Thursday, October 31, 2013

Review: Wounded by Stephen Cole

The moon was just a soft glow through the flimsy curtains in Kate's bedroom, but she feared even that intrustion. She pushed sweat-drenched hair from her eyes and turned on her bedside light. Looked around at the familiar things in the room. Told herself she was normal. Normal for now...

(Cole, Stephen, Wounded, page 9, Bloomsbury, 2003 edition)

Well, my first thought upon reading the first third of this book was: "Misery-lite." Those of you familiar with Stephen King know what I mean. There's definitely a lot of Annie in Marcie Folan (she even used to be a nurse!) although, of course, the two aren't quite the same. Maybe this would hurt the reading experience for some, but it's definitely a better description of this story than the one BookLikes gives. (Twilight with werewolves. *shudder*)

The story is as follows:

Kate is part of a family of werewolves and she needs to lose her virginity to a male werewolf in order to transition herself (consent optional, as the text informs us). However, decades of intermarriage in the werewolf community have resulted in some very unpleasant results, so every now and again, they need to inject something new in the gene pool.

Enter Tom Anderson, who separates from his family during a camping trip and gets bitten. At first he is led to think Kate's family rescued him from certain death, and by the time he discovers the truth, it's too late to reverse the change.

Or maybe not. When Tom proves to have a stronger will than expected, he and Kate manage to turn the tables on her family and head off on a cross-country chase to find a cure.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Review: The Night Itself by Zoe Marriott

Ancient Japanese gods and monsters are unleashed on modern-day London in this epic trilogy from an acclaimed fantasy writer. When Mio steals the family's katana - a priceless ancestral sword - from her parents' attic, she just wants to spice up a fancy-dress costume. But the katana is much more than some dusty antique and her actions unleash a terrible, ancient evil onto the streets of unsuspecting London. Soon Shinobu, a fearless warrior boy, appears to protect Mio - and threatens to steal her heart. With the gods and monsters of Japanese myth stalking her and her friends, Mio realizes that if she cannot keep the sword safe, and learn to control its legendary powers, she will lose not only her own life...but the love of a lifetime.

I have a theory: The longer you follow the creation and publication of a book, the better the chance you'll snatch it up from your local bookstore (or Netgalley, whichever comes first.) It was true for me with "Cinder", and it definitely was the case with "The Night Itself".


Not that I wouldn't have read this book if I hadn't been following its inception. There's a near-constant deficit of non-white characters in YA, and the few books that attempt to bring a non-Western mythology either fail spectacularly, or don't give it enough credit. (I'd say there's a sad lack of action girls in YA, too, but that would be inaccurate. We have plenty of action girls in YA, but the people writing them seem to think that just making them physically strong is enough.)

Uglies and the problem with dystopias

Out of all the dystopias that got attention in the wake of "The Hunger Games", "Uglies" is the odd one out, and not just because it was published before the trend-setter. A book that was written in the third person rather than the first, one with heavily environmental subtext, and one that, at least at first, was about friendship rather than romance... it's rather different from your "Matched" and your "Eve", and yet for some reason it doesn't quite set itself apart enough.

Huh.

The premise is deceptively straightforward - in a future Earth, countries are gone and people live in independent cities, environmentally-conscious and very careful about their impact on nature, after a catastrophe that pretty much destroyed our current civilization. The peace is maintained by way of a surgical intervention that makes everyone look the same (Pretty) and our heroine, Tally Youngblood, can't wait for her turn. But then she makes friends with a girl named Shay, an independent thinker who has her own opinions about the surgery and the life of a Pretty.

Now that in itself is a fascinating premise, one that lends itself quite easily to feminist deconstruction (the story was on the Bitch magazine 100 YA books for the feminist reader,) but as far as execution goes, it kind of gets hung up on the same things as most modern dystopias do. 

Namely: Who the hell drives the garbage trucks in this universe?

No, really. "Uglies" presents us with a hi-tech dystopia, full of environmentally friendly gadgets and widely-available aesthetic surgery. Which looks really neat on the surface, but doesn't hold up closer inspection. How is any of it economically plausible? How can self-sufficient cities have enough resources to maintain their shiny, happy appearance, if they're supposedly steering away from exploiting the Earth or lower classes? 


More to the point, how is possible that every single person in this world can afford the surgery? Surely it is not free, nor can it be, because all the materials, equipment, education, and labor that goes into performing plastic surgery does not come out of thin air. Or is this the kind of society where, once you've gone under the knife, you spend the rest of your life indebted to the state and paying back for your surgery? That would have been pretty neat to mention.

The reason why I'm getting hung up over this is that traditionally, in dystopias, the reader should view the futuristic society as something undesirable. In here, the assumption is that eradicating physical difference will eradicate inequality and war, that there are no losers... but there must be, otherwise we wouldn't be following our heroine trying to take the society down. 

In cases such as this, pointing out all the other inequalities in this world (and not just the ones between Uglies and Pretties) would have been perfect. Class, surely, plays a part. Someone has to man the garbage trucks and do all the blue-collar jobs that are necessary to maintain all of this (even if that someone is a drone, they still need human supervision.) Nationality is another possibility - do these city-states not trade? Do people not go on holiday? Or an academic exchange? 

How about sexism? Still there? 

Or sexual orientation?

Or transphobia even! If plastic surgery is so widespread, surely transitioning in all of its many forms is possible. Is it done? And what are the reprecusssions?

So many possibilities, and yet all we get is a mention of people on whom "the operation does not work". And then some reveal about a society-wide problem. 

Peeps... I get it. I get it. It's supposed to be bad because it affects all of us. And I guess it makes sense that a uniform society has a uniform problem. But here's the  thing - even if everyone looked the same, there would still be differences in character. People would still find some way to split into camps, whether those camps are real or completely arbitrary ("Serious" and "Bubbly", for example.) The problem with dystopias is that they supposedly advertise diversity by presenting us with the horrors of uniformity, but they never really show us the beauty of diversity. They just... plop the statement that uniformity is bad in front of us and let us make our assumptions.

I'm not saying that "Uglies" is completely without merit. In fact, if Scott Westerfeld didn't read "Limits to Growth" as part of his research, I would be very surprised, because he does a good job of presenting us with a plausible catastrophe that destroyed our current society. 

At the same time, the environmentalist angle of the book is presented in a pretty hammy and awkward way. Tally is used to living in a sustainable community, but since we're not told how that community is maintained, we can't understand why the Smokies' way of life (campsy-outdoorsy with lots of chopping of useless trees) is better. Perhaps if we knew the cost of living in a high-tech bio community, we would understand the merit of living outdoors and in hiding.

In technical and storytelling terms, the book blows most of the other modern dystopias out of the water. Sadly, underneath the surface, it's got the same failings. I recommend it, just... proceed with caution.

Image via Booklikes. 


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

First appeared on Goodreads, May 27, 2012

Oh, yes. That is much better.

Shadow and Bone is one of those books that you need to read to restore your faith in YA. Whenever you have trouble with incipid heroines, perfect love interests and the Love Triangle of Doon (TM), this is the book that will pick you up.

From the outset, it looks like your average Girl-Discovers-Unique-Abilities-And-Gets-Relocated story: Alina Starkov is an apprentice cartographer, who follows her regiment accross the Shadow Fold - a mysterious wall that seperates the country of Ravka into two. During the crossing, the regiment is attacked by volkra, the monsters populating the fold, and Alina's power as sun summoner is revealed. She is immediately whisked away by the Darkling, the commander of the king's forces, to be trained, in the hope that she will be able to destroy the Shadow Fold and bring Ravka to its former glory.

Or so she thinks. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Cliches Explained Part Five: I Only Hurt People Because I Have To

A running theme in these clichés posts is that women are getting the brunt of them. So to vary things up this week, let’s talk about a cliché that seems to concern guys and guys alone.

So you’re an all-powerful supernatural creature, ruler of all, leader of many, enemy of even more. You were known to set a pretty harsh example of your followers. But then the heroine comes along, a delicate thing with a very bleeding-heart, who is not too thrilled about possibly joining the ranks of those who displease you. So what do you do?

I did what I did because I had to. If I showed weakness or favourism or even empathy, my enemies would seize it and take advantage. And if I fall, someone even worse will come in my place. So you see, I’m being cruel for the sake of everyone.

Sure, buddy. And rainbows lead to pots of gold, and the air is full of unicorn farts.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Review: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

So, how many books are there with a hemaphrodite/transsexual main character, and have received critical acclaim? Very few, am I right? I certainly can't come up with that many from the top of my head. 

By all means, I should love the shit out of this book.

Which is why I'm really pissed off at Mr. Eugenides for going and putting his foot in his mouth because it's stuff like his NPR review that irrevocably skewers my perception of an author's work. And I realize he has no reason to care for my opinion, but I suppose I should somehow justify not giving this book a full five stars. 

Sad as it is, though, when you take away the main zinger - that the main character is a hermaphrodite - this book doesn't really bring anything to the table that other authors haven't already.

Middlesex is told by Cal (Calliope) Stephanides, who, thanks to her family intermarrying for generations, was born not entirely of either sex. The book basically follows her family through three generations, starting from her grandparents fleeing Turkey in 1922, to finish with Callie and his coming to accept his real gender identity.

This isn't the kind of story that is impossible to write. Isabel Allende, for example, has done it very well in her House of Spirits trilogy, as well as in "Eva Luna". However, I think Middlesex didn't quite work. I don't know why that is. Both Eugenides and Allende use a wide cast to tell a family story, but Eugenides' charactecters seem just this side of... set-up. Like their motivations only made sense for one situation, but not in the overall context of their character.

Cal likes to reference Greek tragedies whenever a deus-ex-machina device seems to be employed, and yet isn't that exactly what happens? No matter how ironic a character is, a convenient plot development is still a convenient plot development (also, as I might have mentioned in my Paper Towns review, pretentuous characters make me break out in hives). 

And, in the end, after all the dramatic reveals and tragic plot twists, after the badly-motivated villains and strange character explorations, the payoff doesn't match up. It seems like half the twists were thrown in not for conflict, but to make things more sad, and that's a cheap way to manipulate the audience.

Like I said, I would have liked the book. I was very much inclined to like it, and I've enjoyed quite a lot of derivative books in the past. Still, I don't see how Mr. Eugenides has the right to talk about how men's writing is superior to that of women when his own plots are borrowed from those already explored by ladies.

How Do You Read A Book? Any Way You Want To.

A couple of years ago, I read Jez Butterworth’s play “Jerusalem” for the first time. The state of the nation tale had intrigued me ever since I’d seen clips of the West End production online, featuring the dramatic monolith that is Mark Rylance. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. It fast became one of my top ten favourite plays of all time. After reading it, I took some notes on it for the Masters thesis I will probably never write, analysing its take on 21st century England, the battle between modern and traditional, urban versus rural, and the Pied Piper style truth teller protagonist who sees through the patriotic haze of this green and pleasant land to reveal the rot underneath. It’s the kind of play I adore – modern, visceral and heavily political.

Then I read an interview by Butterworth where he said he had no such interpretations for the play when he wrote it, nor did he plan any kind of political message. Basically, he undid my entire hypothesis.

That doesn’t mean I’m wrong about the play. It just means my interpretation differs from that of the writer.

We’ve talked about this a lot on The Book Lantern but it bears repeating: Once you put a story out into the world, your sole interpretation of events is no longer the default mode. Your thoughts are simply one possible way to read the novel. It may be the preferred way to read it for many but it’s not the mandatory way to do so.

Nine times out of ten, there’s no way to read a book “wrong”. There are exceptions, of course. I will personally scream down anyone who believes Lolita came onto Humbert (unreliable narrator! He’s a paedophile! She’s 12!). That’s probably more to do with morality than anything literary (SHE’S 12!).
Not only is interpretation out for debate but the expectations and reactions of the readers are totally out of the author’s control, not that they were ever in there to begin with. After all, no two people will react to a story in exactly the same way, nor will they want the same things from their reading experience.

I bring this up because, as you’ve probably heard, Veronica Roth’s final book in the “Divergent” trilogy, Allegiant, ended in a very unexpected fashion. I won’t spoil it here but suffice to say it made a lot of readers very upset; upset enough to bring the book’s Amazon rating down to 2.6 (although it was lower at one point) and to express their feelings to Roth on Twitter. I haven’t seen all these reactions and I imagine some of them were a touch over-the-top (do we really need to have chats on social media decorum, my friends?) but the anger expressed is perfectly justified. Not death threats, of course. Seriously people, what is wrong with you? Don’t threaten to kill anyone ever. It’s stupid. I can’t believe I even need to say that.

Step forward John Green.

“Fascinating to see responses to Allegiant because I think many of the book's readers are just, like, wrong about what books are/should do. As a reader, I don't feel a story has an obligation to make me happy. I want stories to show me a bigger world than the one I know. I never read the Divergent trilogy as escapist (who would want to escape our world for that one?), which is precisely what I love about it. Similarly, I never felt like my faith as a reader was betrayed by The Hunger Games or the Uglies books. Basically, I would argue that books are not primarily in the wish fulfillment business. Okay. Rant over.”

(Taken from John Green’s Twitter page).

Putting aside the gross condescension in the tone of those tweets, let’s look at the general points Green is making. We’ve encountered his kind of reader policing before here. He actually seems to be contradicting himself here. Where he previously said "my job as a reader is to make the text in front of me into the best book it can possibly be", now he's preaching about how readers are doing it wrong. Very odd.

No interpretation of a book is wrong, as I’ve said before, a few exceptions aside. It is not Green’s place, Roth’s place, or anyone’s place to tell you, as a reader who probably put money down to purchase a book, how to read a book. When you study English literature, sometimes you’re told to take on a certain perspective when analysing a text. That’s standard academic fare. That doesn’t mean that everyone reading from, say, a post-feminist perspective will come to the same conclusions about a story. We don’t all think the same way. Literature, and indeed basic thought, doesn’t work that way.

No, a book doesn’t have an obligation to make people happy. A writer who specialises in character deaths for emotional payoff knows that all too well. The emotions of readers cannot be dictated, no matter how hard an author may try with their narrative choices. It’s possible to be happy about a book that makes you sad. There’s a certain catharsis in reading a depressing book. I love “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood and relish reading it but it doesn’t exactly make me gleeful. It’s also possible to be sad about a story having a happy ending because we have varying expectations of what a story should do. I haven’t read “Allegiant” and don’t plan to so I can’t attest to how the ending makes me feel or if it’s what I would want as a lover of Roth’s work. I trust her fans to make those decisions for themselves.

Green may not read “Divergent” as escapist, but many readers did. The advertising for the book was embedded in separating its readers into factions like the story so clearly there was an element of that in play when it came to selling the world. Some people like to escape into the grim. The “Song of Ice & Fire” series glories in the readers who do this. Some may just want to be spectators while others immerse themselves in fantasies of how they’d cope in Roth’s dystopian Chicago or Martin’s Westeros or even the world of “The Walking Dead”. It’s not up to anyone, especially third parties, to dictate what a reader wants from their experience.

As for readers feeling betrayed, that’s a more personal issue than I’m really qualified to discuss. Have I ever felt betrayed by a story? I’m not sure, to be honest. My dad has. He’s never quite gotten over the finale of “Lost”, something he sees as hack work that spit all over the fans who stuck with the show for all those weird and confusing years. His expectation as a viewer was that the creators would offer some answers and closure after six seasons of ambiguity. He didn’t get that and was understandably angry. When you invest so much time, energy and enthusiasm into a world like a six season show or a three book series, you want to feel as if it’s been worth it all. Experience and interpretation may be open but authorial responsibility is still a thing. I may dislike a book but that's not 100% down to my own experience. Sometimes a bad book is just a bad book and that's down to content, not my analysis.

That doesn’t mean we want wish fulfilment from everything we consume as purveyors of culture. Green’s little conclusion to his self-proclaimed rant is extremely insulting. The implication there is that readers just don’t “get” what those genius authors are trying to do because they’re doing reading “wrong”. No, they’re not. They’re doing it just fine. It’s’ the right of the reader to feel sad over a book, to get angry, to sob into their hands, to return it to the shop for a refund, to punch the air with joy, to scream with excitement, and to just mumble ‘meh’ before getting on with their lives, never to think about it again. None of these experiences is worth more than the others. They’re entirely equal. John Green doesn’t dictate how you read a book or how you react to it. He certainly doesn’t decide he knows how everyone looks at a piece of work based on his own pre-conceived notions about reading.

Reading is a personal experience that can also be a communal one, but what makes it so enjoyable is having the freedom to share your opinions and emotions. We can agree or disagree about interpretations. The thrill of the debate is half the reason I review books. Books aren’t primarily in the wish fulfilment business but if you want to imagine yourself being Dauntless, go right ahead. It’s your right as a reader. Your enjoyment of a book is not dictated by anyone.

Unless you think Lolita came onto Humbert, in which case you’re a numpty.


Rant over. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Review: A Swift Pure Cry by Siobhan Dowd

Goodreads  review, last updated June 14, 2011

How can I describe "A Swift Pure Cry"? Certainly not in terms that are often applied to books.

Ephemere.

Fragile.

Elegant.

Claustrophobic.

Beautiful.

This is the story of Shell, short for Michelle, a 16-year old girl who, in 1984, deals with the aftermath of her mother's death and the consequences of her father's drinking/religious awakening. She finds comfort in the friendship of a young pastor, Father Rose, not realizing that their interactions spike a scandal which rocks the community.

Reading the synopsis, I thought of lifetime movies and melodrama and angst (which shows just how much I know). It sets a backdrop for the reader - a devastated, poor family in an even more devastated, poor time, a dead mother, a drunk father, an eldest daughter who has to step up to the role of a caregiver and housekeeper much too soon. 

What I didn't expect was how personal the narrative felt. Shell's life is confined to the routine, from which she rarely finds reprieve. It's claustrophobic, stiffling, and very, very scary, seeing her fear, frustration, desperation, and feeling them for yourself. It's also full of vibrancy and color and hope, and that's why it's so wonderful when the ending reflects the positive, and not the negative.

Note: Image via Goodreads.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Calling all Torch Bearers

It's that time again!

We need you, Torch Bearers, so that we could give you the best Lantern content there is!

So tell us what you like. Tell us what you don't (but gently, okay?) What do you want to see more of? (reviews, interviews, deconstructions, op-ed posts? I'm especially curious whether you want me to continue deconstructing once I'm done with Bumped, and if so, what shall I tackle next?)

Also, we're always looking for guest posts / guest reviews, so if you have any ideas, do contact us so that we can get you on board.

I'd like us all to have many lively discussions here. So, if you know any topics which you'd like to talk about, or if you have any suggestions as to make our op-ed posts more interactive, do let us know.

Comment away!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

My Inner Producer is Facepalming - Can the 50 Shades Movie Succeed?

A Joint Post by Ceilidh & Christina.

Ceilidh: I was in the middle of recording a podcast when I found out Charlie Hunnam had dropped out of playing the role of Christian Grey in the much discussed "Fifty Shades of Grey" movie, and I would be lying if I said I didn't laugh. The jokes wrote themselves - he pulled out early, unlike Christian Grey, he freed himself from the chains of his contract, and so on. The official reason given for the actor's beautifully dodged career killing bullet is scheduling conflicts with his show, "Sons of Anarchy", but we can all safely assume that's a lie. Come on, that issue would have been dealt with when the deal was sorted out in the first place. The speculation has gone from the plausible - cold feet, worries over the script (which is now receiving a little doctoring from Patrick Marber, a man of genuine talent), worries over overtly eager fans - to the hilarious - late night pleading phone calls from Robert Pattinson. At the centre of this story has been one glaring topic that's become more and more of an issue:

Can this movie actually be a success? 

Christina: Before you say "yes, of course", consider the bombing of "Twilight" knock-offs, most recently "City of Bones". Audiences tire of formulas and pithy plots, and of course 50 Shades itself was derived from Twilight fanfiction. There's no denying the fact that there's no real story to be found here, which explains the early rumors that the movie version of 50 Shades would be an actual porno. Screenwriters who were courted to craft an actual story didn't make it a secret that the book (and the series) is rather lacking in plot.
 
So what do we have? Well, it's the "Fifty Shades Phenomenon". The marketing is unreal; parties, lingerie, toys, onesies for babies (don't get me started on that), you name it. It's basically all about what makes money, and of course studios are assuming that audiences will make this a hit at the box office.
 
What they seem to be forgetting is the increasingly strong backlash against 50 Shades. For those who cite it as anti-feminist, or romanticizing rape, there are those who also recognize the unbearably terrible writing. Plus there is the inevitable 50 Shades fatigue, if it's not happening already. Witness the "campaigns" from fans to keep beloved stars from signing on to this project. "Supernatural" fans have literally begged Jared Padelecki and Jensen Ackles not to portray Christian Grey on the big screen, and Emma Watson assured her Twitter followers (over ten million and counting) that she has no interest in playing Anastasia Steele. Her tweet denouncing the movie got over fifty thousand retweets.
 
In fact, the lineup of stars who have either turned down the movie or expressed outright disinterest (or disgust) at playing either of the top roles is a who's who of A listersUsually when a movie is being buzzed about, actors are duking it out to win the prized parts. Here it's like they're trying to dodge bullets. It's very telling.

Ceilidh: I think many actors, understandably so, fear the possibility of a "Showgirls" style backlash. Actually, the most accurate comparison to make here would be with the film adaptation of "Exit to Eden". There you have an Anne Rice erotica turned into a buddy cop movie with Rosie O'Donnell & Dan Ackroyd. Seriously. Actually that movie fascinates me for a number of reasons. I don't think E.L. James will allow anything like that to happen here but this is not the kind of project that screams star-maker for actors looking to further their profiles. It's too much of a national punchline for that. 

I am less optimistic about a flop than yourself, my dear friend. That's for a number of reasons.

One, it's a relatively low budget movie so recouping costs will be easier than say, "John Carter". It depends on how much they spend on marketing too.

Second, E.L. James made $95m last year. People bought those books and many of them liked it. Even if we assume that a big chunk of those purchases were from curious readers looking to understand the phenomenon, or even a few hate readers, that's still a big fanbase to contend with. The fact that over 80,000 people signed that petition to get Hunnam and Dakota Johnson off the project does show that there's still some power to that fanbase. The question is whether or not it'll stick around. The 50 Shades craze has already gone through the pop culture phenomenon stages far quicker than "Twilight" or Harry Potter did, although it's a totally different age group we're dealing with. 

Then there's a big issue that James and the studio are probably keen to avoid, but people like us just can't. This film will live in the shadow of Twilight. Not just because of its fan-fiction origins but because of the way it's being treated as a phenomenon. Just swap vampires for beatings and up the age group average a few years. Taylor-Johnson and the crew can work as hard as they want to make a truly unique product, even with the most derivative of source materials, but the fact is they're making a movie of fan-fiction. That still freaks me out.

Let's theorise for a moment, my friend. Say you're Sam Taylor-Johnson. How would you even begin to make this film?

Christina: Good god, what a horrible thought. I suppose I'd try to create interesting characters, to start with. I'd want to keep it sort of dark, but also self aware. I'd basically rewrite the story and only keep the names - so I guess you could say I'd write a fanfiction of 50 Shades in order to make it into a movie.
 
One thing to keep in mind, though, is that this is not the sort of movie that will attract fangirls. Sure, throes of TwiMoms and adult women will run squealing to the cinema, but are they the sort that will go back to see it again and again? Fanboys will do it for Batman, and teenage girls did it for Leo DiCaprio in "Titanic", but can anyone honestly see this happening here?
 
I truly believe this is a movie that will live or die by the reviews, and I'd imagine the critics are already sharpening their pencils.

Ceilidh: I think that's simplifying matters somewhat. "Titanic" was the biggest movie of all time when it was released and made by a prestigious director. Fangirls may have contributed a lot to the success of that film but they didn't single-handedly push it across the billion dollar box office mark. Same for the Nolan Batman movies. Women saw those films too, and in their droves. I know I did. 

There's still a small part of me that's hoping Taylor-Johnson manages to make a dark, psycho-sexual drama about a control freak with unlimited resources trying to trap a naive woman under the guise of love. Marber has a good background with less than romantic depictions of relationships. However, I doubt James would let that slide, although she does seem to have trouble differentiating between love and abuse so maybe they can slide it past her. 

I'm trying to think of a similar kind of movie that's done really well in the cinemas. They're going for an R rating, which means it'll be heavily sanitised in terms of the sexual content, in order to sell more tickets since an NC-17 is still an instant death for film. That does also open up the question as to what the hell they're going to pad out the story with. 50 Shades has basically no plot and is choppily edited thanks to its fan-fiction nature. Will they just shoehorn in the weird Mrs Robinson clichéd thriller whatever the hell that was plot from the later books or are they saving that for the sequels? 

There's an audience for good stories about relationships, and women do put their money down more for the things they like than men. That's why fandoms are such a driving force. I wonder if this movie will be critic proof in the same way that the Twilight films were. "The Mortal Instruments" was slaughtered by critics and flopped, but that also had to do with the fanbase being nowhere near as dedicated or large as expected. We know the fanbase is there but will they be motivated to go? 

I say yes but only to an extent. Every project has its dedicated fans who will shout it from the rooftops regardless of the wider public opinion. That's why I think the movie will also still happen and won't be shelved by the studio, as funny as that would be. However, I don't think it's going to meet its release date. That'll be pushed back at least once. 

Christina: I agree, and when it does open, I predict a strong opening weekend, then a lag in ticket sales, and maybe they'll make their money back with DVD/Blu-Ray sales and rentals. 

Since the marketing for 50 Shades has already been off the ground for some time now, what sort of marketing expansions will they do for the movie? Sure, the usual posters, maybe shirts with the cast on it, a re-release of the book with the movie poster as the cover, but what else? (Restrains self from making a joke about fast food and toys in happy meals.)

You'd be hard-pressed to make the argument that the public isn't already sick of everything 50 Shades, whether they're fans of the series or not. What hasn't been done in terms of marketing, and what will they do to hype the movie?

Ceilidh: Given the fact that an official line of 50 Shades sex toys already exists, I'd say the marketing opportunities for the film won't be far off that (oh the awkward hilarity of watching TV with your mum and seeing a TV ad for 50 Shades sex toys. I'm so glad my mum's reaction to that book's popularity was "Well that looks shite.") But I do think a lot of the promotional work will just be residual hype from the book. Remember when "The Mortal Instruments" tried to bank on the supposed "worldwide phenomenon" of the books? Ah, a classic. 

They can also use the "shock factor" that comes from a project like this. It's hardly going to be "Blue Valentine", a film that's heartbreakingly realistic in its depiction of a relationship, but whether we like it or not, the project still comes with an instant level of curiosity. The book series is still selling solidly and remains in the New York Times best-seller list. Clearly, there's still some interest for it somewhere, even if it is just to see what all the fuss is about. Granted, books are somewhat cheaper than cinema tickets these days so we'll have to wait to see if said curiosity will translate to ticket sales when more money is demanded.

I want to know if they're going to even attempt to make a serious film or if they're aware of how terrible the source material is and just want to rush out something quickly, which is clearly what the studio want. The best film-makers can improve upon mediocre source material. The film of "The Devil Wears Prada" is far more interesting, wittier and generally just a better project than its sloppy source material would demand, for example. Taylor-Johnson and Marber are undeniably talented but whether they'll be given the chance to stretch their creativity remains to be seen. 

I definitely won't be seeing the film in the cinema. Maybe it'll be a late night drinking rental for me to snarkily tweet along to, like I did with "Exit to Eden". The names swirling around to replace Hunnam include some guy from "The Borgias", the gorgeous Jamie Dornan and Clint Eastwood's son (which would make for an interesting pairing with Johnson if only for the stench of nepotism that would radiate from the screen). We'll just have to wait and see. 

And since I have no idea how to end this post properly, here's a picture of Charlie Hunnam with his top off.


Review: Boys Don't Cry by Malorie Blackman

I don't know what it is about Malorie Blackman's books, but they just have the weirdest timing.

As some of you might remember, her "Naughts and Crosses" series got a lot of limelight when another reverse racism book started making its rounds on the interwebs (yes, I'm talking about "Revealing Eden", thus ensuring that there isn't a single person on the former GR community that hasn't mentioned it.) 

Blackman is also, deservedly, the Waterstones' Children's Laureate for 2013-2015. I really hope this brings even more of her books to the light, because if they're all like this one, we're in for a huge treat.

And I have a feeling that "Boys Don't Cry" will definitely be making a comeback, or at least a splash.

Dante is our hero, and he and his family have been living pretty unhappy lives since the death of his mother. He, his father and his brother have been scraping by, and Dante has always been telling himself he'd go to university and live a better life. Things take an unexpected turn when an ex-girlfriend shows up on his doorstep with a baby. His baby. And then she does the "going for cigarettes" too. From then on, Dante's world is completely thrown off-kilter as he's forced to look after a baby.

Malorie Blackman definitely breaks new ground with this. Usually, if a YA book tackles teenage pregnancy, it's always the girls' points of view that are being explored. Rarely is the father center stage of the story, which I think is pretty unfortunate, as it is a pretty widespread fallacy that fathers don't have a big part in the raising of their children. (Wrong. So, so wrong.)

Another fallacy, at least in British society, is that young people are lazy layabouts who'd rather leech off the state than get a job or go into uni. Just a few weeks ago, the current Prime Minister announced his plans to take away all youth benefits, should he be reelected in 2015 - which is wrong on so many levels I can't even! - but the relevant thing is that he's getting a lot of support over it.

Why? The same reason why any populist measure ever taken, I guess.

I'd be pretty sad to see this happen - not least because, if someone picks this book up, they wouldn't know what "Job-seeker's Allowance" is and why is Dante so pissed about applying for one. (Early in the book, there is a scene where an older woman gives Dante Hell for being a teenage dad, and rants about how scum like him are the reasons she pays high taxes, or something like that. Dante gets angry that she automatically makes assumptions, but to be honest, even if she wasn't, approaching total strangers and attacking them over a personal decision would still not be okay.)

Dante's story is a scenario which, baby notwithstanding, is pretty common in GB - a young person has the drive and determination and desire to succeed, but is hampered by external circumstances. He's not the only one either. His brother Adam is also on the  receiving end of a lot of hate, over his sexual orientation.

Actually, even if teenage fatherhood isn't your cup of tea, this book is worth reading because of Adam's story. When I first started reading, I thought I had another case of "wise gay" character, in which a teen overcomes adversary with a smile on his face and serves as inspiration to others... yeah, no, that doesn't happen here. Adam does smile a lot, but as the story progresses, it becomes clear a smile isn't always enough.

And it's heart-breaking, not only to see someone being punished for being who they are, but also because the world's attitude towards those who get crushed by it. Don't let the bastards grind you down, but don't stir trouble either - whether you refuse to be ashamed of who you are, or you cave under pressure, you can't fucking win.

This is really the core of "Boys Don't Cry". Though on the surface it's a story about Dante's struggles with fatherhood, it's really a deep exploration of what it is to be a man and the expectations that your family and society heap upon you. It's about the fact that boys are raised to meet every expectation, tackle every challenge, without acknowledging their need for emotional support or being taught to give it readily. It's about the fact that, sometimes, the bastards do grind you down, and there's nothing shameful about it.

Really, the more I think about this story, the more I like it. Do give it a read - it lends itself to a lot more depth as the time goes by.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Cliches Explained Part Four: Dangerous Sexuality

There is no doubt about it: sex is scary.

It’s made to look scary by Victorians, who deemed all bodily functions as low and disgusting, and thus installed a sense of fear into society which lasts until present day. It’s made scary because we live in a society that both fetishizes sex and forbids it. It’s scary because, in popular culture, it objectifies one or both participants, or is used to install fear and squash rebellion in the hearts of females.

Or, in an extremely ironic turn of circumstances, sexual displays by females are treated as a horrible transgressions over the viewers. As if a female's sexuality is so terrifying, it must be bottled up. (see also: Women making men lose their common sense; also, Miley Cyrus.) 

We can see traces (or full-on incarnations) of these influences in YA, and they make for interesting stories when deployed carefully. But I’m not going to talk about either of them, not directly anyway. Instead, let’s look at the books that take the expression “vagina dentata” to its most logical symbolic extreme.

That’s right. Let’s talk about virginity = supernatural powers in YA.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Review: Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

Goodreads review, last updated April 04, 2012

Damn... I did not see that coming. No, not at all.

Kami Glass has lived in Sorry-in-the-Vale all her life. She's always been considered a bit of an outsider, due to her grandmother's foreign heritage and her own penchance to spend copious amounts of time with her imaginary friend. 

Only he is not so imaginary. When the Lynburns, a mysterious family that is more or less the lords of the Vale, return, one of the younger boys turns out not to be Jared - the boy Kami has talked to all her life, and who is, in fact, very taken with her. As the two of them uncover the secrets around the Lynburns and Sorry-in-the-Vale, they will have to figure a way to deal with this sudden change in their lives.

Okay, first of all, I read this book as an e-galley from the publishers. I don't know if that means that edits and copy-edits are done or not yet, but I'm pretty sure that the minor gripes I had with the writing would not be present in the finished version. 

I won't lie, I have a soft spot in my heart for SRB. Her characters always make me crack up, even if there is nothing to crack up about, and I love it how she takes the old cliches of the genre and turns them up on their heads. The bad boy who has a heart of gold is still a very bad boy. The inexplicable connection the two leads feel between each other has, in fact, an explenation, and it's not a pretty one. She also focuses a lot on the themes of family and friendship, rather than love. It's all very refreshing.

Kami in particular is a delightful heroine - proactive, funny and headstrong. She's not afraid to fight for her friends, and is fiercely protective of those she cares about, but she's also vulnerable and sweet and has her limits. I always like that about SRB's heroines, because they manage to stay true to themselves and they're adamant against accepting a relationship with anyone before they stand on equal ground.

That, however, leads me to a couple of minor gripes I have with the story. Pay attention, it's gripes , not problems. This is stuff about the book that wasn't problematic, per se, but made me really pause and reflect. 


Spoilers ahead!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Review: Every Day by David Levithan

Every day I am someone else.

I am myself – I know I am myself – but I am also someone else.
It has always been like this.

Each morning, A wakes up in a different body. There’s never any warning about who it will be, but A is used to that. Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.

And that’s fine – until A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with – every day . . .

"Every Day" is a very ambitious novel.

To be sure, we've had a lot of ambitious YA books in the last few years. It's a fertile ground to try out new concepts, especially during the dystopian wave of 2011, when various fascinating (and totalitarian) societies vied for our attention. The downfall of many of those books was, at least for me, the fact that they didn't go past the basic premise. 

"Every Day" is not set in a dystopia (or is it?) but it takes its premise and then does its best to explore it to the fullest extent. It takes a seemingly common story (Party 1 loves Party 2, Party 2 is in a relationship with Party 3, Party 1 thinks Party 3 is an asshole and tries to persuade Party 2 of that, Party 2 insists that it's more complicated, while Party 3 carries on like nothing's happening,) and then adds layers upon layers on it by playing with sex, gender, love, betrayal and all other kinds of fun stuff.

Disclaimer: I attended a talk by David Levithan prior to reading the book, where he discussed the themes of "Every Day" and what his intentions were while he was writing it. I may therefore be biased in my evaluation. (I also got an autograph on my copy, but that's beyond the point.)

Spoilers ahead.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Review: Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Goodreads review, last updated April 17, 2013

Government drafts genius child Andrew "Ender" Wiggin to defend against alien Buggers, but rejects sadistic brother Peter and beloved sister Valentine. In orbiting Battle School, rigorous military training, skill and natural leadership elevates boy to isolated position, respected by jealous rivals, pressured by teachers, afraid of invasion.

Ender’s game… Holy shit!

Like many other books that are advertised as “must reads” and “milestones in insert-genre-here”, I am veeeeery late for the party. You might say that it’s a good thing, since I’m neither viewing this book through the nostalgia goggles, nor am I personally conflicted about OSC and his… ahem… equality issues. In fact, my biggest concern going into this, was that I might enjoy it so much that I’d have another Brandon Sanderson on my hands.

Obviously, that was not the case. Dodged that bullet!

Fair warning: what’s going to follow is a spoilerific review of the first book in the Ender cycle. If you haven’t read it and would rather go in blind (although, personally, I didn’t care if the ending was spoiled for me,) then click off. If you just want the cliffnotes - it sucks. Kinda telling from the one-star rating. If you’re a fan and think I deserve to be pelted with rotten tomatoes for daring to dislike this work - well, I can’t really say anything about that, can I?

Anyway, got all that? Let’s get nit-picky!


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Review: Heart-Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne

A compelling, brutal and heart-breaking story about identity, infamy and revenge, from debut author Tanya Byrne. Shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger 2012.

They say I'm evil. 

The police. The newspapers. The girls from school who sigh on the six o'clock news and say they always knew there was something not quite right about me. 


And everyone believes it. Including you. 


But you don't know. You don't know who I used to be. Who I could have been.


Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever shake off my mistakes or if I'll just carry them around with me forever like a bunch of red balloons


Awaiting trial at Archway Young Offenders Institution, Emily Koll is going to tell her side of the story for the first time.


I said it once and I'll say it again - UK novels need more limelight. Is it the air here? For some reason or another nearly all stories from UK authors have managed to captivate me and hold my interest until the last page. And then I want to start on them again.

"Heart-Shaped Bruise" is Tanya Byrne's debut novel, and it has a fairly interesting story behind it, one which I had the pleasure of hearing at the Bath Children's Literature Festival. In my experience of writing and revising (and a lot of other people's, according to the Internet), a story undergoes a complete overhaul from first draft to print copy. In this case, however, the story remained the same. The thing that changed was the protagonist.

Emily Koll is not a very lovable person. She doesn't think of herself as very lovable, nor does she feel like she deserves to be loved. Over the course of the book, you may come to agree with her, or you may find yourself completely enthralled.

The latter happened to me. (Apparently, I'm not the only one either.)

Spoilers ahead.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Edit October 13, 2013: In retrospect, I'm really not sure why that book and I have the relationship that we do. That is to say, I know what pissed me off then, and I'm not about to dismiss my younger self's opinion because, to my younger self, it was justified.

But really, who cares anymore?

It was the best review I could have written in 2012. Now, nearly two years later, maybe I could do a better one. But until I get around to it, here it is in all of its former glory.

Goodreads review, last updated April 16, 2012

The first time I heard about The Fault In Our Stars was in a vlog by John Green, and my thoughts ran along the lines of: "Oh, new book. Nice. Might check it out of the library." And that's that. It wasn't until the early shipping fiasco and the subsequent blog posts that I really considered seeking the book out to see if it was worth all the hype it got .


Look, I like John Green alright, he has his own thing going on. And I admire him for creating a sense of community among nerds everywhere - it's not an easy feat, and it's nice to be made to feel great about who you are and what you do. But something bothered me about that vlog and the subsequent reactions of people to it. I didn't know what it was until last night... and I'll get to that in a minute.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Dear Self-Published Authors...

Hi there. How are you? I know we haven’t been on the best of terms lately. While I believe the self-publishing market has immense potential and has made publishing and the very idea of storytelling more democratic, the offerings I have read so far have left me feeling distinctly unimpressed. Some of this is down to my individual tastes being at odds with current market trends and some of this has been due to the quality of the material. We all have opinions and they’re seldom identical.

You are probably also aware of recent troubles in the blogging world with ties to self-published authors. From the catastrophic hate-fest of hypocrisy that is Stop The Goodreads Bullies to Lauren Pippa pulling her book from sale based on a 2 star review and blaming her lies about death threats on her PMS, it’s safe to say that things have been somewhat tense for us all. We’ve talked about these issues before on this site. I am featured on STGRB and described as being “pathetic” and a “monster”. It’s a blogging highlight for me, although I was extremely fortunate to have not been subjected to the stalking and harassment many other bloggers received from the site. I don’t want to kick up drama. I want to read books and start conversations, and a recent event involving another self-published author has led to this particular conversation.

After bursting onto the Amazon bestseller list in a matter of days, K.R. Caverly’s self-published debut “Shards Of Us” was pulled from publication. No trace of the book exists on Amazon and the author seems to have deleted all her online presence. I cannot for the life of me find any justification for why the author did this. Was it due to the many bad reviews the book received or did she pull it to sort out the heinous editing issues complained about in said reviews? Maybe we’ll find out in the future but for now, this cautionary tale leads me to the point I wish to make.

I am a reader. I am not your bloody editor.

When I buy a book, when I put my money down to make a purchase, I expect a certain level of quality. I don’t care if you are self-published or represented by the big six. Editing is a fundamental necessity of publishing. There is no excuse for rushing out your work and then expecting readers like me to pay for your unfiltered and unprepared first draft. I cannot imagine the naivety or arrogance required for anyone to think it’s acceptable for readers to be treated in such a way, much less the written word itself.

When a reader points out the lack of editing, that’s not bullying. That’s called criticism. They have every right to get angry about this too because they have certain expectations. Basic spell-checking and correct grammar isn’t a cute accessory to add to your story; it’s one of the foundations of your craft. If you as an author are honestly so offended by people pointing out your basic lack of care over your product then you’re probably in the wrong industry. If you pull your book to correct the mistakes then that’s a good step but you never should have published it in that state to begin with.

If you were to go onto Amazon and buy one of their special deal traditionally published books like “Life of Pi” or “Gone Girl” and found it to be littered with mistakes that distracted from the basic reading experience, you wouldn’t shrug and say “Eh, it was only 99c. Big deal.” You would wonder what on earth was going on and why anyone thought this was okay or in any way professional. The title of author comes with these basic guidelines. They’re not mandatory but they are common courtesy. You don’t get to treat your readers, your customers, as your editors. That’s not a privilege I particularly wish to pay for. Reviewers do not serve you. We don’t owe you good reviews, we don’t owe you editing tips, we owe you nothing.

I don’t know what Caverly is up to. Maybe one day she’ll return with a properly edited package. In the meantime, if she has decided that her product is not up to standards, then she owes everyone who bought the first draft of the book a refund. If she has pulled the novel due to the reviews then she just needs to grow up and understand the purpose of reviews. I hope that whatever you, self-published author, choose to do with your work in the future, that it will be dealt with in the appropriate manner. I truly love reading and reviewing books. I wouldn’t do it otherwise. Now go out there and dominate the market.

Sincerely,


Ceilidh and The Book Lantern. 

Clichés Explained Part Three: Welcome to the Club.

I don’t know a single book nerd who hasn’t allotted him or herself to a Hogwarts house. Either through an online quiz or Pottermore or just sheer geek instinct, everyone I know seems to have decided where the Sorting Hat would send them. I’m a Ravenclaw, thanks to Pottermore, and I’m thrilled with that.
Why am I thrilled with that? To be honest, it’s a bit hard to explain beyond simple fangirl joy. I like the basic code of Ravenclaw with its focus on intelligence and there’s something weirdly heart-warming about the idea of belonging to that house. It’s that heart-warming feeling that I think drives people to connect to stories like Harry Potter and others which contain similar kinds of faction systems, even when they don’t make a whole lot of sense.

Once again, we have another post in our clichés series that diverts its focus to Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” series. In a semi-dystopian Chicago, the city divides its citizens into 5 factions based on personality traits. In the first book, the heroine Tris originally belongs to Abnegation, the faction dedicated to selflessness, but after she discovers that her personality does not focus directly on one trait (seriously, that’s her special thing), she decides to join the Dauntless faction, where heroism and fearlessness is prized above all else.

The book’s ingenious marketing focused on the faction system and invited Facebook users to take tests to decide which faction they would belong to. It doesn’t matter that the entire concept of the factions makes little to no sense once you apply logic because the hook is there and it’s an undeniably appealing one.
For one, being sorted in such a manner, be it through your own choice or other means, creates an instant sense of community. There you have a pre-prepared group that caters to your needs and character, one full of like-minded people who stick together through a sense of loyalty. There’s a sense of understanding between members of the same groups. It just makes sense. We as human beings like the security and comfort that comes with communities. Even the most solitary of individuals can attest to the need for them, be it family, friends, colleagues, or those bound by common traits. We love fandoms because it’s a place where we feel like we belong.

With Harry Potter, the old school houses idea is taken to a further conclusion by the sorting as it essentially dictates the kind of person you will be and the perceptions people will have of you. Remember the final battle in Deathly Hallows? Basically every Slytherin is sent to the dungeon to stay out of the fight because of their house’s evil reputation (then again, if I were a Slytherin and my family were Slytherins and we’d spent generations being shunted by society and assumed to be evil, then this group comes along to befriend you and reassure you that it’s the world that has a problem, not you, I’d be miffed as well. I’d also want to sit out a battle where I could end up coming face to face with family, but that’s a tangent for another day.)

There’s another kind of security that comes with this kind of sorting, particularly of the magical kind where the person involved has no real say in the proceedings: it gives the audience an opportunity to judge. Stay away from the Slytherins because they’re all slimy racist dictator worshipping snobs, no exceptions. The Erudite faction is so obsessed with knowledge and intelligence, how evil! Granted, this is my two-dimensional summary and the authors did at least expand upon the stereotypes (haven’t read the “Divergent” sequel but people tell me “Insurgent” takes a big step away from the gross anti-intellectualism and violence fetishizing), but those generalisations still exist to some extent in canon. Wouldn’t it have made a huge difference to have even one or two Slytherins stand up and say “I’ll fight with you”? Even in the epilogue, Harry’s unfortunately named child frets over being sorted into Slytherin house – the evil reputation continues long after the death of Voldemort. Those kids still can’t catch a break!

The instant conflict created in the narrative by such divisions amongst the world’s citizens can be an excellent storytelling device. It can also be an incredibly lazy one. I come back to “Divergent” here because honestly, I have no idea how anyone can read that book, look at the factions and think “Sure, make sense”. Separating people based on one vague character trait, from selflessness to honesty to bravery? Leaving those who fail initiation into such a system to fester on the streets with no help whatsoever? Declaring that those who possess more than one of the five character traits to be dangerous divergent dissidents? And Chicago managed to survive with this system? It boggles my mind.

This is one of the big faults with the sorting system for me; it assumes that we as human beings are as simple as the authors decide we should be. Even the most two dimensional character doesn’t fit into such a small box. Tris, the book’s heroine, is pretty dull but to have her special ability be that she’s got more than one character trait is laughable. The fact that the factions system tests their citizens at a predetermined age after a lifetime of living in one faction, allots them to another and then lets them pick their own faction anyway makes no sense from either a storytelling point of view or the rules the book’s world has set out for itself. Never mind the fact that at 16, you have hardly decided what kind of person you’re going to be for the rest of your adolescence, much less the rest of your life. This also applies to Harry Potter, with sorting at 11, and don’t claim it’s excusable because “it’s magic”. Imagine being that age and being sorted into Slytherin, where the entire wizarding world now assumes that you’re a conniving worm with ties to magical terrorists and murderers. It would give you something of a complex, wouldn’t it?

What about those who are factionless? In what way does it make sense for a society seeking order to ignore those who do not pass their vague and nonsensical tests? The real story of that world is about those shoved to the fringes of society getting ready to lead a proper revolution.

Such elements are also tailor made for fandom. From the promotion of “Divergent” to the sorting of Pottermore, it practically opens the door for fans to group together. It’s an easy way to let a reader or viewer into your world in a relatable way.


I think this is a cliché that on its surface level is one of simple human needs. We don’t want to be alone, we don’t want to worry about being directionless in life. The security, the order, the warmth and the escapism of being in a Hogwarts house or a faction or any kind of group we allot ourselves to gives us comfort in a strange way. We know the owl’s never going to arrive and apologise for not turning up when we were 11, but it’s nice to dream.