Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Self-publishing, New Adult and Erotic Spin-Offs – what’s next for YA in 2013?


And how was your 2012?

It’s safe to say that the face of mainstream publishing was irrevocably changed this year, thanks to the dramatic increase in e-book sales, indie and self-publishing coming into the mainstream, and fan-fiction the acceptable domain for a quick profit. Some things feel all too familiar, such as the overreliance on trends and “If you liked…” to shift books, but now such things aren’t solely in the hands of the big 6/5/4/1 (delete where applicable), with traditional publishing fast falling behind in the race for profit and relevance. It’s never easy to predict what will happen next in publishing, and it certainly won’t be any easier over the coming year, but that’s never stopped us before. So, for my entertainment and hopefully yours, here are my three big predictions for the young adult publishing industry in 2013.

1    1. Indie and Self-publishing will dominate the YA scene. This isn’t exactly a surprise, given the successes of several books this year that I’m sure we’d rather forget. However, the business model hasn’t really made an impact on YA yet, other than self-publishing pioneer Amanda Hocking (who's switching between indie and traditional). As the genre and age lines of literature blur (something I’ll move onto soon), authors are looking to reach the widest audience possible, and get on as many areas of the Kindle lists as they can. Smaller publishers will also be sticking to their model of printing quickly to keep up with trends and selling lots of books at a cheaper price than traditional publishers. How the traditional market reacts to this remains to be seen, but I believe it will be similar to that which we have been hearing about over the past few months – big advances for self-published works to go traditional. This could be more beneficial for YA than it has been for romance and erotica since young people are arguably more likely to buy paperbacks than Kindle copies (I’m speaking solely from ignorant personal experience here – I don’t know many teens who own a Kindle, it’s mostly people my age and older). This also leaves open the question of what will happen to big name authors still working with the traditional system. Will sales and hype stay high when we’ve already seen many highly promoted authors, both new and established, underselling? Will any big names go solo and self-publish or will they stick to the status quo? Will paranormal romance die only to be replaced with more sexist crap? Time will tell.
2       
      2. New Adult and contemporary romance will be the big trend. I’ve already talked about NA at length so please read that post for my thoughts on the topic (they’re not that positive, I’m afraid). As I said in the previous section, the lines of age and genre are becoming increasingly flexible, and the adult market is just as, if not more crucial to YA than the teen market. This is a genre that’s grown from the self-published market and, as is becoming increasingly apparent, the traditional market’s racing to keep up. The benefit from NA is that it can be marketed towards both the profitable markets of romance and YA. Surprisingly, or at least it is to me, contemporary romance is making a big splash in the aftermath of vampires and the end of the world. It’s hard to deny the 50 Shades connection here. (Side-note: Anyone else incredibly bored with the heteronormativity on display in these books right now? Any change someone will write a queer contemporary NA, preferably with massive socialist undertones? Come on, I’m not that hard to please!
      
      3. Erotica’s here to stay, and yes, it will be part of YA. A few months ago, “Nightshade” series author Andrea Cremer inked a deal for an erotica trilogy with Penguin. No big deal, right? Plenty of authors write for both teens and adults. Well, how many of them set their erotica in the same world as their YA series? Make no mistake, that’s a cash-in right there. Cremer can talk about how she wanted to explore the characters and all that jazz until the cows come home but it’s pretty obvious that’s not the case. Personally, I think this is somewhat suspect, particularly for Cremer and her publishers to market this as part of the YA series universe and to do so under her published name. For some reason, I don’t feel like this will be a one-off incident. I highly doubt every YA author’s suddenly going to be doing this, and for the sake of my blood pressure, I hope they don’t. However, with self-published authors having more control over their own work, the lines between YA, NA and adult fiction becoming transparent, and trends the go-to way to make an impact and a profit, I predict that we’ll see a few more authors dipping their toes in the erotica pool whilst being intrinsically connected with the YA world.

All three predictions are undeniably connected and could easily be applied to the romance genre at large, which has embraced the technological and business change with gusto and shown the literary establishment how it’s done. 50 Shades and its ilk may be awful, but they’re still (unfortunately) a force to be reckoned with, and they will effect YA whether we like it or not. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Guiltiest of Pleasures: Cassandra Clare and the Author/Book Divide

So the trailer for “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” movie is now out, to the great pleasure of the fans. However, this hot new buzz has also unearthed some older discussions about Cassandra Clare, in particular regarding the plagiarism debacle and her behaviour in the early days of the HP fandom.

Now, I didn’t even speak English all that well in 2000-2002, so most of my information regarding this issue is second-hand. I’m also pretty indifferent to Ms Clare’s work, so the movie buzz didn’t have much of an impact on me. “City of Bones” is a mediocre book, but Hollywood isn’t known to make exclusively deep and thought-provoking films either.

However, the new discussion surrounding Clare and the movie adaptation of her book makes me think about what the Nostalgia Chick calls the “Chick-fil-A Paradox”. Namely, what do you do when an author whose work you love does or is accused of doing something which you don’t agree with? Something you disapprove of, or something that personally offends you? Or something that, on the first glance is noble and amazing, but jarrs strongly with their previous behaviour?

There’s an unspoken assumption that people who read extensively are very intelligent. There’s also the assumption that intelligent people are highly tolerant, presumably because “intelligent” has become synonymous with “nerdy” in Western culture, and nerds are stereotypically very put upon. (Anti-intellectualism and all that.) Furthermore, since authors need to be extensive readers, they are, by this logic, intelligent and tolerant and empathic towards everyone.

Yeah, that’s a pretty big over-simplification, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s an assumption, and a very general one at that. More to the point, it doesn’t take much time to come up with an example to disprove that theory. Lindsay’s video is about “Ender’s Game” and OSC, but that’s not an isolated case. Alexandra Adronetto, whose books have reached Justin Bieber-levels of infamy in the GR community, has written an article entitled: “Guard Your Virginity; Once Lost It’s Gone Forever”, indirectly condemning girls who have casual sex and implying that the experience is always damaging.

Or, to bring things closer to home, Brandon Sanderson, one of my favourite writers in the whole world, once compared homosexuality to adultery, (in that it’s okay to think about it as long as you don’t act on it). He’s somehow altered his opinions in later years, but I can’t help but think that his solution to the problem (separate state and church marriage) is a little too convenient. (For one thing, the religion shouldn’t have anything to do with legislation to begin with. For another, what Sanderson seems to be saying here is: “I’m not a bad person for wanting everyone to be happy!”)

Is there really such a thing as everyone being happy? A win-win situation? According to my Commercial Negotiations professor, no. I can’t say there’s much evidence to support that theory either. You can wax eloquent all you want about separating author and work, but in the end of the day, is that really possible? I know I will not read V.S. Naipaul after what he said about women writers, and I most certainly wouldn’t be picking up “The Selection” either, in spite of whatever personal interest I might have in it. Maybe there are people who won’t CARE for the controversy and read the books anyway, but knowing and caring are two entirely different things (caring, as in "believe and is bothered by it").

People who know (and care) about the controversy surrounding CC, but still like her books, are faced with the moral dilemma of whether or not to call themselves her fans openly. Whether they meet other people’s condemnation head on, or read “Clockwork Princess” in secret, their personal feelings will probably be very conflicted. I know I was when I heard about Sanderson. Hell, when Meat Loaf endorsed Romney in the latest elections, I thought I was going to die, I loved his songs SO FUCKING MUCH! Now that the election is over and state after state announce their support for gay marriage, I can listen to “Alive” again, but only for a little while, never the whole way through.

Will I find a way out of my own “Chick-fil-A Paradox”? I don’t know. I’m not too optimistic. My sense of political justice won’t keep me company during a one-hour commute in the blistering cold, nor will it help me kill four hours between lectures. I might choose artists I approve of, but there are times when everyday things corrode my resolve. Perhaps I’m just a spineless marshmallow with no idea of what real commitment looks like.

But being aware of these issues and not denying them is, I think, a step in the right direction.   

Final note: I don't care for Cassandra Clare. I don't buy her books. I may or may not watch the movie when it comes out (but given my track record with movies, I'm leaning towards the latter). If she writes posts against cyber-bullying and rape culture, then good for her. But I just can't completely buy it, not after reading about how she tried to get someone kicked out of college, or, to make things more recent, how she shut her critics up on tumblr. There are hate blogs for everything nowadays - I believe the Lantern was labeled as such after Ceilidh and I did our posts on the vlogbrothers - it stands to reason that there would be one about CC too.

It makes one wonder.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Review: The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress

This is the first review I've written in a few months. That's what a ridiculous major does to you. Bear with me. For the record, I received a copy of this book for review from Dial. And I'm "internet friends" with the author. Moving on --

The Friday Society is not the first of its kind. YA steampunk’s been going strong (and, please, do not make the mistake of assuming I'm using that word in a positive way) since the publication of Cassandra Clare's Clockwork Angel, the first of her Infernal Devices series. As Cassandra Clare is a well known hack of the first degree, I have not read, and have no desire to read Clockwork Angel. But to be honest, I haven't read any steampunk fiction unless what I read of The Golden Compass, the first novel of the His Dark Materials trilogy, counts as steampunk. And according to my more genre savvy friends, it does not. Nor does Howl's Moving Castle.

You were warned. This review comes from a place of ignorance. Assuming that steampunk follows different rules from dystopic fiction (most YA "dystopic" fiction is not, for the love of God, dystopic, anyway) and paranormal romances, despite all of the above being speculative fiction, I will try to the best of my abilities to give this a fair go.

FYI: I am listening to this song as I write this review: Kanye West vs. The xx - Touch The Sky (Carlos Serrano Mix). Kanye's egotism in no way effected this review.

The Friday Society follows three girls: Cora -- our tough leader girl; Nellie -- our sexy, sassy girl; and Michiko -- the solemn fish out of water. It takes place in what I assume to be the standard alternate history of England’s Victorian/Edwardian period -- where steam technology was popularized instead of coal. I'm under this impression because Nellie mentions traveling in a steam taxi multiple times. Other than that, I would've assumed it was just a rather creepy English setting in which the Brits seemed slightly off, but no more than usual.

We're given two chapters to introduce each character before we get to the actual plot. Unlike my attention span deprived peers, I'm a fan of set up. I like droolishly long plotless movies like The Graduate and American Beauty. I like character studies. There, I said it. Granted, I don't like boring shit like Twilight and Beautiful Creatures and Shiver where there's no actual character study -- just pages and pages of navel gazing wangst and purple prose and emo poetry -- but I don't mind a good bit of set up.

But this is the problem -- the entire book feels like set up for some awesomely awesome adventure that has the potential to blow your mind into a million different pieces. It's 400-plus-pages of something that could be THE NEXT BIG THING if only the plot would wake up and get, I don't know, interesting.

Yes, The Graduate takes a million years for young, virginal Ben to finally get into Mrs. Robinson's pants. But this is the thing -- we know he's going to get into her pants. That is just set up for the actual movie. And movies back then were different. Do you actually think something as god awfully boring as Citizen Kane or Casablanca (which I actually like) would get made in this day and age? No. This generation is too ADHD to give two fucks about slow, contemplative, thoughtful movies. They (meaning we, not me) watch shit like Transformers and Battleship Earth. God awful crap that makes me wish I'd had the common sense to spontaneously abort myself before I had the displeasure to be born into a generation that let The Dark of the Moon (what the fuck? it rips off of one of the greatest albums of all time and it can't even get the goddamn title right) become one of the highest grossing movies of all time.

But I digress. Have you seen The Prestige? It's one of Christopher Nolan's lesser known movies, right in front of The Following. Yes, I've actually seen every single movie Nolan's made except for Batman Begins. Anyway, the plot of The Prestige is simple -- revenge. That's it. Revenge. Magician #1 killed Magician #2's wife so #2 is going to fuck over #1 even if it kills him and destroys his soul by destroying #1's life. It's a tragic, under-appreciated movie filled with the usual Nolan-isms (dead girlfriends, women in refrigerators, complicated plot twists and turns and the nonsensical story arrangement that us Nolan fans love). Unfortunately, Edward Norton's The Illusionist (not a bad movie, but it was ruined by the rather bland Jessica Biel), came out that very same year, confusing witless audiences and making a general mess of the success it could have been.

Stick with me. There's a point in here. Somewhere.

The plot of any good movie (or book) can usually be summed up with one word. And it is most often the exact opposite of the character's fatal flaw. I have hammered on and on in my reviews about fatal flaws. Here's a quick summary: A fatal flaw is what a character has to overcome in order to succeed and further the plot. Aang -- childishness, Eragon -- being a loser (I kid), Riddick -- being a douchebag, Ripley – caring too much. You get the point.

But here's the problem with The Friday Society. There isn't really one word to sum up the entire plot. In fact, the two girls on the left side of the cover don't even have real, fleshed out arcs. Yes, you heard me. The brunette -- Cora -- the main featured character on the cover -- does not have an interesting plot line. Well, at least she has one. It's something about duality and sexism and classism. I'll get back to it later. Nellie does not. I wish I could describe what her plotline was, but honestly, it's just not coming to me right now. Probably because it doesn't exist, but who knows? I could be wrong, right?

Nah.

I bet you're thinking "But what about the Asian chick on the right? She's interesting, isn't she?"

And the answer to that question would be --

YES!

SHE IS!

SHE IS SO MUCH MORE DAMN INTERESTING THAN THOSE OTHER TWO GIRLS I WISH THIS ENTIRE NOVEL WOULD BE ABOUT THE BADASSNESS THAT IS MICHIKO AND NOT BORING WHITE GIRL #1 AND BORING WHITE GIRL #2.

Okay, okay, Cora isn't that boring. She's kind of like a blander Rachel Bernstein, from the Animorphs. And I love Rachel, despite her Tobias obsession (I will never forgive you for that KA Applegate (MarcoxRachel ONTF!)). Rachel was a badass of the first degree. She was THE badass of the nineties. More so than Buffy or Sabrina or the countless other blonde action chicks that would later spawn up to show that gurl powah could be sexah AND empower-wang. Rachel was fucking awesome and to see Cora come so close to that awesomeness was rather disappointing.

And Nellie.

Nellie.

Sigh.

Well, Nellie could be played by Scarlett Johansson if this ever became a movie. That tells you all you need to know about her character. She's hot. She's got a few good lines. And I'd probably -- yeah, you don't want to hear that.

We're introduced to Cora first. She's a lab assistant for an ingenious opium addict. We're shown that she's a badass because she goes into an opium den to save her boss from... something. See, this scene has the potential to be really cool. But it isn't. I just don't feel Cora coming through. She's a watered down badass.

She's also kind of insecure about her place in society. One moment, she's uncomfortable about being a super rich guys assistant. The next, she's not. See, her boss rescued her from being a street rat or a prostitute, or something. It's not really elaborated on. And that's what could've made her interesting. More backstory. Conflict. Maybe more guilt about leaving her fellow street rats behind to become child sex slaves. I don't know. It was all very... weak.

Cora is also the only girl with a love interest. Well, kind of. Nellie gets one too, but she doesn't get any action. Not that Cora does either. Sure, she talks about maybe, kind of, having sex. Maybe. It's all kind of alluded to and danced around. Remember this for later.

Cora's love interest, Andrew, is interesting. Underdeveloped, yes, but interesting. The duality plot line surrounding him could have been a good short story but it is not enough for an entire plot line. I don't even know how it ties into the rest of the book.

Nellie is... um... yeah. Well, we know that she's a magician's assistant. She used to be a burlesque performer. That's about it. Her plot line is about... well, I don't really know. She meets a cute guy. Other things happen. I don't really know what flaws she has to over come. At least Cora has the pretense of a fatal flaw. Nellie does not, unless being a guy magnet is a flaw? She also has an Irish accent. And she likes to hug. A lot.

So, what is the main plot of the book? Someone is murdered. There's a mystery. Blah. Snore. ZZZZZ. What's that? I fell asleep. I'm sorry. That's how captivating I found the plot. Not quite as bad as the plot of the Inkheart sequels (fuck you Cornelia Funke for ruining one of my favorite childhood stories by giving it not one, but TWO sequels that are HORRIBLE), but still pretty boring. It's about on par with Men in Black. Can you imagine that as a novel? Yes, it's a pretty movie, and the acting is great, but on paper, it'd be pretty damn dull.

There's a generic bad guy. A generic group of bad guy thugs. A big reveal scene. A dramatic fight scene. Heroes refusing to kill. Join me! All of the things I hate about mystery/fantasy/action/adventure novels. If you were a villain, would you really spend twenty minutes explaining your big evil scheme to a group of teenage girls right before you planned kill them? I wouldn't. I'd just kill them. Kill them dead. And then I'd let my thugs ravish their dead bodies because when you're evil, you just don't give a fuck. I suppose that's why Kanye West could never be a legitimate villain in a superhero movie. I mean, can you imagine him opposite the Joker as Lex Luthor in a Batman/Superman movie?

"Now hold on Superman, imma let you finish dying, but my boy the Joker's deathray is the greatest deathray of all time and it's gonna blow you mind like yeezy, huh. And when we kill you, we gonna get that hoe Lois and...  etc... etc... "

Hmm... nevermind. I can actually see that. Moving on.

So, yes, the main plot is completely unoriginal and boring.

And I see you asking, yet again, "But Cory, why did you give this three stars if you've done nothing but complain?"

And here is my answer to you -- because I like complaining. Would you actually read my reviews if I didn't complain? No, you wouldn't, because you people don't like reading positive mindless fluff filled GIF reviews (I like those, by the way) by people who only like weird books no one else reads. You like reading my rants. You like my digressions and my cussing and my whining. You expect me to hate every single book I read. So stop complaining. No one is forcing you to read this.

Now, for the *gasp* positive section of this review. Skip the next few paragraphs if you're allergic to positivity. I'll see you misanthropic baby hating puppy eaters on the other side of the rainbow in grouch land.

An open letter to Michiko:

Dear Michiko,

You are the best part of this book. When you first appeared, I was unsure of your character. I thought you'd be the token Asian, devoid of personality traits and flaws. Boy, was I wrong. Adrienne Kress, the author of this book, actually seemed to know what she was doing. She did motherfucking research for god sake! She knows the difference between kun and san and sama, something millions of Japanophile idiots still can't get down. It's like the bulk of her Japanese research didn't come from Wikipedia! That's an odd notion, isn't it? Not using Wikipedia as a main source for cultural research.

It's almost like Kress wanted you to be the star of this novel, but was too unsure of herself to have you feature as the title character. You are the only character with a fatal flaw, a plot line, an arc, a fully fleshed out character arc -- and interesting companions. You were the only character who's chapters I never skimmed. Your first scenes were interesting. Your doubt in yourself was convincing. I believed that you were a warrior, a true samurai.

And I love that you reject this to find yourself. To realize that it's okay to have fears -- to have emotions.

Kress, if you're reading this letter to your character, rewrite this novel. Do it for me. Tell it solely from Michiko's POV. Write the novel that Stormdancer wanted to be. The series that The Legend of Korra wanted to be.

Yours,
Cory

PS -- Give Michiko a love interest that sits in the background. I like a well done romance. I like sex. There, I said it. I. Like. Sex. A tasteful romantic plotline, like that of... um... I'm coming up short, but I'm sure they exist. That, or someone her age who speaks her language so I'm not left wondering why you didn't make her Chinese or Indian every time Nellie and Cora start speaking English so she can participate in their conversations. Because the English colonized parts of India and China. Meaning that the likely hood of someone Chinese or Indian speaking English would be greater. You do know that, right YA readers?

Why do I bother? I keep forgetting that we’re the Transformers/Kanye generation.

At least Michiko isn’t a Chinese samurai and there aren’t motherfucking pandas in London. If you get those references, you are awesome.

PPS -- Readers, this girl ran away from home to escape an arranged marriage, trained illegally with a samurai, and lived with geisha, all before running away to England to further her training while upstaging her boss at every turn skill wise. Need I say more. She's a BAMF.

PPPS -- Hayao is awesome too.

Okay baby eating puppy haters -- I mean, puppy eating baby haters -- I'm done. You can unshield your eyes.

At first, I thought this novel would be like A Great and Terrible Beauty, the first book in the Gemma Doyle Trilogy. Not really. While Gemma Doyle reads like a YA novel, both in tone, content, and character, The Friday Society reads more like Upper MG. And that's not a bad thing. I guess. But I was expecting something more mature. The juvenile voice hurt this novel. The writing isn’t bad, but I didn’t believe any of the girls were older than fourteen. I mean, I'm eighteen. Not less than a year ago, I was seventeen. I know what seventeen-year-old girls sound like. And they think about sex. A lot. Well, my sixteen-year-old female friends do, anyway. That is a joke, by the way. Though it's true.

These girls sound like Judy Blume protagonists. And, as I said before, that's not a bad thing. It's just not good. A well placed curse word does not change that fact.

I suppose I could go on for a bit longer, but I don't really have anything else to say. And it's 11:59 AM. I'm seeing Skyfall tomorrow. Good night readers. Hope you enjoyed this review. And do read the book when it comes out. Despite my negativity, it's a lot more enjoyable than most YA crap out there right now.

And just because I was harsh does not mean this book isn't worth the read. I did give it three stars. That, from me, is not, I repeat, NOT BAD. It'd be a good Christmas gift for your preteen nieces/nephews. It's certainly something I'd buy for my thirteen-year-old sister.

3.25 stars. Not bad, but it could be so much better.

FYI, this book comes out December 6th, 2012.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Review: What's Left of Me by Kat Zhang

I should not exist. But I do.

Eva and Addie started out the same way as everyone else—two souls woven together in one body, taking turns controlling their movements as they learned how to walk, how to sing, how to dance. But as they grew, so did the worried whispers. Why aren’t they settling? Why isn’t one of them fading? The doctors ran tests, the neighbors shied away, and their parents begged for more time. Finally Addie was pronounced healthy and Eva was declared gone. Except, she wasn’t . . .

For the past three years, Eva has clung to the remnants of her life. Only Addie knows she’s still there, trapped inside their body. Then one day, they discover there may be a way for Eva to move again. The risks are unimaginable-hybrids are considered a threat to society, so if they are caught, Addie and Eva will be locked away with the others. And yet . . . for a chance to smile, to twirl, to speak, Eva will do anything.

 
In a market over-saturated with shallow dystopias, “What’s Left of Me” is a book of hidden depth (MARVEL, puny humans, at my masterful wordplay!) Where most authors don’t develop their book past the initial premise, Kat Zhang creates a world where humans are born with two souls: one dominant, which eventually takes over, and one recessive, and explores it through the eyes of Eva and Addie, two girls who never truly “settled”.
 
Now, I quite enjoyed this book: Whether because I haven’t read ANYTHING in a while, and this came as a nice surprise, or because the story is so engrossing, but I just gobbled it up. However, instead of going on my usual broad spiel about plot and characters, I’d like to focus this review on a more specific, oft-ignored element of YA novels: that of the family.
 
I think anyone who has ever read extensively in YA genre has heard of DPA - disappearing parent syndrom, a term coined to reflect the fact that the majority of YA and Paranormal YA novels feature dead parents, workaholic parents or just emotionally distant parents. Indeed, if you’re not American and your only base of reference are popular YA novels, you may think that in the USA, there isn’t a single happy family (or, at least, a single happy family featuring white teenagers living in suburban Somewhere).
 
Many writers have pointed out that this is, in part, a requirement of the genre - that the lack of parental authority is what allows the protagonist to go on wacky adventures, or that the loss of the unconditional love is what shaped the MC’s character. However, I can’t help but think that this explanation is a little too easy. Yes, there are books (Shiver) where the protagonist genuinely feels the loss of her parents, and where the problem is addressed (albeit in a very short scene), but they are few and far in between. And, as the ladies over at Cuddlebuggery have already pointed out, that’s unrealistic.
 
I went on this tangent because “What’s Left of Me” has a severe case of DPA, but Ms Zhang takes it to a whole new height by putting family in the very centre of her book. Unlike most YA dystopias, the core of the story isn’t the romance, but the relationship between Addie and Eva. And boy, is it a rocky one! Somehow, we see them going through their lives, struggling under the pressure to conform to what society expects of them, struggling with the guilt they feel because of their parents and their own frustrations. Each of the two girls is a well-built character, which is really a feat. TWINS in fiction are barely portrayed as separate beings, let alone twin souls living in the same body, yet Ms Zhang pulls it off.
 
And, what is particularly good, is that this kind of development of sibling relationships goes well past Addie and Eva. Hell, they even have a cute little brother and still their interactions left me feeling warm, rather than annoyed.
 
So in terms of characters and broad themes, “What’s Left of Me” is already a novel worth reading. But plot wise, I have to say, it doesn’t quite hold up - I felt the pacing was rather off and a little more urgency couldn’t have hurt, but that’s really up to personal preference. In all, I’ll be looking forward to the next book.
 
Note the first: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley.
 
Note the second: Image and synopsis via Goodreads.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

New Adult - What the Hell?


The publishing world of the past year has been nothing short of bizarre. As e-books, self-publishing and smaller independent houses take down the big six, now reduced to the big five, the major names fight for survival through any means possible. In our wacky post-Fifty Shades world, where pulling fan-fiction to be published as original is the new normal, the curious case of “New adult” has emerged. New adult fiction, supposedly aimed at readers aged 18-25, is a term that’s been floating around for a while now, but has only really come to prominence in the past twelve months or so. Indeed, in the midst of writing this article, another massive sale of a self-published author’s work was announced, with a heavy focus on its “new adult” status.

The new age range supposedly allows for a more mature creative content, with older characters (usually high school leaver or college age) dealing with jobs, money, university, etc, thus giving the reader an insight into the expectations of the new adult. Theoretically, I am with this trend. The gap between young adult and adult literature is one that’s much more liminal than expected. The jump between the frivolity of high school and the pressures of living and studying from home is terrifying, and one the young adult market hasn’t really dedicated anywhere near enough time and attention to. Of course, new adult also allows for more sexual content, which I fully support. As I’ve been discussing in my series of posts on sex in YA, the genre is just not serving its readers properly in terms of mature, accurate and progressive representations of sex and sexuality. New adult could do a great service in rectifying this situation as well as acting as a helpful marker for the more cautious reader.

However, I personally think the new adult marker is failing miserably. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I feel it’s being used somewhat irresponsibly. A few months ago, there was some controversysurrounding Jamie McGuire’s “Beautiful Disaster”, a self-published bestseller of romanticised domestic abuse that recently sold for a large sum to a publisher and continues to do wonders for my blood pressure. McGuire, after some criticism, insisted that her book was not a young adult novel, despite the fact that it had been advertised as such, sold as such by several outlets and the author herself happily promoted it as young adult when she asked her readers to vote for it in the Goodreads awards. Now I’m seeing the book advertised as new adult, and it’s not the only book of its kind I’m seeing given the new adult label.

Nicole Williams’s novels “Crash” and “Clash” are marketed as “mature YA/New adult” and listed in the children’s section of Amazon, and contain some pretty terrifying stuff that’s a little too reminiscent of “Beautiful Disaster”. For instance, the very first chapter of “Clash” features the delightful romantic hero attacking another man for daring to touch his girlfriend, threatening to put him in a wheelchair, threatens his girlfriend and demands that no man ever touch her again, then ends it by referring to the other guy as a “tight wearing fairy”. After the heroine chastises him, justifiably so, for his behaviour and sends him off, she is the one that feels guilty and apologises for it! The phrase she uses is “You took the good with the bad”. And this is new adult. I’ve made my views abundantly clear on violence and misogyny masquerading as bad boy romance, so I won’t repeat them here. I simply ask what makes this “new adult”, particularly since it’s also categorised as a straight up romance on Amazon. Got to get that crossover appeal and sales, I guess. The same applies to “Losing It” by Corma Carmack, mentioned in the above link. It’s a typical college romance set-up (involving the virginal student and her professor – by the way, I personally find these set-ups creepy, an abuse of power and in no way sexy, but that’s just me) that’s now suddenly new adult.

The snarky virgin college girl who meets the tattooed bad boy jerk with the dark past romance dynamic is nothing new. Hell, the virgin/stud coupling makes up a significant portion of Harlequin’s bestsellers. It’s a romance staple, and if you like it then you like it. However, hard-core sex and erotica are not exactly teenage literature staples, and the big sellers in this NA craze seem more fitted to the romance category than NA. I’ve been speaking in favour of more sexually progressive young adult novels but there’s a difference between depicting sex and writing erotica. You can call these books whatever you want, they’re still sold in the children/teen section of the Amazon Kindle store. Of course discussing my concerns with sexually explicit content in this genre will leave me open to accusations of pearl clutching prudery or claims I want to censor the aforementioned books. I’m not and I don’t. I’m just weary of slapping a shiny new label on a product to justify something that’s clearly a bit off.

What confuses me about this New Adult bandwagon is how not only do we continue to give such rose-tinted problematic content a pass regardless of which age group it’s marketed towards, but that we’re now justifying it further with a new label and claim that it’s more ‘realistic’ to the problems faced by these new adults. First of all, this assumes that young adult novels never ever tackled any tough or realistic topics, which will be news to authors such as Laurie Halse Anderson, Hannah Moskowitz, Judy Blume, Chris Crutcher, Sherman Alexie, Walter Dean Myers, and A.S. King, to name a few. It also assumes YA doesn’t want to tackle real life issues, or that the genre just isn’t suitable to do so. I’ve never been blindly loyal to YA and I’m very aware that the most popular genres within it aren’t usually contemporary or heavy-hitting, but they still matter and we’re seeing many writers producing wonderful, delicately handled but no less hard hitting work aimed at a teenage audience.

This feels increasingly like a post-Fifty Shades marketing gimmick. Don’t forget that Fifty Shades is Twilight fan-fiction, and that’s where a lot of its appeal lay. The characters are aged up a bit (or significantly aged down in Cullen’s case) and the setting changes but the inherent appeal for many readers when the book was first released was in seeing two well-loved characters do what Stephenie Meyer never depicted them doing. A poll recently released revealed something very interesting but not at all surprising to me. While we should take into account the inaccuracies of polling that apply in these situations, seeing that 55% of people buying books aimed atteenagers were adults says a lot to me about the new adult craze. This is full on “Twilight” meets “Fifty Shades of Grey”. Irony aside, this trend feels like a combination of the full on intensity expected of teen romances, only with adult sexual explicitness. For a genre that has people claiming what an excellent opportunity it is to write mature, progressive situations that are relatable for the intended audience, I’m mostly just seeing the same old stuff I’ve seen for a while now. If I wanted erotica, I would buy it (or go on AO3 and get it for free like normal people).

Of course, this is still a fledgling genre, and one that will undoubtedly grow, now that the media’s caught on and the big money’s rolling (because the way to save the big 5 from going under is to throw 6 figure advances at hype. Hey, it worked for Pippa Middleton, right? Oh, yeah). There are glimmers of light in the distance. Tammara Webber’s “Easy” has garnered strong acclaim for its maturity in tackling sexual assault and its depiction of college students. If more writers really dedicate to writing New Adult the way it’s being marketed as then we may see some interesting results. However, I implore authors and publishers to put the work in and not just slap the label on it.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Review: Dash and Lilly's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Leviathan

“I’ve left some clues for you.
If you want them, turn the page.
If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.”

So begins the latest whirlwind romance from the bestselling authors of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions?

Rachel Cohn and David Levithan have written a love story that will have readers perusing bookstore shelves, looking and longing for a love (and a red notebook) of their own.

Some time ago, I tried Dr. Pepper for the first time. I’d been living abroad for a while, and I’d seen it around, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. For someone who spends an extended amount of time out of their home country, perfectly ordinary everyday experiences like that can become shiny and new. As far as this one went, I didn’t know what to expect, but on reflection, I found nothing too special about it either.
 
It tasted like fizzy cherry juice. Big deal. Move along.

The same pretty much applies to “Dash and Lilly’s Book of Dares”. Interesting premise. Cute cover. Fun, quirky opening passages. I also quite enjoyed David Leviathan’s “Boy Meets Boy”, so I could reasonably expect to like his collaboration with Rachel Cohn. And yet, the ending to this little romp left me rather underwhelmed.

“Dash and Lilly’s Book of Dares” is a very cute story. If you read “Let It Snow” by Maureen Johnson, John Green and Lauren Myracle, then you know what to expect from this book. It’s festive, sweet and inoffensive. The two main leads are cute and quirky in a very non-irritating way, and for a couple that spends most of the book never seeing each other, they have some very good interactions.

But there is something this story lacks, and it is unfortunately something that was very strongly missed: Tension.

For all the things that happen in this book, for all the dares and drama, there is surprisingly little to hold a reader’s heart. Oh, sure, you want to know if those two crazy kids will end up together, especially after some of the wackier shenanigans they get into, but ultimately, there is no reason to believe they won’t get together. Why shouldn’t they? Their brands of quirkiness are just so specific, they wouldn’t work with anyone else other than themselves.

On a serious note, though, it was the feeling of security about this book that left me rather untouched by the story. The kind of things that happen in it strike me as the type that only happen to people in movies or television shows, not something that would necessarily occur in real life. The set-up and effort necessary to achieve some of those dares require quite a bit of trust and effort, and it doesn’t seem like a person would go through with it purely out of boredom. Finally, I guess I couldn’t bring myself to care because the story was just predictable.

Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. I suppose I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind for it.
 
Note: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley, for the purposes of this review.
 
Note the Second: Images and synopsis via Goodreads.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Review: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

"I won't tell anyone, Echo. I promise." Noah tucked a curl behind my ear. It had been so long since someone touched me like he did. Why did it have to be Noah Hutchins? His dark brown eyes shifted to my covered arms. "You didn't do that-did you? It was done to you?" No one ever asked that question. They stared. They whispered. They laughed. But they never asked.So wrong for each other...and yet so right.

No one knows what happened the night Echo Emerson went from popular girl with jock boyfriend to gossiped-about outsider with "freaky" scars on her arms. Even Echo can't remember the whole truth of that horrible night. All she knows is that she wants everything to go back to normal. But when Noah Hutchins, the smoking-hot, girl-using loner in the black leather jacket, explodes into her life with his tough attitude and surprising understanding, Echo's world shifts in ways she could never have imagined. They should have nothing in common. And with the secrets they both keep, being together is pretty much impossible.Yet the crazy attraction between them refuses to go away. And Echo has to ask herself just how far they can push the limits and what she'll risk for the one guy who might teach her how to love again.



It’s going to be a tense week. The US elections are reaching their climax as I write this (please keep the Clinton jokes to a minimum, guys, I’m being serious here) and a lot is at stake. In times such as these, I wonder what can we on the Lantern can offer to the discussion, and then I realised I had the perfect book for the job.



“Pushing the Limits” by Katie McGarry isn’t political, not in the strictest sense of the word. On the surface, it’s your average “Bad-boy-that-isn’t-really-bad meets Broken Girl” story, with two outcast protagonists coming together to get what they wanted and falling in love. But there is something in this book that directly relates to the political climate of today, and that is the question of choice.



Choice is an interesting thing in YA novels. One might think it’s a given that all protagonists have agency and own up to the choices they make, but that’s rarely the case. Oftentimes, the situation manipulates people into such a position where minimal decision-making is involved, and the “right” decision is clear as day (See: My post on ambiguity).



And then there are the books were the situation is muddled, where right and wrong is a matter of perspective and where you don’t know who to root for because you understand everyone. “Pushing the Limits” is one of those books, and there is a lot of tension specifically when it comes to the choices that Echo and Noah make.



How does this relate to politics and elections? Well, you know how everyone tells you how it’s paramount that you vote, and how every voice counts, but you don’t know who is the better choice? Well, that’s kinda what this book is, too.



None of the choices Echo and Noah make are easy ones. In fact, when they make their final decisions, they end up going against everything they believe. It’s gut-wrenching, and that’s the point - no choice is easy, and sometimes, you need to pick between what you want and what is right. Echo and Noah go through a lot of pain, but in the end, I think they reached a better place.



Is this novel perfect? No, of course not (Neither is politics, actually). There are some characters I wish we’d spend more time with, some moral dilemma that was better explored; there were times when McGarry started on a theme and let it drop, like she wasn’t sure what to do with it. Part of it is because of the constraints of the point-of-view she was going with, as Echo and Noah are pretty biased narrators, but it does feel like the people in Noah’s life were more fleshed out than those in Echo’s.



But is this book worth the read? I think so.

Note: A copy of this book was provided by the publishers via Netgalley.
 
Note: Image and synopsis via Goodreads.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Interview - Elizabeth May, author of "The Falconer".

As a former resident of Edinburgh (one who is hoping to return there as soon as possible), I'm always excited to see the city portrayed in film and literature. It's not often that the capital gets attention in the YA scene, so news of Elizabeth May's debut novel "The Falconer" undoubtedly piqued our interest here at The Book Lantern. Elizabeth was kind enough to answer a few questions on paranormal YA, it's future, and the challenges faced in combining the real with the fantastical, and I managed to restrain myself long enough to not just sob over how much I miss my adopted home city.


1. Why did you choose Edinburgh as the setting for “The Falconer”? What do you think is so appealing about the city (interviewer note: I could squeal over the joys of Edinburgh for nights on end. I miss it!)

I squeal over it often, myself. I love it here!

My interest in Edinburgh began from a largely academic standpoint.  I’m a PhD student in anthropology, and I was keen to write a dissertation topic that involved Scottish legends.  The whole of Scotland is incredibly rich in lore, and Edinburgh in particular is a city steeped in superstitious history.  From ghost stories to curses to tales of the fae — these are all such ideal starting points for a writer. 

So while I gradually directed my dissertation topic to a more focused aspect of lore, I found myself continually drawn to the city for a book setting.  For an urban fantasy novel, it’s particularly inspiring.  Intense glacial erosion left such a dramatic landscape here, of crags and cliffs and hills. I loved the character of the city itself, how it’s split into two terribly distinct halves.  On the one side, we have New Town Edinburgh, with all of its white columned buildings and neoclassical architecture.  And on the other side is the more ancient half of Edinburgh, with dark, pointed buildings and crammed tenements and mazelike wynds.  In the Victorian era, it was even more congested and populated than it is now.  I imagined it to be the perfect place for monsters to pick off their victims.

2. While your novel is set in an alternative universe Edinburgh, how closely does it stick to the real city, and what research did you conduct, if any, to keep the setting authentic?

Very, very closely, I should say.  Edinburgh is a special city to me — actually, the first city I’ve ever truly fallen in love with — so I thought it important to keep it largely intact.  There are one or two embellishments (such as the size of my heroine’s house in Charlotte Square), but you’ll find they’re quite minimal.

As for research, it was extensive.  I scoured for maps to get a sense of the city’s layout in 1844 (not terribly different from today in terms of layout, but there are a few name changes, and a number of buildings in Old Town especially that are no longer standing).  I also read diaries and etiquette books from the era to get a sense of behaviour, manners, expectations, and overall daily life. 

I dug up any photographs that I could find that were within a ten year range of the time period, so I had visual reference of what the city and people looked like at the time.  Perhaps the most vital research I did was read travel guides from the time period.  Wealthy Londoners were fond of traveling to Edinburgh, and a number of them documented their excursions throughout the city.  I used them in an attempt to recreate what it would be like for someone who was unfamiliar with the setting (as a resident, I was afraid my language would be too familiar and therefore less detailed), so I could bring that kind of descriptive rendering to the book for readers who have never been to the city. 

For my part, I frequently did walk-throughs of the locations I used so I could recall certain smells, memorize the terrain and layout, and more aptly describe the ever-changing weather in Edinburgh.  It’s too easy to write that it’s raining and leave it at that—because, after all, Scotland and rain are very close friends.  But the rain has character here, too.  It changes, moment to moment.

3. How do you approach the construction of an alternative universe version of a real place, particularly when it involves an alternative historical setting?

I really love it if alternative settings have some grounding in reality that I can connect to.  Every place has a distinct essence to it, a culture to it, and it’s just not the same to say, “This is based on historic Scotland,” if it doesn’t feel like Scotland.  So my most important goal was to give the setting authenticity by first rooting it real 1844 Edinburgh.  

The Industrial Revolution was already a period of profound change, especially with regards to technology.  Although, I think people more often tend to focus on England during that era, even though many incredible inventions and ideas came out of Scotland.  It’s an era in history that is already rife with ideas for an alternate setting. 

A particular interest of mine was the contrast between the ideals brought about by the Scottish Enlightenment (which emphasized the importance of art, science, and technology), and enduring superstition that was especially prominent among the more impoverished Edinburgh citizens.  So there’s some dynamic between old and new ideas, especially with regards to the fae.  This book plays heavily on that dichotomy.  What I did was enhance some of the tech, especially for my heroine (an engineer of weapons in her own right), because faeries are particularly hard to kill.

Though, I feel I should clarify that the first book is more firmly an historical setting, but becomes more speculative as the books progress.

4. For a while in YA, the paranormal genre was impossible to escape and almost every creature and situation imaginable has seemingly been tackled and reimagined. How do you tackle an oft-imagined mythos from a new angle?

I think the most vital thing, as a writer, is not to overly focus on what other authors have written on a particular mythology.  So much work has been done on faeries that if I looked at the sheer volume, it would suddenly become daunting.  It would feel overdone.  And I would feel that I had nothing new to add.
Instead, I kept my attention on the lore itself, primarily on Scottish mythology. There are a lot of novels out there that tend to confuse Irish and Scottish myth, so I thought it particularly important to keep to the lore contained to mainland Britain.  So almost all of the faeries featured in the novel are from Scottish myth. 
And in Scotland, faeries are not really sympathetic.  They steal children, they kill people, they toy with human lives.  They’re monsters, some of whom happen to come in very pretty packaging.

So once I got an idea of what I wanted to present in this book — faeries as villains — I could better sculpt my own mythology surrounding them to fill in the gaps in existing lore.  The one thing I positively knew I couldn’t do with the fae is present them as being part of a very old world that knows nothing of modernity and are puzzled by Victorian Era newfangled inventions. The most powerful fae are vastly intelligent creatures, innovative, and not at all humbled or awed by human technology.  I imagined their culture, their hierarchical structure, their language, their prejudices, their weaknesses.  I could explore the effects of power and the consequences of immortality.

And I think that’s the way I’d advise writing any creatures of myth.  Because even if you ignore the fact that these are non-humans (and fictional), they should still have their own distinct culture and behaviour, and that can be presented in a wealth of different ways.

5. Despite all the hype and press coverage, the dystopian YA craze never fully took off in the same way the post-Twilight paranormal romance/urban fantasy YA one did. What is so appealing about the genre for YA readers? Where does the future lie for it?

I think many people long for adventure, to discover the extraordinary within the mundane.  Urban fantasy often posits that the world we live in is a mere fa├žade, that beneath it all is an underworld of vampires, werewolves, faeries, etc.  That these creatures exist under the very noses of humans — except for the rare human who is let into their secret world. That directly appeals to our innate desire to for uniqueness, our desire for knowledge, and to be aware of secrets no one else is.

The extraordinary/mundane contrast doesn’t often exist within dystopia.  I think that the strength of a good dystopian story lies in its ability to reframe already existing flaws in our societal and psychological tendencies and conceive of the possible consequences where those flaws are magnified.  So we have dystopias where citizens voices are silenced, where uniqueness is a negative, where people are forced to conform to certain roles.  On some level, we’re already familiar with these things in our own world.  Some of us have lived through them.  And that’s why dystopias can be so troubling and powerful at the same time.

So while dystopian protagonists reach a point where they begin to question their society, they still live in it.  There is no escape, just like there is no escape for us.  Protagonists are still bound to that world, whether it improves, or whether — like Winston Smith — they’re forced to conform in the end.  Urban fantasy gives its protagonists an escape.  Sometimes the underworld of paranormal creatures is worse.  Sometimes it’s romantic and dangerous at the same time.  But it’s something none of us, at least, have to experience on a personal level the way we do certain dystopic elements.

As for the future of urban fantasy: I wish I had an answer.  I do have to say that an exciting thing I’ve seen, as a reader, has been watching the genre evolve.  I started reading UF as a preteen, and there was very little of it to choose from then.  Even before TWILIGHT jumpstarted paranormal in YA, there was incredible buzz around adult UF and I loved seeing more and more books come out.  I’m not sure what the future holds, but I don’t believe the genre is stagnating at all.  I know some people do, but I still think it’s an exciting genre with loads of new possible stories.  And I can’t wait to see them.

6. Do you have any future projects in the pipeline? 

I’m hard at work on THE FALCONER’s sequel.  Other than that, my current side project is an adult urban fantasy novel — but I shan’t speak of it further because it’s not on contract.  If it doesn’t see the light of day, this answer will haunt me, I swear!

7. What books would you recommend to our readers?

Some of my current favourite paranormal and urban fantasy novels:

MAGIC BITES by Ilona Andrews
HOLD ME CLOSER, NECROMANCER by Lish McBride
ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD by Kendare Blake
SERAPHINA by Rachel Hartman (which is fantasy, not UF, but I would be remiss if I didn’t add it)
DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by Laini Taylor
THE NATIVE STAR by M.K. Hobson

"The Falconer" will be released in May 2013 by Gollancz. Elizabeth May's website can be found here. Many thanks to Elizabeth for her kindness, and we wish her the best of luck!