Monday, 29 August 2016

Zoe Marriott Asks "Are Fairytales Feminist?"

I am delighted very much to welcome Zoe Marriott onto the blog, this fine Bank Holiday Monday!

As some of you know, Zoe is the author of The Name of the Blade trilogy (which I loved), Shadows on the Moon (which I know you guys adore!) and the upcoming Barefoot On the Wind (out this Thursday!). Now, Barefoot on the Wind is a reimaging of Beauty and the Beast set in the same fairy-tale Japan as Shadows on the Moon, but 500ish years prior.

Wet your appetite enough? No? Well, I cornered Zoe by email a few weeks back and asked her a bunch of questions and ideas over possible blog post, if she had time. And, because Barefoot On The Wind was sold to me as a feminist Beauty and the Beast, I asked if fairytales are feminist... And that's what got Zoe writing!

So, before I hand you to Zoe, I must thank her for taking time out of writing that book I REALLY want her to write for this post and Katarina from Walker Books for emailing me and going "Email Zoe. You know you want to..."


When the title of this post was mentioned to me, I found myself getting a little conflicted in my own mind for a minute. Can fairytales be Feminist, I asked myself? Or is this an unanswerable joke question, like whether Grumpy Cat has a Communist agenda?

Let’s just take a moment to remind ourselves what Feminism actually is – untainted by any of the wonky ideas that society may have about it, or any of the behaviour of individual people who reject or embrace the concept. It’s pretty easy:

“The advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.”

Basically, Feminism is the struggle to ensure that all the sexes (there are more than two, FYI, but that’s a whole ‘nother blogpost) have equal rights. A Feminist individual is someone who believes in equality for all sexes and hopefully works in whatever way they can to bring that about.  

So are fairytales Feminist?

They certainly depict a lot of highly sexist attitudes and Patriarchal societies. Though initially intended as contemporary, evolving narratives, having been written down and ‘finalised’ in Western Europe throughout the 18th and 19th century causes them to reflect those historical modes of living – when men wore trousers and girls wore skirts, and if they swapped at all it was for reasons of comedy or in order to preserve female virtue. They’re filled with a lot of ideals that woman are still fighting against, such as the diametrically opposed innocent damsels and wicked ambitious older woman, all desperately hoping to snag a man for the purposes of true love or true power. And there are an awful lot of young, aggressively heterosexual males rushing in to save the day... 

But Fairytales – at least, the earliest versions from which our current, sanitised, Disney incarnations first came – stretch right back to the time when humans were still figuring out what humans even were, when firelight was all that stood between us and the howl of creatures in the dark, and for all we knew a fairy, dragon or young God might be lurking around the next tree trunk any time we went out to cut wood for that fire. They contain archetypes, larger than life characters and quandaries which, while reflecting the politics which was prevalent when they were written down, rise above – or below – that in order to share essential truths about humans and their nature. 

What is love? What is goodness – and evil? What does it mean to be brave? How should we react to injustice? How can we better our own lives, and what are the risks if we try? What makes a monster? What is a hero?

Our individual interpretation of fairytales, the prejudices and perspectives we ourselves bring to these archetypal stories, are what make them either positive or negative. And individual interpretations can vary pretty much to infinity.

For instance, Cinderella may be a vacuous fool who wastes her one chance to escape the miserable drudgery of her life in order to attend a ball in a pretty dress – and lucks out because she happens to be young and lovely enough to catch the Prince’s eye.

OR... she might be a resolute and morally ambiguous young woman, who cunningly uses the ball to leverage her youth and beauty in order to gain the prince’s power for her own ends.

Beauty might be a passive, dutiful girl who allows herself to be sacrificed in order to save her father’s life, and eventually ends up bullied or emotionally blackmailed into marrying the monstrous being who imprisoned her – and lucked out because once he’s freed from his curse he’s not physically repulsive anymore (though his personality may be in question).

OR... she could be a ferocious young hunter who goes after the Beast of her own free will in order to destroy him and the curse, and who chooses instead to save him, in the end, because he has proven to her that despite his beastly exterior, he is truly worthy of love.

But even these ways of re-imagining our familiar fairytales – taken from my books Shadows on the Moon (Cinderella) and Barefoot on the Wind (Beauty and the Beast) – can be very controversial from a Feminist viewpoint. 

The recent Disney live-action Cinderella promoted itself with the motto ‘Have courage... and be kind’. You’d think this was a mild enough statement that no one would get cross about it, but you’d be wrong. Online, many people rose up against the idea that a young woman suffering under injustice and abuse from her family ought to care about being kind – surely survival would be the order of the day? ‘They’re encouraging young women to be weak!’ was the battle cry. ‘Don’t tell them to be kind, tell them to fight!’ 

But before anyone could blink, an equally strong counter-argument blew up, stating that kindness was a Feminist virtue, that striving for some kind of unrealistic butt-kicking ideal of femininity that eschewed goodness and kindness for macho ideals of ‘strength’ was ignoring the real struggles of real women who had survived – and might still be living with – abuse. ‘Living in a bad situation you can’t get out of isn’t weakness!’ these people declared.

Who’s right? Who knows! Both, most probably.

The fact is that, like magic itself, fairytales can be used for good or evil. 

So whether they are Feminist or not is, like most questions of story, down to the reader themselves to decide.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Demon Road Contest

Why, hello everyone! Thanks for popping along and yes, I have a contest for you guys. And I think you guys will love this contest.

With thanks to Paul at HarperCollins (thank you Paul), I was given the entire trilogy of Demon Road by Derek Landy to giveaway!

I know some of you guys LOVE this trilogy and are excited as heck over the third and final book, American Monsters. But those of you who haven't heard of this trilogy, this is a quick write-up. Amber Lamont is a normal sixteen year old. Till a shocking encounter reveals a dark family secret. After that, Amber ran. Killer cars, demonic bikers, undead serial killers, vampire, red skinned and horned demons - Amber's on the road to hell

So, contest time! The winner of this contest will win the entire trilogy! Book 1 & 2, Demon Road and Desolution, will be in paperback and the finale, American Monsters, will be in hardback. All with very shiny covers! 

Because of this, there can only be one winner and because the publisher is sending this, this contest is UK only (I swear, I will do an international contest before the year is out!)! The contest will close at midday this coming Sunday. The winner will be picked at and all you have to do is filling the form below! 

Good luck, and the may the odds ever be in your favour. 

Monday, 22 August 2016

How I Live Now - Some Discussion Points

As you guys should know, I chaired/moderate a YA Book Club this Saturday just gone for the Southbank Centre, as part of their Festival of Love (and hopefully, they will continue to do this in the future. They are some great books coming out in YA and in crossover that will be great to discuss - not just do we like the book or not, but on bigger subjects such as race, sex, gender identity, feminism, mental health, what it means to be human, etc). As you know, this month's book was How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. Now, I know most of you love this book and, if you have read my review yesterday, I strongly disliked it.

But what I found with this book (and last month's, I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson [review for I'll Give You The Sun is here and discussion points are here]) is that these books are rich with discussion! And because I am feeling kind, I thought I would, again, share some of my discussion points - yes, it's that bit at the end of some books that are super useful for books clubs.

Before I hand over some of my points, I just want to say thank you to the South Bank Centre for asking me to moderate the YA Book Club & the the people who came! Now, with that done, let's show some discussion!

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Book Review - How I Live Now

Yesterday, I was at the South Bank Centre, moderating the YA Book Club (as part of their Festival of Love) and we were chatting about How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. Now, I finished this last Sunday and am writing this on Monday (15th August) but posting this now as I didn't want my review/reactions to affect people's who turned up to the club.

Daisy has been sent from New York to England to live with cousins she's never met before. But as soon as she gets there, she feels a strong connection: she feels home. More home than in New York. Summer becomes an Eden... until the bombs are dropped in London and war come crashing into her and her cousins's lives...

I must state something before I go further. I know this is some of you guys's favourite book and it is held with high regard with readers all over the world. I get that and I respect that. But this is my opinion.

I struggled. Very badly with this book. I found it hard work, hard going and I know that, if I wasn't reading this for the South Bank's YA Book Club, I would have stop, put it down and picked up something else. I didn't click with this story or this writing style.

I'm not giving up on Meg Rosoff. I have Beck by Mal Peet, which Meg completed when Mal died. So I am going to try her again, but in a smaller dose. But I'm not sold on her or this story.

I have a lot of issues and problems.

I didn't click with the writing style till a good 50 pages in (and this is a novella of 200 pages so around 25% of the book was me going 'Ok, I need to find my groove"), and not much happened in these 50-odd pages. It was slow and it felt slow throughout (even though it shouldn't due to the events that unfold). Plus, maybe because of my work patterns one the past few weeks, but there were one or two times I nearly fell asleep while reading! That's not a good sign!

But the writing style, I believe, is very marmite. You will either love it or you will hate it. I know people who love Meg's writing style so if the book has a saving grace, it's this.

I had huge problems with Daisy, our narrator and other characters. There was one or two characters I warmed to, but everyone else, I had huge issues with. I disliked Daisy with a passion - I believe she was meant to be written this way. But in books like these, I need to root for my main characters. Even if I dislike them, I have to cheer them on. This wasn't the case with Daisy. I keep putting down the book, shaking my head and cursing her. At one point in the book, I threw the book on the sofa and cursed "You stupid [enter two swear words here]!", giving my other half a scare as I very rarely swear and treat books with little care. Plus, there is an aspect of Daisy I felt was handled very poorly.

Another huge issue I had was Edmond and his relationship with Daisy. I had HUGE problems with this. They are cousin - first cousins, FYI - and age wise, he's 14 and she's 15. But their relationship grossed me out. I was warned about their relationship and I went in open-minded, but nope. BIG FAT NOPE! I have cousins and the idea of me having a relationship like Daisy's and Edmond's upsets and creeps me out no end!

The book reminded me of a book I read YEARS ago called Tomorrow When The War Began by John Marsen, which I read back in 2011 (very early days of me book blogging! But if you feel brave, my review is here!). I remember liking it and I had books 2 and 3 at the time (not now, sadly), but I never continued with. Maybe I should go back... But these two books have very similar feels and ideas. However, I think I prefer Tomorrow When the War Began.

I know I sound like I am hating on this book. But I just didn't click with this story. It's just not my cuppa tea. I'm not saying you should avoid (I said that once. Not saying that again as I have grown and learnt better). If you want to read this, that's ok. Go for it! But if you don't want to read this, that's ok too. Every people is different and has different tastes, likes and dislikes.

And I just didn't like this. But I tried. And now, onwards to try another book!

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Dylan The Doctor Contest!

Another day, another blog tour! Today, welcome to my stop on the Dylan the Doctor tour!

For those of you curious, Dylan the Doctor is the first book in a new picture book series, following Dylan the stripy dog, exploring the world around him and having fun. Today, he's playing doctor, rushing around and looking after his friends - Purple Puss, Jolly Otter and Titchy Chick. But who will look after him when he gets tired?

Now, thanks to the lovely people at Faye Rogers PR and Scholastic UK, I have THREE copies to Dylan the Doctor to give away to you guys. So, CONTEST TIME!!!

For the chance to win a copy, all you have to do is fill in the form below. The contest is UK only (The publisher is sending these, not me. And I swear, I will do an international contest sooner or later! Not sure when but I WILL, YOU GUYS!!!). The contest will close on Sunday 21st August 2016 at 5pm so you need to get your skates on!

Good luck to you all who enter!!!

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Book Nerd Reactions - The Shondaland Edition

You guys have no idea how long I have been thinking about doing or trying to do this blog post. After the past few weeks of me either thinking/plotting/writing &/or wondering if I should write THAT blogpost because it's quite heavy and I want my blog to be light, fluffy and warm, I REALLY want to write a fun, silly post that will (probably) win me no prizes!

So, with the aid of shows I watch and love like Grey's Anatomy, Scandal (a show I really need to watch but scared will get VERY addicted to), The Catch and my fave of them all, How To Get Away With Murder, let me show vines of some of the things we Book Nerds go through...

So, let's get started...

When we first enter a bookshop/library and all the books call to us...

What we want to happen in a love triangle but never will (come on authors!)

What we say when our main character starts dating someone who doesn't respect them (and advice we should follow ourselves)...

When a new character comes on the scene and makes a move...

What we want a strong female character to say when a male character says "I only did it to protect you"...

When a plot twist we did/didn't see coming hits us...

Our reaction when a plan comes together/falls apart, both in spectacular fashion...

When a character is playing the victim and expected our sympathy...

When a character expects us to believe that they're telling the truth...

When we give that character one FINAL chance to not screw up again...

When we suddenly realise the truth!

When we need a snack while reading...

When characters won't do what we want them to...

When a character we hate is sickeningly happy...

When we realise that the character we're madly in love with isn't real...

When a character we love suddenly and without warning dies... 

"Trust me," says the author. "There won't be THAT many deaths in this book..."

When the author hurts us in the cruellest of ways...

When it just gets too much...

When we get a Happy Ending and we just aren't feeling it...

When people don't get why we read all the time...

When we read a book that we would NEVER admit to in the cold light of day...

What we hope authors say when we finish a total bore of a story...

When the fandom online is too much...!

When we return to library/bookshop for more books...

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

DNFing The Muse

Another day, another blog post about DNFing.

Like I said yesterday in my blog post about DNFing Sunny Side Up, I have wrote in the past that I am going to talk to you about stories that I DNF. Because it's important we're honest with each other over the fact that sometimes, we just don't click with some stories. Could be a number of reasons, could be one huge problem, but it's ok to say "This isn't working" and go onto another story.

And The Muse... it was a hard and easy decision to make. Will get to this in a tick.

The Muse, for those of you who are curious, follows the lives of two women. Odelle in 1975, struggling with living in London after leaving Trinidad and now working as a secretary for the mysterious Marjorie Quick. And Olive in 1936, stuck in rural Spain who gets caught up in her art and the lives of artist (and revolutionist) Issac and his half-sister...

I tried to get into this. I really tried. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, hence why I requested this for review. But something happened along the way...

A few days ago, I realised that I hadn't made any attempt in the past few days/weeks to listen to the audiobook. I listened to a chapter and realised why I had stop. Why I hadn't found myself rushing back to listen to what happened next with these characters.

I didn't care.

This, like most readers out there, is a big deal. I have to care about something within the story so I keep going. It can be a character, plot, a scene, a twist in the story. There has to be a hook that grabs me and keeps me.

And this didn't happened. I didn't care what happened next. So why should I keep listening to this audiobook if I don't care about the story, the characters, the what-happens-next?

Now, as I stated in the past, this is no one's fault. It's not the author's, not the publisher's, not me. It's no one's fault. I just didn't click with a story - it's ok. At least I tried! At least I attempted this story. Sometimes you click and other times, you don't. It happens. I'm not going to make myself feel guilty or ashamed for not finishing a story I didn't connect with. Like I don't feel guilty or ashamed for not liking that TV show/film.

Oh well... I didn't click with this book. Maybe I will with the next...

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

DNFing Sunny Side Up

In the past, I have said that when if/when I have to DNF a book/eBook/audiobook, I would write a tiny post about it and chat to you guys about it. It isn't a review, just me going "Hey guys, I tried to read/listen to this and I just didn't click".

This is mainly to show you guys that I do try and read new things. I might not finish, I might not like, but at least am trying to read new things. And let's chat about it.

So, with Sunny Side Up, it's going to be a bit different as I only read 3 chapters. That's 11% on my kindle as I requested this from NetGalley.

Why did I request this? I follow Holly on Twitter and I have always wanted to read Geek Girl, but been a bit scared to. So, when I saw this on NetGalley, I requested as a "Let me have a try!"

A novella taking place after the fourth book in the series, Sunny Side Up follows Harriet as she goes to Paris for Fashion Week. And as this is a special novella within the series, expect a lot of characters old and new to hit the catwalk.

So, why did I stop? I just didn't click. I think it all comes down to timing. In the past few weeks, I finished Eowyn Ivey's To The Bright Edge of the World (that took quite a while to read), Songs About A Girl by Chris Russell (which was a lot of fun) and then Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (which I enjoyed returning to this world, though I had one or two problems [and that's me putting it kindly]). So reading this just came out the wrong time.

Another thing on why I didn't connected is that this is story 4.5 in a long running series. I normally do this - jump into the middle of a series and am usually ok doing this - but this time, I wasn't prepared for Harriet. Harriet who caught me completely off guard. At any other time, I would really like Harriet, but trying to read her the past few days, I found her... a little bit irritating.

Now, like I have said before, sometimes you don't click with a story. That's ok. That's not your fault. You win some, you lose some. It's no one's fault. Not the author's, not yours. It just happens. I do want to try again with this series - start at the beginning, me thinks - but at the moment, not my cup of tea.