Monday, February 16, 2015

Finish It Feb 2015

It's February, which means it's time to put the TBR Double Dog Dare on hold and #FinishItFeb instead!

I loved being part of #FinishItFeb last year, even though it took me a couple more months to finish the Gemma Doyle trilogy than I'd intended. This year, I'm aiming reasonably high, and I want to finish three books from my 'currently reading' list, and one series.

The Series

I hadn't ever really considered reading Artemis Fowl until I became a Christmas temp at Waterstone's Bromley, and a couple of my colleagues (one in particular), enthused about it so much that I couldn't resist.

I've read the first two, and I really, really loved them. But somehow I never got around to reading the rest. I am planning to re-read the first two and then I will be continuing merrily on with this fantastic series.

The Three Books:

I have started reading The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp's guide to creativity, at least once before but lacked the determination to finish it. You see, it's one of those books with exercises. I am often halted by exercises. I started it again in January, and I really want to continue it as it's one of those lifechanging, really useful kind of guide books. I just have to get around to doing this particular exercise, and then I can move on...

I read most of The Bookshop Book last year and then stopped after interviewing the author. I don't want it to end! But I should finish it, so that I can put the dustjacket back on it, take it off my desk and find it a nice home on a shelf.

I don't know why I never finished reading Haunted by History: Poetry by Joan Anim-Addo, who taught on my undergrad degree programme. It's a poetry book. It's not very long. And I don't have to review it - I generally don't review poetry, though I might mention it in a vlog. If I finish it!

I talked about my #FinishItFeb plans in my last vlog, which you can see below:

Are you taking part in #FinishItFeb? Have you read any of these books?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Guest Post: In Defence of Female Characters, by Louisa Reid (UKYA Extravaganza Blog Tour)

Today as part of the UKYA Extravaganza blog tour, I have a guest post from Louisa Reid, author of Black Heart Blue and Lies Like Love:

In Defence of Female Characters

I read an article recently by a young author who believes that girls are being“betrayed” by YA fiction. Helena Coggan, whose novel Catalyst comes out in February (kudos and good luck!), states in an interview in The Guardian that there are three girl types in fiction for young people, she says: “I like to call them the ducklings. They are: 1) the ugly duckling who becomes acceptable to society; 2) the naive duckling who knows nothing about her world; and 3) the antisocial duckling, who is not socially able.” She bemoans the lack of "normal" girls in YA and I suppose feels that she has not found characters with whom she identifies within this genre.

This notion gave me pause for thought, and of course I wondered first about my own books, as most writers do, I expect, and to what extent my own writing is flawed and doing its audience a disservice.  My first narrator, Rebecca in Black Heart Blue, might be described by some as a classic type 1),  although to do so would be to be pretty insulting to anyone living with Treacher Collins Syndrome; her perceived "ugliness" is not simply a case of a fairytale cliche, and her story is not about being accepted by society but about finding freedom, justice and self-belief. Her sister Hephzi, could be type 2), I suppose, she is indeed naive and suffers hugely because of that naivety. Again, though, there is more to it than that; her naivety is not incidental to the plot but integral to it. Both her and Rebecca's isolation is a feature of the abuse and cruelty they've borne for their entire lives. My third female protagonist, Audrey in Lies Like Love, might be considered shy, and therefore type 3), but fundamentally she's strong and loyal and another victim of tragic circumstance.

I started to think of characters I've encountered who might be reduced to the duckling character types. And I'm still thinking. Maybe Helena and I haven't read the same books, but every time I consider a female character or narrator in a YA novel I've enjoyed, I find much to commend her beyond the representation of her appearance, her social anxiety or any anti-social tendencies.

Take Emma Pass' Jenna Strong in ACID, a book I've only just begun but one in which the female narrator is  clever, courageous and quite terrifyingly feisty. Or Elizabeth Wein's Maddie and Queenie from Code Name Verity; two young women who are defined by their friendship and loyalty and risk everything to aid the French Resistance.  Teri Terry's Kyla from her Slated series is another character who has her wits about her and is compellingly smart and brave, negotiating a world which seems out to get her at every turn. In Keris Stainton's Starring Kitty we find an ostensibly "normal" girl, but she has her problems too (who doesn't?!) and the book is a fabulous exploration of  how finding your identity takes courage and time.  Non Pratt's Trouble brings to life a realistic portrayal of teen pregnancy through her main character Hannah, who is by no means a cliche but is witty and brave and loving, despite being pretty normal too. Emma Haughton gives us another Hannah in Now You See Me, who, in dealing with the loss of both her friend and her mother, is an interesting and compelling character.  Eve Ainsworth's recently published 7 Days takes an heartbreaking look at bullying and insecurity via the perspectives of both the bullied and the bully. USYA is similarly varied. Characters I've loved recently are Jennifer Niven's Violet, Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor and Emily Murdoch's Carey. Nuanced, rounded, female protagonists whose essences are impossible to boil down.

Nevertheless, I'm sure that Helena Coggan has a point, her ducklings may exist as character types somewhere; it will be a sad day when authors don't listen to readers who are both their target audience and, extraordinarily, a fellow author to boot. But I wonder, even if I had found lots of duckling books in my snap survey would that really have been such a bad thing? What girl (or boy, for that matter) hasn't felt anxious about her appearance every now or then, or had to work at gaining self-confidence and self-belief?  Surely growing up most of us find the world to be a  strange and confusing place? That said, of course we need "normal"; there is room for every type of narrator  in YA fiction and the UKYA writers I've had the pleasure to read are doing a great job of representing girls and boys in all their infinite variety.

Thank you, Louisa. I'd love to know what you think about this "duckling" theory. Have you read and enjoyed the books mentioned in this post? Leave me a comment, and don't forget to check out the other blogs participating in the tour:

Monday, January 26, 2015

Book Review: Red Glove, by Holly Black

This book is the second in a trilogy and therefore this review will inevitably contain spoilers for the first book, White Cat.

I don't have any red gloves...

White Cat is a tough act to follow and I was worried that Red Glove wouldn't live up to its promises, especially as I began reading it immediately after.

In Red Glove Cassel becomes less isolated and more involved with the other characters' lives. He has another mystery that he needs to solve - to get federal agents off his back, but the story is also about his developing friendships with ? and Daneca, the changes in his family relationships after the revelations of White Cat, and of course his relationship with Lila, cursed to love him. He is also being courted by Lila's father, who wants to use his abilities for his own criminal ends.

I felt like the mystery was a little less compelling this time, even though I guessed parts of the reveal in White Cat and didn't guess what had happened in Red Glove. However, the new worldbuilding details that were revealed along with the developments in Cassel's relationships more than made up for it. I loved finding out about the politics of the world, about the campaigns to give curse workers more freedom and those to persecute them. I really want to know more about Daneca's mother.

It's difficult to go into much detail without bringing in spoilers, so I'll end by saying that if you enjoyed White Cat, you will very probably also enjoy Red Glove, so what are you waiting for?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Book Review: White Cat, by Holly Black

Cassel Sharpe, our narrator, is the youngest in his family of "curse workers" - magic users. But unlike his mother and brothers and grandfather, he doesn't have any powers of his own. He's an outsider, isolated from his family, but also from the rest of the world, brought up to be a conman, and hiding a very dark secret. He doesn't know how or why, but he killed his best friend, Lila. His brothers have told him how they found him and protected him. His secret is safe, even from himself.

Cassel goes to a boarding school where he runs a betting pool to earn the money he needs to keep up appearances and to give himself a role to play in the school's social life. But the whole charade, as well as Cassel, nearly comes tumbling down when he wakes one night on the roof of the school dorms, after a dream about a white cat. Forced to return to his family home, he slowly becomes aware that his brothers are still keeping secrets from him.

This is the second series by Holly Black that I've read. I had mixed feelings about the Modern Faerie Tale series, as you'll see if you check out my reviews of Tithe and Valiant. I found it difficult to empathise with Kaye's story in Tithe and found the pacing hard to get on with, but on the other hand I loved the worldbuilding and adored Valiant - it's one of my favourite books.

I think that a lot of readers tried Tithe and didn't like it, so they've never given Holly Black another chance, and that's why I hadn't heard a whole lot about White Cat before reading it.

But for me it was a must-read. What I loved most about the Modern Faerie Tales was that the teenaged characters seemed so real. They have messed-up families, and create powerful bonds with their friends. They do things that are morally dodgy. They are by turns selfish and selfless. Sometimes they run away from their problems, and other times they try desperately to put their wits to work and fix everything.

I was hoping to get more of the same with the Curse Workers series, and I was not the slightest bit disappointed.  I really, really loved this book. I loved it so much that a) I got the second book in this series and started reading it immediately afterwards and b) I lent my copy of White Cat to my boyfriend (he also really enjoyed it - it made his Best of 2014 Books list).

As much as I love the classic paranormal creatures, vampires, witches, fairies and the rest, it was totally refreshing to read about something new. The idea of 'curse workers' is brilliant and fits in so well with the criminal gangs that Cassel's family are involved with. I also loved that the story revolves around several mysteries - Cassel is the perfect narrator for this, observant and critical. The writing is very well balanced between action and exposition.

I did guess some elements of the big reveal, but that didn't stop me enjoying how it all played out and there were some parts that I didn't anticipate.

In short, White Cat is amazing, Holly Black is underrated, and you should go read it now.


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