Friday, 18 April 2014

Review: A Hopeless Romantic by Harriet Evans

A Hopeless Romantic is a truthful tale about love and the myth of finding 'The One.' 

Laura is something of a love junkie. Or, she is a hopeless romantic, as the title suggests. Beyond all reason or common sense, she throws her heart and soul into every relationship, believing whatever man she is with at the time to be her soul mate or 'The One.' This leads to an number of heartbreaking situations, as Laura finds herself in an ill advised relationship that simply does not work. Eventually heartbroken, she swears off love and makes some important life discoveries. 

I read this one as it, and a number of titles by the same author, were loaned to me by a dear friend. I'm grateful of that, as it may not have been something that I would have discovered if I had been left to my own devices. While Laura was a little silly at times, I found her very easy to identify with. It was as pleasing as it was heartbreaking to watch her grow and gain new understandings about the nature of love, relationships and self-respect. Recommended.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

YA Heroines and Heros: Paradigms of Virtue?

A few weeks ago, I read and reviewed Rainbow Rowell's brilliant novel, Fangirl. To recap, the novel tells the story of a young woman who is utterly immersed in the fandom of a series of books. Cath loves the hero of the series, Simon Snow to the point where she owns a massive range of merchandise associated with the series and spends her evenings at home writing massively popular fan fiction about the character. Fangirl left me thinking about the relationship that YA readers often have with their characters. There is no denying that YA is a huge genre. And within that genre what is hot right now is Dystopian, with publishers and authors favouring trilogies or series, for example The Hunger Games or more recently, Divergent. There is also no denying that the novels leave the reader with a fascinating alternative realm to escape to. At the beginning the world is well, quite frankly, shithouse. The heroine has little or no control over her life and choices--in Allie Condie's Matched for example citizens cannot make even the most basic choices such as what they will eat, let alone major choices such as a career or who they will marry. To a reader who is at an age where they have spent most of their lives being controlled by their parents and yet know that major decisions will be thrust upon them very soon, such as careers and possible relationships, it is probably very easy for them to identify with the problems in this world. Some of these novels require a greater suspension of belief than others--for example citizens being segregated on the basis of their personality type--but suspension of such disbelief usually comes easily when one considers what the author is trying to do. Something usually happens early on that makes the heroine question the government or other ruling forces and she's soon off, somewhere between the ages of 15 and 19 and leading a rebellion before eventually overthrowing the corrupt government and marrying the man who stayed by her side the whole time. She lives on and leads a happy, virtuous life in a new society. 

Well, sometimes.

In October 2013 when Veronica Roth released the final novel in the Divergent series a certain segment of the fanbase was not happy. After many months of waiting for this book to be released, they discovered that Beatrice, or Tris, Prior was not getting her happy ending. There might be change in her society, but Tris and hero Tobias or Four would not be getting a white wedding. The reason? Tris Prior was dead. Tris Prior had killed herself to save humanity. And some readers were not happy. Within a day of Allegiant's release, a slew of angry reviews from supposed hardcore fans were coming in through the usual places--chiefly amazon and goodreads. Most, it seemed had either read of the heroine's death, or more alarmingly on goodreads some fans had heard about it from others and had decided to post a review on site with righteous proclamations that they would not be reading Allegiant. What these readers (or self-proclaimed non-readers) were unhappy about, deep down, I suspect, was the fact that the series did not end as they expected it to. It was an uncomfortable end. Tris makes a Christlike sacrifice but does not rise triumphant from the dead. The author created a character that readers loved and watched grow from a silently petulant, idealistic teenager to a mature young woman and then killed her off. It is reality. Sometimes the people you care about die.

And sometimes books don't turn out like you expect them to. Bennett Madison's September Girls (a book that is currently sitting on my to-read pile as of early March 2014,) features a romantic picture of a young couple kissing underwater. The plot, it appears, is a coming of age tale from the perspective of a teenage boy. From what little I have read so far, it appears to be a very honest perspective. The novel itself has attracted a huge debate on goodreads with some reviewers proclaiming that the book deserves no stars or that the narrative was poorly written and sexist. Also September Girls seems to fall victim to the culture of goodreads where an honest review can sometimes mean stating ones opinion in the pettiest way possible. 

I think the problem lies with the fact that September Girls is confronting. Teenage boys, even the best and most noble of ones, are not paradigms of virtue. What Maddison is trying to write about, I feel, is someone who is very human, with humanlike flaws and failings. Sam is not Edward Cullen. He's that kid in your Maths class you barely even noticed. Recently, I also wrote a review on Judy Blume's Forever after being surprised by a number of reviews on goodreads by a number of people who seemed to miss the moral of the story. Forever was a realistic book about two normal teenagers experiencing their first sexual relationship. The ending of their relationship sticks to the themes of realism by the pair simply growing apart and Katharine realising that Michael will be just one of many lovers that she will have in her lifetime. A number of the reviews judged each of the characters for their behaviour, including one passionate reviewer who claimed that they wanted to punch Michael in the face. Once again, I think the problem is that readers are being confronted with characters who are not perfect. Michael was never intended as a role model. He was just a normal kid with human quirks and faults. The reader isn't supposed to fall in love with him. The reader is supposed to watch his journey to adulthood, suffering highs and disappointments along the way. He and Kath are not people that you are meant to want to be, or to date, they are meant to represent real people. And lets be honest here. Some books are written in a way so that readers are supposed to imagine that they are the heroine and the hero is someone that they would like to fall in love with in real life. That's why Twilight gives Bella such a bland description, yet there are literally pages describing Edward--a man who can offer her a father figure, wealth and eternal youth, meaning that she never has to worry about her future. Real relationships do not work like that. And sometimes, writers want to write about things that are real, rather than worlds that are imagined. 

I guess, sometimes, that is hard to swallow. I suppose to some extent we would all like to think that if placed in the right circumstances we could be the virtuous heroine like Tris Prior. We like to think that we may have an equally virtuous true love. But reality and adulthood often work out quite differently. Sometimes, it is nice to sneak a glimpse into an alternate reality where every unfair thing is eventually accounted for and punished. Sometimes people do become heavily emotionally invested in their worlds, which brings me back to Cath from Fangirl. So much of her life becomes based around Simon Snow that she neglects to seek out new people and experiences until they eventually force themselves on her doorstep. She eventually grows up and begins to let other people and things into her life and for the first time, learns to write something other than Simon Snow fanfiction. The Simon Snow books remain a part of her life but she also learns to except the outside world, new friends and that her life will be filled with various disappointments and happy moments. Cath is a very realistic example I think of many of these young, enthusiastic readers who invest so heavily in their favourite series and characters. Lets hope that authors continue to challenge them with different material. And lets hope that they allow themselves to be challenged and to learn something from it. 

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Writers on Wendnesday: A.L. Butcher

Welcome back to Writers On Wednesday. This week I put my questions to A.L. Butcher, author of the fabulous The Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles ...

Tell me a bit about yourself …

Thanks, I am a British author of fantasy/fantasy romance, with two novels, and five anthology pieces to date. I also like to read – fantasy, classics, historical fiction, history, mystery, true crime, all sorts really. I like animals, especially monkeys, the theatre and watching movies.

Tell us about your most recently published book?

The latest is an anthology called Nine Heroes, it is a collection of heroic fantasy stories. My story is Just One Mistake – which follows a bard, and rather reluctant hero in his quest to please a shadowy employer and thwart a slaver. These are all original stories by some of the best new and established fantasy authors around. I am really proud to be part of that collection.

The other authors include Janet and Chris Morris, Walter Rhein, R.A McCandless, Tom Barczak, Teel James Glenn, Shane Porteous, Jesse Duckworth and Douglas R. Brown.

If we are talking about novels I’ll mention Book II of my series. The Shining Citadel follows the characters from Book I and introduces a couple of others. The characters find evidence of a lost elven city, missing for centuries, and move to seek it out. The society in which they live treats elves as slaves and magic is forbidden and so the ruling Order of Witch-Hunters would not be pleased. Dii (Dii’Athella) and Archos are both users of magic, Dii is an elf so to travel around and seek such a place is very dangerous. They are not even sure it is real, but the knowledge it holds may help to free an oppressed people.  Essentially it is the story of a journey, but it is not as simple as a journey of people from one area to another. It is also a journey of souls, of morals, of knowledge and discovery.

As writer, what has been your proudest achievement so far?

I think that would have to be when my mother held the first edition of my first novel. She had cancer, and only had a couple of months left at that point but I will never forget the look of pride on her face. She even managed to tell everyone she knew, and I mean everyone.

What books or writing projects are you currently working on, if anything?

Book III of my series, plus several anthology pieces which should appear later this year.

Which do you prefer? eBooks or Paper Books? Why?

To read? I usually buy e-books now, mainly because of cost and space but I do sometimes buy paperbacks. There is something wonderful about a book you can hold, a book which has some weight to it. I find history books easier to manage as print books, especially ones with maps or a lot of tables.

Aside from your own books, of course, what is one book that you feel everybody should read?

Oh gosh, just one? Schindler’s List. Many people will have seen the film, of course, but the book is even better. It is such a moving book, so full of sorrow and hope.

Finally … is there anything you would like to say to your readers in Adelaide, Australia?

Hello from the UK! It is a really great feeling to think that people all over the world are reading my books. E-books especially have become truly international.

Awesome Links:


Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Review: A Modern Day Sense and Sensibility by Kaitlin Saunders

Jane Austen, I suspect, would secretly be very pleased with this modern-day adaption of her classic novel, Sense and Sensibility. Author Kaitlin Saunders (who has previously written a modern-day adaption of Persuasion,) seamlessly moves the characters and settings from the classic novel to the United States and makes quite convincing arguments for the set up of the story--including most importantly how the Dashwood sisters lose their inheritance to their half brother and his conniving wife, who has been renamed Fancil in order to fit in with the novel's contemporary setting. Sanders cleverly follows the plot of Sense and Sensibility throughout the novel, while adapting it to present day America--in this narrative for example the Dashwood sisters find themselves living in a substandard apartment building in Oregon. Elinor, or Ellie, remains the sensible sister, Marianne remains fanciful. Love interests Edward, along with the caddish Willoughby remain in keeping with the original characters, while Colonel Brandon is now Brandon, a wealthy thirty-something hotel owner. 

Overall this one is a lot of fun and real treat for Austen fans who want to see a contemporary spin on their favourite tale. Recommended. 

PS Shout out to author Kaitlin Saunders for sending me a review copy of her work. 

Monday, 14 April 2014

Around Adelaide: Street Art

Kings Head Hotel, Sturt Street Entrance

In a recent, cheeky advertising campaign, the Kings Head Hotel decided to revive the old iconic SA Great logo from the 1980s on their specials board. Obviously, the weather had got to the sign a little bit by the time I walked by and photographed it, but the logo does stir up a few feelings of local pride and nostalgia ...

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Review: Allegiant by Veronica Roth

The third and final novel in Veronica Roth's Divergent series is a little quieter than its predecessors and a little lighter on the action, though it moves steadily toward a fitting conclusion, with a moral about what it truly means to be smart, selfless and brave, which are, of course, Tris Prior's three defining characteristics. A number of questions are answered, Tris leans more about the history of her home city and the surprising history of her mother, Natalie. The writing is of about the same standard of the two earlier books (could be better, could be worse,) though the narrative changes slightly with some chapters told from the perspective of Tobias/Four. 

And that is really it. After I finished reading, I found myself totally void of negative emotions as I placed the book on my desk and added a sticky note to the top, reminding myself to review the novel later on. There has been a lot of controversy surrounding Allegiant, particularly from those who read and reviewed the novel in the hours following its initial release, and I am going to be honest and admit that much of this makes me sad. The novel is by no means perfect and the whole thing about damaged genes and dividing people based on a personality traits is a bit silly if you stop and think about it, but that is where the whole concept of suspension of disbelief comes into play. This is where the author uses a grain of truth or realism to draw the reader in to a fantastic fictional world so that they will not immediately question some of the more improbable concepts within that world. Take for example the early MGM cartoons featuring Tom and Jerry. We had some shades of realism there. Tom was a cat and it was his job to keep the house free of mice. Jerry was the mouse and he had the task of outwitting the Tom so that he would not be killed and eaten. The cartoons then revolved around Jerry's hilarious attempts at outwitting Tom so that he would live to see another day. Many of the scenes were so funny, that it no longer mattered that Jerry could often lift something twenty times his own weight or that Tom seemed to escape situations unharmed were an ordinary house cat would have most certainly used up most of its nine lives. In the world of Divergent, the truth lives within the teenage heroine, Tris Prior. A suspension of disbelief is required to understand the world that she lives in. On the whole, Roth does a competent job of explaining the strange world in which Tris Prior lives. Consequently, her take on factions and genetics makes sense within the context of the novel. 

I found Allegiant to be a fitting end to a series that I found interesting, though not always as action-packed or as gripping as it could have been. If you liked the first two books, I recommend giving this one a chance and judging it for yourself. 

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Review: The Roots of Evil by Phillip Reeve

The Roots of Evil is the fourth in a year long series of eBooks released by Puffin in 2013 as a part of the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who celebrations. Each story was to feature a different incarnation of the Doctor, written by a different and well-established author of books for children and young adults. And despite catching this one rather late, I have to admit, this and the other stories prove to be one hell of a nostalgia trip for an old Whovian like myself. Consequently, I have decided to feature them all on here ...

The Doctor: The Fourth Doctor

The Companion: Leela

The Author: Phillip Reeve, author of Mortal Engines

My Review: The Fourth Doctor's outing sees himself and Leela being captured by a giant tree manufactured by a race whose entire philosophy is based around the presumption that the Doctor is bad and must be punished when they meet him again. This one was a bit lacking compared to some of the other tales, but still a fun read.