This week, we catch up on some of the new books we’ve been lucky enough to receive recently for review, as well as what we’ve been reading lately – and for once, we’ve both stuck to the rules and picked three books each! Continue reading “Podcast: New bookish arrivals”→
What can you do to make the world a better place? If you follow me on Twitter (I’m @magic_kitten – come and say hello!) you might have noticed me tweeting about #TeamNice. If you want to know all the details, head over to http://www.teamnicehq.com but – long story short – this was a hashtag inspired by a customised necklace and a desire to spread more positivity on social media, to counteract the outrage and keyboard warriors. This snowballed into a Month of Kindness throughout February, with a suggested ‘small act of kindness’ for each day of the month.
Those eagle-eyed people in the Hodder marketing department (who kindly had me pop in for a couple of weeks interning before Christmas) did spot the hashtag and have joined #TeamNice with a small act of kindness of their own. One Small Act of Kindness, the new novel from Lucy Dillon, will be published in April this year, but I was lucky enough to get a sneak peak while I was in the office. They’ve kindly provided a copy for me to give away here as we bring our Month of Kindness to a close. If you like the sound of it from my review, I’d love you to enter and become part of #TeamNice too! Continue reading “Review and #TeamNice Giveaway: One Small Act Of Kindness by Lucy Dillon”→
Lara’s life is far from perfect, but being an upbeat kind of person she saves her venting for her diary. It’s the only place she can let out her true feelings about the family dramas and hideous bullying she has to face every day. And then a shining light comes out of the darkness – the new, young and MALE teacher, Mr Jagger. The one person who takes Lara seriously and notices her potential. The one person who is kind to her. The one person who she falls madly and hopelessly in love with. The one person who can never love her back…can he?Continue reading “Review: Me & Mr J by Rachel McIntyre”→
NOT EVERY GIFT IS A BLESSING. Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite. But they don’t laugh. Melanie is a very special girl. Continue reading “Review: The Girl With All The Gifts by M J Carey”→
When Maxon met Sunny he was seven years, four months and eighteen days old. Or, he was 2693 rotations of the earth old. Maxon was different. Sunny was different. They were different together. Now, they are married, and Sunny wants, more than anything, to be ‘normal’. But her husband is on a NASA mission to the moon, and a meteor is heading his way. Sunny wishes Maxon would turn the rocket around and come straight home. It’s not an easy life being the wife of an astronaut, the daughter of a sick mother, the mother to an autistic son and a supportive ear to your friends. Nor is it easy to be a fragile human being, a million miles away from home and family, alone in the great dark emptiness of space.
At the opening of Shine Shine Shine, these are exactly the positions Sunny and Maxon find themselves in. Lydia Netzer’s prose is flowing and smooth, but also unusual; it’s full of simile and metaphor. We view the world through the eyes on Sunny and Maxon in turn, including the way in which their worries and neuroses warp their perception and therefore ours. So a crack in a wall by the pantry noticed by Sunny is deep and gaping, but then in fact is tiny and barely noticeable. When she visits her mother in hospital, although she is dying on the inside, Sunny puts that out of her mind, focussing on her external beauty, including the vines – tubes and wires – curling around her limbs and growing from her mouth.
I found this ‘making strange’ tech type really refreshing. Shine Shine Shine is a very fresh, atypical telling of what is really a universal story of love and families parted and reunited.
When it was published in 2005, Twilight was an instant sensation. Hundreds, no, thousands of teenage girls devoured the series, delighted by twin heroes Edward and Jacob, both driven to desperation and dangerous acts by their love for damsel-in-distress Bella Swan.
Throughout the novels, Bella is torn between vampire Cullen and werewolf Black; both would do anything for her. Edward pleads with Bella not to sacrifice her humanity to be with him, even going so far as abandoning her in the belief that she will be better off without him. As a result, she is pushed towards Jacob, who as a werewolf despises vampires in general, and Edward in particular, for the same reason – Bella may choose to lose her life in order to be with Edward.
Now, these things have a way of working themselves out in the end – and they do – but in the meantime, Stephanie Meyer had hit the jackpot. What teenage girl wouldn’t dream of two ardent, handsome and (mostly) virtuous young men competing for her favour? But there’s a problem here. What about Bella? What about her hopes and dreams for the future? What did she want to do when she left high school? Did she want to go to uni? Have a gap year? Travel? Have a career? Bella is supposed to be a relatively normal teenager, albeit a bit clumsy and strangely attractive to fantasy creatures, but she seems not to have thought about any of this. I realise, of course, that Meyer might not have felt this was particularly relevant amongst the whirlwind of danger and romance but I tend to disagree. As soon as Bella meets Edward, any thoughts of independent plans for the future go out the window. Edward actually tries to get her to think about these things but she brushes away his concerns. None of that matters any more.
What bothers me is that we’re left thinking it’s absolutely fine. She loves him. She’s completely mad about him. Without him, she is nothing. Her life would be meaningless if it were not for him. Without him, she might as well be dead. Hold on – let’s think about this for just a second. Where is Bella’s self-esteem?! Her view of her own value as a person depends entirely on Edward’s continuing affection for her. And even with all his protestations of love, she still doubts him – in New Moon, she suggests he’ll no longer want her when she’s old and wrinkly. Good grief, girl – get a grip! Just like airbrushed supermodels in fashion mags, this is an insidious sort of brainwashing: women, get yourself a man. Then you’ll be happy.
So, if Bella is no sort of suitable role model for teenage girls, could Katniss Everdeen be a preferable alternative? It seems odd at first glance to advocate someone who kills other children as part of a barbaric ritual intended to subjugate the plebs, but you can’t deny that, in Katniss, Suzanne Collins has created a much more rounded, balanced, flawed but self-aware character.
In The Hunger Games, Katniss is presented with a no-win situation: kill or be killed. it’s an impossible choice, because Katniss has a strong moral core. She knows right from wrong, she has known personal tragedy in her life so she knows what it’s like to lose someone. But equally, she values her life and will do what she has to in order to survive, so she can get back to her family. The only option left to her is to defend herself and kill where there is no other option. With the influence of Peeta, she develops, moving on from simply surviving to working as a team, caring for him as much as she can allow herself to, and realising she can make a difference by taking a stand against the disgusting voyeurism of the Games.
However, she’s not perfect. Having relied on herself to keep her family going for many years, Katniss is prickly, difficult and mistrustful. She can be shortsighted, impulsive and demanding, and is quick to lose her temper. She finds it nigh on impossible to be diplomatic at times, and thinks of herself before others. But Collins’ heroine differs in two very important respects from Bella Swan: firstly, she’s aware of her flaws, she feels bad about them and wants to change. Secondly, she’s aware of her strengths. Katniss is determined, independent and motivated, at times by anger, at times revenge and also love. She has talents – hunting, knowledge of nature, survival skills. She feels something for Gale, and also for Peeta, but those feelings neither define nor cripple her. And, she sees the alterations to her appearance when she’s readied for the Games – plucking, shaving, make-up, clothes – as at least to some extent strange, unnatural and unnecessary. Whenever she can, she wipes off the make-up and goes back to just being herself.
“I know which one of these young women I’d rather teenage girls admired and emulated”
More and more frequently, we hear of girls, and also boys, lacking in self-esteem as they’re pressured subconsciously, through advertising and images in mass media, towards fitting into what Society sees as acceptable forms of beauty. In that context, I know which one of these young women I’d rather teenage girls admired and emulated.