that matter most as far as "life lessons" go.

When people read Twilight, the majority are reading it for the romance and the most of the problematic "life lessons" in the book are directly linked to the romance. The third "good life lesson"? Sure, it's about Edward but it doesn't come until after about 2.5 books of problematic behaviour on his part, behaviour that arguably continues into the final book.

I'm not one of those people that think young people should be banned from reading certain books, and I don't think that books should only portray healthy relationships (although, more of those would be lovely), and there's things I can overlook and accept in a fiction that I wouldn't in real life.

But, I do think it's important to acknowledge when a relationship in a book isn't healthy. To know that, while you like it in the fictional context, it's not really the kind of relationship you should admire off the page. Especially with a book like Twilight--a book that is read by everyone from young teens to pensioners, a book that has had global success. A book with A LOT of really obsessive fans (that's an acknowledgement, not a criticism), fans who often view it through rose tinted glasses.

When young people are reading books like that, and they think it's romantic and they're going on about how they want a boyfriend just like Jacob or one who will treat them just like Edward treats Bella, that's when it becomes important to discuss the fact that, in real life, those types of relationships would not be considered healthy.

Something romantic in a fictional story about vampires and werewolves does not necessarily translate as romantic in real life.

At one point in Eclipse, Edward messes with Bella's car and later has his sister "babysit" her to prevent her from going to hang out with Jacob. Now, that infuriated me in the book but I've seen other fans justify it. "He only wanted to keep her safe," they say. Fine, fair enough, I may not like that but I'm not against it being in the book.

But imagine a young girl who has read the books, and she's in a relationship--maybe for the first time--and her boyfriend is controlling in the same kind of way Edward is with Bella. And she's got it into her head that he's only doing it because he loves her, that that kind of behaviour is sweet and romantic and he only wants to protect her (those are the kind of justifications abusers give in real life). Not discussing it when we see it in fiction only perpetuates that belief.

Or maybe her guy friend kisses her, even though she doesn't want him to. And he keeps kissing her, even when she's not kissing him back and he won't let her go. That's not okay...but in Twilight, that book she loved so much, when Jacob does this same thing to Bella, it's treated as a joke. Bella's dad, the chief of police, seems thrilled about the fact that a guy forced himself on his daughter (even though she broke her hand punching him for it). Even adult fans--fans old enough to be the girls mother--are saying how romantic and awesome these relationships are.

Or maybe a guy uses emotional blackmail to get her to do something, like Jacob does in the books to get Bella to kiss him...and she doesn't even realise that consenting under those circumstances isn't really consent (that kind of thing does happen in real life). It kind of blurs the importance of consent and trivialises it in a dangerous way when don't acknowledge it.

Basically, Shailene was right: it isn't the best example of relationships or how to deal with break-ups.

There's just so many things in the books, things about those relationships, that are problematic. If they happened to a girl in real life, it would not be okay. But the book romanticizes it...worse, the fans romanticize it. And it's important to acknowledge that it's not okay so that young girls can love the books without being dangerously blinded by them.

Even TV shows (at least here in the UK) don't show abusive relationships or similar issues without putting a message at the end with help lines people can call if they've been affected by any of the stuff that's been portrayed in the episode. 

I'm not saying young teenagers are stupid or that they're always influenced by stuff they read in books, because they're not, but some people are influenced even if they don't realise it. And the thing is, it's so easy for people of any age to end up in abusive/unhealthy relationships, especially younger people. Why make it easier by not discussing those issues?

A story doesn't have to be perfect. You can find flaws in anything if you look hard enough. But someone talking about the flaws in something you love isn't insulting you, they're not saying you shouldn't like what you like or that you're a bad person for liking something (while looking up stuff about the Divergent movie, I've seen Twilight fans comment on articles about Shailene just to insult her for what she said about Twilight, because they took it as some form of personal attack).

For the record, I know Twilight and Twilight fans aren't the only ones guilty of this sort of thing, I'm just using them as the example because it was Shailene's comment and the reactions I've seen that made me write this (e.g. I've also seen plenty of Harry Potter fans romanticize the Snape/Lily thing even though that was a horribly unhealthy relationship too).

tl;dr version: There's nothing wrong with liking Twilight. But there's a whole lot wrong with refusing to acknowledge the problematic relationships. And even if you don't want to discuss it, you shouldn't hate people like Shailene for commenting* on the issues just because you love the book.

This post has been very long and rambling--so if anyone actually read it, I'm impressed. If you did read it, what are your thoughts? (Feel free to disagree with me, I'm cool with that, but it'd be great to hear why you disagree so I can see your side of things.)

Later.

Note: in this post, I used female victim/male abuser as an example--because that's the genders of the characters--but I know that it can be the other way round or be female/female or male/male, etc. Anyone can be a victim, anyone can be an abuser.
*Just to note, these are often written interviews when actresses like Shailene or Jennifer Lawrence mention Twilight. The interviewer is asking them questions, even if they choose to leave the questions out of the final article. She was probably asked about Twilight, considering she is currently promoting another popular YA book to movie adaptation, but people seem to assume she just chose to bring it up.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Vicious by V.E. Schwab

Vicious
V.E. Schwab
Tor
[September 24, 2013]
Acquired at BEA

A masterful, twisted tale of ambition, jealousy, betrayal, and superpowers, set in a near-future world.

Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong. Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?

In Vicious, V. E. Schwab brings to life a gritty comic-book-style world in vivid prose: a world where gaining superpowers doesn’t automatically lead to heroism, and a time when allegiances are called into question.'

Vicious was...unexpected.

I've read all of Victoria Schwab's currently available books besides The Unbound, so I knew her imagination could get dark and twisted and that she's kind of a genius, but I think Vicious demonstrates that more than her other books. 

I also think that Vicious really highlights the fullness of people. Victor and Eli weren't the greatest of people, but you could still cheer for Victor and feel for both of them. Every character, no matter how bad they might be deemed, still had this side that was understandable and relatable. It brought back the idea that people are not good or bad, but somewhere in between. That moral ambiguity is something I've gushed about before, and this is another prime example.

As usual, Schwab's writing is fantastic and beautiful and engaging. The pages keep turning, no matter what else is on your to do list. The story itself is also incredible and so creative. I've found that Schwab's books are always unique and full of imagination. They're unlike anything else I've ever read. They never fit in neat little boxes or categories or genres and I love that.

Despite all this, I don't think I ever fully connected with this book. It kind of reminded me of reading The Near Witch where it had all of the right elements, but I just didn't click with it. I still recommend the crap out of it and respect how incredible it is, but I don't know that I personally can say I fell in love with it or that it's a genuine favorite. Maybe it was bad timing, maybe it was because it wasn't what I thought it would be, maybe it was just me, but I don't love Vicious.

I still think you all should read it. It's well written and interesting and an excellent look at humans and how we think and work and operate. The characters are fascinating and the style the book is written it keeps you on your toes. It's a really good book to read, it just didn't fit with me perfectly.

--Julie

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Choose Your Own Content (2)

For those unsure about what this means, go here to see the full explanation from last week.

So, our winners?
1. Vicious by V.E. Schwab to get reviewed
2. Nantucket Blue by Leila Howard to read

My review for Vicious is going up tomorrow since this week was kinda crazy and I'll be working on reading Nantucket Blue and hopefully finishing before I leave for a trip on Friday, at which point I may or may not have internet.

So, what are our options for this week?

Reviewing Options:
  1. Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins
  2. What I Thought Was True by Huntley Fitzpatrick
  3. Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
  4. School Spirits by Rachel Hawkins
  5. My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick
  6. Infinite by Jodi Meadows
  7. Tarnish by Katherine Longshore
  8. Eon by Alison Goodman
  9. Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone
  10. How Zoe Made Her Dreams (Mostly) Come True by Sarah Strohmeyer
Reading Options:
  1. Changeless by Gail Carriger
  2. Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard
  3. The Ring and the Crown by Melissa de la Cruz
  4. Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern
  5. Hero by Alethea Kontis
  6. Starcrossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce
  7. You Are Here by Jennifer E. Smith
  8. Small Damages by Beth Kephart
  9. Violins of Autumn by Amy McAuley
  10. Sex with Kings by Eleanor Herman
WEE for options! 

Fun Fact: Only 1 book on the to read list is a hardcover for me because PLANES man. Planes.

So, what should I sneak in a review of? What should I read next weekend? The choice is YOURS, guys. And because I'm currently at my parents' and therefore currently with a 9 year old boy, I'm picturing all of you throwing your pokeballs and screaming "I CHOOSE YOU" when you cast your votes.

--Julie

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Red Leaves by Paullina Simons

Red Leaves 
by Paullina Simons

Summary: Everyone at Dartmoth College knows Kristina Kim, Conni Tobias, Albert Maplethorpe and Jim Shaw. Attractive, intelligent and poised for brilliant futures, they are campus elite, and ever since freshman year, they've been inseparable--almost like family. Led by the beautiful, spirited and enigmatic Kristina, they share an intimacy others envy.

But it is more than camaraderie that unites the friends. Dark and seductive secrets bind the four to one another--intense passions and simmering tensions that have been building for years. When those passions finally explode the dead of a bitter cold night, a brutal act will be committed--one that will reveal shocking truths about each of them...
I saw a lot of mixed reviews of this book before deciding to read it. I didn't read any of the positive ones, only the negatives, and I think that is why I was able to enjoy it as much as I did.

The Bronze Horseman is the only other Paullina Simons book I'd read before this one, but that book is one of my all time favourite books. So basically, this book had a lot to live up to and the fact that the stories were so wildly different could've easily made this one a disappointment. But, because I had read the negative reviews and went into it knowing what to expect and what not to expect, it made it easier not to measure it against her other book that I loved so much.

Sorry, that was quite a lot of rambling to make a short point: I really enjoyed this book.

It should be noted that I don't read many crime novels (not sure why really), so I'm not really the best judge of whether it's one of the better ones the genre has to offer. But as a crime novel newbie, I liked it a lot.

There were things about it that were frustrating--like, for example, it was longer than it needed to be (seems to be the authors thing though, her other books are long too) and sometimes the dialogue was a bit off (mostly because it was like she was deliberately making them be cryptic and hint at things and it didn't always seem natural), but I couldn't put the book down.

From start to finish, I wanted answers. I wanted to keep reading to know the full story of Kristina's life. The relationships she had were pretty toxic, to the point where it was baffling that those were people she considered to be her closest friends, but it was weirdly fascinating reading all about her screwed up life and screwed up relationships even if by the end I still couldn't figure out why she would care so much about those three people (one of them is a bit more understandable, but the other two? I just don't get it).

Also, as I mention way too much, I'm not into switching POV's unless it's done really well and it was done really well here. I loved that we got to know Kristina before the detective's POV took over, I loved that those few chapters made me care enough about her character to want to keep reading. So yeah, this was dual narration done well.

Anyway, I'd rate the book 4 stars out of 5. The book had it's flaws, but I enjoyed it from start to finish (the last few pages--before the epilogue--were the weakest part, a bit on the WTF side, but not awful). If you've read The Bronze Horseman, don't go into this one expecting something similar because they're worlds apart. I'll definitely be checking out some of the authors other books now.

Later.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Choose Your Own Blog Content (1)

This semester is kind of crazy for me. One part time office job, full time student, freelance work, monthly visits to my parents' (one who had surgery, the other working a lot of overtime due to snow), spontaneous trip to Philly, class trips, impending removal of my braces, and a wedding. 

So taking care of my mental health has become a HUGE priority for me. Despite all this, I usually have 4 day weekends, or Thursday/Saturday/Sunday free. I've been taking advantage of that time to sleep a lot, watch movies, mindlessly surf the internet, and read. I've been managing at least one book for every day of my weekend for quite some time. Not including the many, many books I've read for my two jobs, I've already read 26 books for the year.

Between all of this reading, plus a lot of books that I just never reviewed, I have a lot to review.

My idea for getting back into blogging is by getting you involved in a two-step process.

1. You guys pick one of my weekend binge-reads (this will be especially important in the upcoming weeks as I'll be traveling at least 4 times in the next six weeks), which I will then review the week after.
2. Pick one book I've already read to review.

There are limits to this, of course. I'll be giving you guys some options to choose from and making sure that they're out or will be out within a month. But we all win this way. I write more reviews, they're reviews for stuff you guys want to see, and it has the potential to bring in some variety. Some weekends, I just want to read romance novels. Others, non-fiction or adult or New Adult. It's also going to mean some back list reading and bringing up books you may have missed because their "older."

Basically, it's like Misty's Stack of Five, but weekly, because I'm crazy like that.

It's a little late to do it for this weekend (though I may still try to fit in anything with a really high vote count), but whatever doesn't happen this week(end) will definitely happen in the next one!

Binge Reading Options!
1. Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard (adult high fantasy)
2. The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman (non-fiction set in WWII)
3.  Changeless by Gail Carriger (adult crossover steampunk)
4. Starstruck by Rachel Shukert (YA historical set in 1930s Hollywood)
5. Where I Belong by Gwendolyn Heasley (YA contemporary romance)
6. Deception's Princess by Esther Friesner (Kind of like Brave as a YA book)
7. Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland (YA contemporary romance)
8. The Tyrant's Daughter by J.C. Carleson (YA political contemporary)
9. Let the Sky Fall by Shannon Messenger (YA paranormal)
10. Steel by Carrie Vaughn (YA historical/time travel/piratey)

I'll read and review whichever one of those gets the most votes next week, unless there's a really strong lead this week and I have time to write a review. Next week is also a travel week, in which I'll be spending an hour and a half on a train and I'll be visiting my parents', which means very little time spent online, so there's a chance that the top three books could all get reviews in the next two weeks.

As for books I HAVE read and can review in the upcoming week...

1. My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick (YA contemporary; I'll also be reviewing her second book in the near future)
2. Cinders and Sapphires by Leila Rasheed (YA historical/Downton Abbey-esque)
3. The Art of Wishing by Lindsay Ribar (YA paranormal with genies)
4. Human .4 by Mike Lancaster (YA sci-fi)
5. Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys (YA historical)
6. The Madman's Daughter by Megan Sheperd (YA paranormal historical)
7. School Spirits by Rachel Hawkins (YA paranormal)
8. Vicious by V.E. Schwab (adult paranormal)
9. Faking It by Cora Carmack (New Adult)
10. Secret Society Girl by Diana Peterfreund (New Adult/Adult about secret societies)

So, what do you want to see in the blog in the upcoming week? I'll review whichever one (or two) has the most votes) And since this review list is YA heavy, if you'd like more non-YA options or different genres, I can keep that in mind for future lists.

You've got your options and hopefully a clear explanation, so get to voting in the comments!

--Julie

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Discussion: The Worst Thing A Book Can Be

So I've realised recently what my book deal breaker is and I was wondering what everyone else's is. What is the one thing that will have you abandoning a book?

It's great when a book is beautifully written. It's great when the characters are amazing and the relationships are well done. It's great when the world building is complex and fantastic, and when the plot keeps you hooked from start to finish. 

But it's rare for me to find a book that ticks all of those boxes. 

Twilight made me realise that if a book is entertaining enough I can overlook poor writing and cliches and badly written characters and relationships. 

The Book Thief and Code Name Verity made me realise that a book can be a little on the slow side if it's written well and I love the characters and the plot has a twist that has me care enough to bawl my eyes out.

There are books I've read (Fifty Shades of Gray, Twist Me, etc.) that have made me angry for various reasons, and yet I still had little problem finishing them. Because at least they were making me feel something, even if that something is annoyance or dislike/hate. 

Books should make me feel something, but there's one thing that will make me put a book down and avoid going back to for weeks or months or even years. Something that can put me in a reading slump if it's bad enough. 

There's a lot that I can overlook in a book, so long as it ticks certain boxes, so long as it keeps me entertained. But I can't overlook boredom. 

If a book makes me feel bored, that's my deal breaker. That's what will make me put it down. There are some books that get a bit slow, that have lulls in the plot, or filler stuff a bit on the dull side--but if, for a few hundred pages, the most consistent thing I'm feeling is boredom... Nope. Just nope. Can't do it.
I love reading, and when doing something I love is boring to me then I hate that and I end up hating the thing that made me feel that way about the thing that I love.

I realised this when I was reading (or trying to read - I quit halfway through) a romance novel the other day. If I were to rate that book, it would actually get a lower rating from me than books like Fifty Shades of Gray--books that I had major issues with (from the writing, to the characters, to the romanticisation of a problematic relationship, etc.)--which is a bit bizarre because it wasn't an awful book, it was just...boring.

You'd think a book that I hated would rate lower than a book I found boring, but no. It seems that boring is a greater book sin to me than infuriating.

I didn't notice that this was a pattern until I took a look at the stack of books I've left unfinished and making me bored is the one common factor. Some of them tick plenty of other Good Book boxes, like having lovely writing, but I just couldn't get past them being boring. Boredom is like this wall that I can't climb over to appreciate the good things behind it.

If anyone actually read this, what is the worst thing a book can be to you? Boring? Terribly written? Mary Sue/Gary Stu characters? Containing things you object to on a moral level? Something else? Or are you one of those impressively stubborn people that won't quit on a book no matter what?

Later.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Nine Rules to Break When Romancing A Rake by Sarah MacLean

Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake
by Sarah MacLean

Summary: A lady does not smoke cheroot. She does not ride astride. She does not fence or attend duels. She does not fire a pistol, and she never gambles at a gentlemen's club.

Lady Calpurnia Hartwell has always followed the rules, rules that have left her unmarried—and more than a little unsatisfied. And so she's vowed to break the rules and live the life of pleasure she's been missing.

But to dance every dance, to steal a midnight kiss—to do those things, Callie will need a willing partner. Someone who knows everything about rule-breaking. Someone like Gabriel St. John, the Marquess of Ralston—charming and devastatingly handsome, his wicked reputation matched only by his sinful smile.

If she's not careful, she'll break the most important rule of all—the one that says that pleasure-seekers should never fall hopelessly, desperately in love.
Well then, this book was awesome. It's one that Julie recommended ages ago but I never got round to reading until I picked it up last night. It pretty much had me hooked from the start.

I was in the mood to read historical romance (and I wanted to branch out from Eloisa's James's books, because most that I've read have been hers). I started a different one and it was the most torturously boring reading experience I've had in quite a while, but when I switched to this one...sdkljbkjfv. It was everything I was looking for.

It was sweet and funny (I think it did manage to make me laugh out loud a few times) and it had so many characters that I loved and well written relationships and the romance made me smile and... it was just really great.

Literally the only thing I didn't like about the book was that there were a few moments that I wished Callie would've...I dunno, given Ralston a cold glare and dramatically left the room with a flip of her hair and her head held high, because he would've deserved that quite a few times. But then it would've been less convincing given the time period and it didn't bother me that much--I'll happily just consider it a small character flaw that she is way too easily calmed by kisses.

Also, if you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll know that I really don't like books written with alternating POV's and there are very few exceptions to that. This book is one of the exceptions--the way it was done was so natural and it didn't feel forced or unnecessary (something I appreciated greatly because one of the huge issues I had with the torturously boring book I mentioned was that it was written terribly, clumsy POV switches and all).

So...I guess that's all I have to say about this one. It was really awesome and I wish I'd read it sooner and I intend to read anything else I can find written by the author (I ordered the next two books in this particular series before I'd even gotten halfway through this one, that's how much I loved it).

Later.

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