Category Archives: Literature

Book Review: Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins

Warning:  spoilers for all three books ahead.  It might also help you appreciate this critique to know my thoughts on the rest of the trilogy:

Review:  The Hunger Games
Review:  Catching Fire

And so we come to an end on this, my journey into the much hyped and loved trilogy set to replace Twilight and Harry Potter as the youth franchise.  I am glad to have finally read the books, if only because I hate being spoilered for things and the internet was becoming a mine field in that regard.  That said, I don’t anticipate ever reading these books again, nor would I recommend them.  This will set me apart from the vast majority, but then again, there are millions of Twilight fans, so make of that what you will.

I had high hopes for Mockingjay after the improvement in Collins’ work in Catching Fire.  I wasn’t expecting to be blown away, but I did expect something enjoyable to pass the time while battling a cold.  Instead, I was delivered an increasingly implausible trainwreck that lost any semblance of its humanity and message, opting instead for shock value until the final twenty pages or so, at which point Collins seems to have went, “Oops!  Better wrap this up!” and jammed a conclusion in.

Mockingjay clarifies the ending events of Catching Fire for us:  namely, there was a vast allyship hidden from Peeta and Katniss, the goal of which was to yank a core group of Victors free from the Quell and begin the all-out rebellion against the Capitol.  Peeta is left behind, and has become the puppet of President Snow, urging for a ceasefire in official televised interviews, earning him the label of traitor.

Katniss, who is now “mentally disorganized”, lives with the survivors of the Quell and her decimated District in the “Surprise! Still here!” District 13, the key movers and shakers behind the rebellion.  To them, Katniss is a Propaganda Barbie for their video spots beaming throughout the Districts, a means of motivating the masses.  Katniss is much more fond of wallowing in self-pity and pining for Peeta (who she now gives a shit about), while toying further with Gale, who is gung-ho for the rebellion.  However, she spies a means of preventing Peeta from being executed for treason by District 13’s President Coin (Really, Collins? Coin?) and agrees to be their little Mockingjay to spare him.

The next half of the book is literally blah blah blah:  let’s film Katniss visiting people in hospitals and…. oh wait, an attack where she can shoot down hovercrafts!  Let’s take her to District 2 to chill while the Capitol stronghold there is seized and, oh wait, Katniss steps out into battle to be a star again.  Gale loves her, but she doesn’t seem to love anyone.  Instead, she loves being cared for and babied.  Some heroine.

Things get more ridiculous when Peeta is rescued and of course, he’s been brainwashed to want to murder Katniss.  This is Collins’ heavy-handed attempt to make the reader feel for Katniss, perhaps because she’s realized her heroine is indecisive, naive and has the personality of paste.  All it made me do was feel for Peeta, who is luckily brought around to his old self.

The one bright shining development for Katniss is her finally understanding what a cold, manipulative person she is, via overhearing an exchange between Peeta and Gale as to who she’ll choose to be with.  Between their agreeing that her choice will be based on who can keep her alive – not who has her love – and Peeta calling her out for being a cold bitch for her actions post-Games, it’s satisfying for her to feel bad for her behaviour.

Plot-wise, Collins is as predictable as ever, and just spends her time slaughtering as many characters as possible in order to wring sympathy for Katniss from us.  I’m wagering she believes she’s depicting the travesties and agonies of war, but it all comes off as overkill, particularly when she constantly “fades to black” mid-action and then quickly recaps the rest in the next chapter.  Things conveniently work out to ensure maximum bloodshed and as, usual, everyone just loves Katniss and wants to protect her.  Leading 8 people to certain death by lying about a mission?  These honey badgers don’t care, and it’s a good thing, since most of them die before Katniss ultimately fails anyway. Absolutely nothing surprised me, plot-wise:  it was the pessimism show, with non-stop dreary events and unhappy endings, couched in more blind devotion to protecting precious Katniss-Sue.

In fact, Katniss never has to make a decision on its own merits; she is always driven to one choice by default.  She can’t allow Peeta to die after saving her ass several times and breaking his heart, so she must choose to be the Mockingjay.  She really should know better than to help Coin seize power; that’s okay, she finds out Coin has royally betrayed her and killed her loved ones, the only thing that seems to trigger a human response from her – a move that requires massive suspension of disbelief when the key casualty is revealed.  Pick between the two evil Presidents?  Don’t bother; both will magically die.  Murderer?  No matter; some doctor will lie for you and get you off the hook.  As for her love life?  Gale turns cold, betrays her along with Coin, and Peeta is the only one who sticks around, anyway.

Speaking of her ending, it is the most rushed affair ever.  Collins literally ran out of pages and rammed everything in quickly.  The so-called epilogue is the coldest thing ever, as children are merely referred to as “the boy and girl”.  Did you run out of cute names?  How about Moughin and Kupkayke?

In the end, my gut instinct?  Collins blew her wad in Catching Fire and frankly, aside from the death of the Capitol, didn’t have the faintest clue of what she was doing with Mockingjay.  Weak, choppy plot, poor character development and deus ex machina out the wazoo sums up this final installment.

Rating:  2/5 stars

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Book Review: Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins

Warning:  heavy spoilers ahead, although I haven’t spoiled the final ending details.

Despite my lukewarm feelings about the first book of the trilogy, I’ve pushed ahead and am mostly glad for it.  Catching Fire is somewhat better paced than The Hunger Games in the front end, for starters.  The front half is a lot of talking and Katniss wavering in her feelings for her two suitors, but it is peppered with actual suspense and moments of dread, helping to buoy the tale along.  The Quell sequence is somehow not as action-packed as I’d expected, which is a bit of a downside, but is still more enjoyable than the Games for reasons I’ll elaborate on.  Overall, it serves as a good transition book, although it is still plagued by problems.

The book opens post-Games, with Katniss bemoaning her dreadful life.  Sure, she survived the Games with little actual blood on her hands.  Sure, she and her family now live in the Victors’ Village, wealthier than they’ve ever been.  She still hunts for the enjoyment of it, has Cinna covering her ass for the talent she should be developing in her plentiful spare time, and is generous to the people of her district.  But woe is Katniss, because she and Peeta barely talk (after she rejected him) and Gale’s busy being worked to death per customary Capitol oppression 6 days per week and is bitter about her macking on Peeta on TV.  Katniss is a foolish, oblivious young girl when it comes to matters of the heart, and it still detracts from and demolishes the “strong heroine” label people wish to thrust upon her.  Collins still doesn’t sell it well, and I’m still not buying it.

The Victory Tour – wherein the winner of the Games is paraded around like a show pony – begins with an ominous visit from the Capitol’s President, who basically calls Katniss out on her bullshit, tells her she was rebellious in her berry-actions that spared both her and Peeta, and says, “Convince me you love him or I kill you and all your loved ones.  Ta-ta!”  In true good and perfect Katniss form, she has been oblivious to how her manipulation at the end of the Games was a great big FU to the Capitol, sighing about only wanting to spare Peeta.

Katniss soon wakes up on tour as she begins to understand the rebellion that is beginning, of which she is a symbol, and it is here that we finally begin to see signs of the heroine she’s been trumpeted to be.  In celebrating boldly in the face of President Snow despite the message that she has failed to convince him and stop the rebellion, she demonstrates a comfort – a sense that being the enemy of Snow is far preferable than being the puppet that pleases him.  As rules become stricter within the Districts, Katniss starts fighting back in her own ways.  She is finally a girl on fire.

As for her love life…. Ugh.  Frankly, I agree wholeheartedly with Haymitch when he says she could never deserve Peeta.  She doesn’t, nor does she deserve Gale.  Let’s look at it thus:  Gale has spent years as her companion, so blatantly in love with her it hurts, yet Katniss has been so blind, she cannot see it, nor does she truly grasp why Gale might be annoyed with her PG-13 TV relationship until he points out that hello, he loves her…. to which she says, “I know.”  Wow, Katniss!  Peeta, having bared his heart on TV and bought into the Katniss act during the Games, is understandably pissed when he realizes she feels very different.  And yet, when Katniss is under duress on the tour, who’s sleeping beside her to soothe her?  Peeta, the ever faithful and loyal.  Once again, his genuine feelings and desires are manipulated into an act for the Capitol – and Katniss’ selfish benefit.

But it grows worse:  Gale is badly injured, and so she spends the night kissing him and realizing that gosh, I love this guy!  I do!  But mere days later, she begs Peeta to hold her until she sleeps, because she misses the contact.  She vows to die to save him in the Quell.  Katniss cannot make up her damn mind.  She has no idea what true love is, even at the end of this book.  It’s tiresome and grating, and she’s such a selfish prat that I can’t empathize with her.  Instead, I want to crawl into Peeta’s head.

Once again, everything works out perfectly for Katniss, without her lifting a real finger, because she is special and good and needed alive.  Blech.  Everyone risks everything for her, and she is incapable of the proper loving thanks, so why does anyone bother?  I call Mary Sue again on this character.  She’s tiresome, and were the plot and supporting characters not so fun and the books not so short, I couldn’t be arsed to finish the trilogy.

Speaking of the Quell…  I only half-bought that plot device.  It seemed far too convenient.  Far too dramatic and truly a “must top myself” moment.  I went with it, but spent the entire time rolling my eyes at the device.  It seemed counter-intuitive to the Capitol’s goals to suppress and silence all rumblings of rebellion in the Districts, and I think that is what bothered me most: it handed the Districts a reason to fight, ever so conveniently.  On the flip-side, the sequence didn’t drone on and on about Katniss kissing Peeta and BS’ing a relationship, and focused more on actual action and strategy, so that was a huge plus this time around.  I also liked the other contestants far more, given my ability to get to know most of them via the narrative.

Oh, and the pregnancy BS?  Really?  I simultaneously loved Peeta for it, and hate Collins, because it was so easily disproven. The Capitol easily could have done a blood test on her but oh ho, they don’t, just so they can get away with it… for now…

In spite of all these issues, I still rank this book pretty highly.  It’s snappy, breezy and does bring great action and drama.  The key is to take it as it is:  YA fiction meant to set-up a final book while appealing to teenagers.  Embrace it as a fun vacation/transit read, and it’s worth the time.

Rating:  4/5 stars

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Book Review: The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

Warning:  review contains some spoilers, albeit mostly minor/well-known in media

As with several “it” series/books, I’ve jumped in rather late in the game with this one. It may be partly due to tremendous hype, but I was somewhat underwhelmed by The Hunger Games. The overall plot was enjoyable, albeit very much a copy of Battle Royale, and the characters likable to a degree.

However, the writing is only above par for YA fiction – nothing stellar like JK Rowling‘s work, and the plot veers into unbelievably convenient territory that feels a bit Mary Sue to me.The first 100-something pages are dull and drag, don’t fully engage the reader and don’t enthrall.  The prose is too sparse, Katniss’ narration too repetitive and simplistic to really care about her.  The book picks up once the games begin, but even then, it’s a problematic novel.

Essentially, The Hunger Games is Battle Royale meets a more intelligent Twilight, with a main character that is superficially strong, but immature beneath. Granted yes, Katniss is a teenager thrust into a terrifying reality, but she is also one who has been the true parent of her home for years now, and the contradictory maturity expressed in her opening scenes and the immaturity with which she handles her ridiculous love triangle clashes horridly.

I found Katniss as a narrator to be grating and verging on a Mary Sue.  For those unfamiliar with the term, a Mary Sue in fanfiction or writing is a character that is usually a self-insert of the author.  Said character is perfect, adored, saves the day and infallibly gets the hot guy as well.  Although uncommon in published fiction, it certainly happens:  see Bella, of Twilight.  While I don’t believe Katniss is Collins, she is unbelievable as a character.  How noble of her to save her family from starvation!  How incredible of her to offer to take her sister’s place!

Had it stopped here, I would have bought into her as a strong woman. But no:  Katniss is also loved by two different guys, who she remains oblivious to in true eye-batting fashion, is uninterested in dressing up for the pre-games interviews yet is adored! and beautiful!  and memorable! in her pretty, pretty dress.  Tee hee, she almost enjoys it!  There’s also the fact that at least twice, Katniss is conveniently spared during a “kill or be killed” scenario, and why? Because she is so GOOD and KIND and PERFECT that people give her a pass or want to be her ally. I just couldn’t buy it. I also couldn’t fathom why, if Katniss is meant to be a strong female – a truly strong female – that she needed to be “spared” to survive. Why couldn’t she just kick ass, fire arrows and claim lives?

The only character I truly loved was Rue, and well… she doesn’t make it. A shame. Peeta is manipulative and grating, and I haven’t seen enough of Gale to care. Haymitch is a subtle misogynist. Oh, wait: I liked Cinna a hell of a lot. Two characters, then.

It was all rather disappointing, and the sexual exploitation by men disturbing. A kiss equals a pot of broth? Is that the going rate for child escorts in Panem? Why is it up to Katniss to put out or die? Also, did Collins have to shove it down our throats constantly?  We get it, alright?

The ending also felt ridiculous, as if Collins wrote herself into a corner and couldn’t figure out how to make the final showdown happen. She played Gamemaker and went for the absurd. I rolled my eyes and frankly, pictured the wolves of Twilight. Not a positive.

Is it better than Twilight? Absolutely, but that’s not a stunning achievement. Harry Potter spins circles around The Hunger Games, though, and it too is a tale of children and teens coping with things far beyond their maturity. The difference is in the realistic characters. Harry is fallible. His friends are fallible. They suffer for their mistakes. Katniss gets by on a smile and simply because it’s convenient for Collins to write a trilogy.

Katniss is no Buffy Summers, that’s for sure, and it’s a shame, because in the right author’s hands, she could have been.

Rating:  3.5/5 stars

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Beyond Twilight: Victimization of Women in Twilight Fanfiction

True story: I’ve written Twilight fanfiction.

I am the first in line to criticize the plot, characterizations and anti-feminist nature of Twilight.  I read the books while bored working in security, and treat the movies as a soap opera akin to Passions, creating drinking games for home viewings.  I’m far more enamoured with Alice than Edward.  It was my love of Alice – and anger at how Meyer shortchanged the character’s back-story – that led to my first fanfiction in the fandom.  This in turn led to a random midnight musing of “What if the characters were in Empire Records?” and then, a one-shot that blew up to become an intricate examination of mental illness, and ultimately a revival of my original fiction writing.

You see, many fanfiction writers create their stories as a means of testing their skills, toying with a plot idea in a way that yields ample feedback, or simply amusing self and others “in on the joke”.  I read fanfiction from multiple fandoms because I appreciate a good tale in any form.  There are true talents in the fanfiction world, and I wish them well in original pursuits.

In discussing fanfiction based on Twilight as of late, a somewhat disturbing trend emerged that sparked a broader discussion.  Specifically, several of us commented on the now-prominent trope of “Victim-ella”:  a Bella that is battered/abused/raped as a key plot feature.  Why the rampant storylines of this nature, we wondered.  Were writers channeling their personal experiences, going for shock value, or romanticizing violence against women?

For me, to understand the phenomenon, there are two angles to appreciate.  First, the canon story and characters of Meyer’s series are a breeding ground for victims.  Consider the Cullen women and their back-stories:  Rosalie Hale is gang-raped and left for dead when Carlisle finds her and turns her; Alice Brandon is committed to an asylum, abandoned by her family after realizing her father has hired an assassin to kill her, and stalked by James; Esme Evenson is beaten by her husband, and eventually attempts suicide when her infant child dies.  Happy beginnings, huh?

As for Bella Swan, she is nearly gang-raped (rescued by Edward in Port Angeles), stalked and nearly killed by James (again rescued by Edward), must become a vampire or be killed by the Volturi, deals with Jacob forcing his advances on her (with her father congratulating him for going for her), is stalked by an army of baby vampires and a vengeful Victoria, and is the key player in a war bent on killing her daughter and imprisoning her and her family.  Did I mention the fact that Edward creeps her, makes her decisions for her, leaves her to protect her and manipulates her friendships and relationships?  I mean, he offers Jacob as a sexy baby-making playmate to convince her to abort Nessie!

At the same time, Bella has an unhealthy approach to their relationship. Edward is her life, period. She has no real interests or hobbies outside of him once she has him. Until she’s pregnant, she truly orbits him like Renee says. Her self-worth is tied into him loving her. Even at their wedding, Tanya makes her insecure, even though anyone with a brain can see Edward’s sole focus is Bella.

Is it any wonder then, given this canon, that All-Human (AH) Alternate-Universe (AU) fanfiction often spins off into the realm of violence against women?  With that foundation, it’s no wonder that inexperienced fic writers – fans who simply have a whim of an idea and write it, figuring “anyone can do it” – will step in and create stories with Bella as a damsel in distress, escalating it further and further to the point where raped/beaten Bella is the norm. They continue to up the ante, exaggerating the core canon.  I’m not immune to this, either: in one of my own AU-AH stories, Alice and Rosalie are survivors of sexual violence and deal with alcoholic parents; in another, Bella is struck by angry men in one scene.  It’s not difficult to conceive of these female characters in peril precisely because each and every one has been in dire circumstances with devastating psychological effects.

The other angle to consider is the main demographic of fanfiction authors:  women, 18-45 years of age.  Given the statistics on violence against women, it is no wonder that women craft these stories.  Many are, indeed, drawing from real life.  Be it a cruel boyfriend or an abusive husband, a large percentage of women behind the computer screen are coping with their own pain.

But here I’d like to draw the distinction between Victim and Survivor:  while a Survivor storyline traces the healing trajectory and has the character emerge stronger than ever, a Victim storyline centres either on the Damsel-In-Distress motif that’s been a constant for centuries, where only a man can save her and “fix her” with his love, or worse, it veers into Victim-As-Titillation, where rape and abuse are sexualized, romanticized and condoned, as our heroine “redeems” the Big Bad Man and lives Stockholm-Swooning Ever After.

These latter stories are the disturbing ones for me.  They perpetuate dangerous beliefs about relationships and what women should tolerate, and also insult those who have endured violence by minimizing their trauma/making it romantic.  Sadly, this is nothing new, particularly in crime thrillers and suspense stories:  women in danger are “sexy” and sell.  Men in danger, whimpering and begging, are an affront to our internalized notions of masculinity and femininity.  Male readers dismiss them as weak and uninteresting, not worth saving via identification with the usually male hero; women cannot relate to their struggle and vulnerability, because it is women who are faced with danger so often in their lives.  Men have privilege, and thus, we cannot sink into a world of men in peril.  We can also look to the media and tabloids, finding a culture of women needing to be saved. Rihanna and Chris Brown. Whitney and Bobby Brown. Mel Gibson and Oksana Grigorieva.  “The beat(ing) goes on…”

Even the strongest heroines fall prey to old themes:  in season six of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Spike attempts to rape Buffy, proclaiming she loves him and will remember when she feels him inside her; in season seven, he is granted his soul and magically, through self-mutilation and pitiable demeanor, Buffy suddenly forgives, forgets, entrusts him with her sister and, in a way, loves him at last.  In Veronica Mars, Veronica is nearly killed, raped and ridiculed for it, and puts up with psychologically unhealthy relationships with men – one of whom (her big love of the series) threatens her, controls her, then sleeps with the woman who roofied her.

Hell, even Disney trains young girls to have a dysfunctional view of love. Beauty and the Beast is one of my favourites, but seriously consider what’s going on: he threatens her, holds her hostage, threatens to starve her if she doesn’t obey… and she loves him anyway. The Little Mermaid? Gives up her voice and whole world for a stranger who’s cute.  It’s a tale as old as time all right, Mrs. Potts.

Bringing us back to the fandom at hand, I took a wander through past reads on Twilighted, a site dedicated to fanfiction for the Saga that is “well-written”.  In examining Twilight fanfiction, I present a few summaries of stories involving violence against women in the fandom – healthy and dysfunctional.  This list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a taste of what is out there, provoking ire and concern.  In fairness, I’ll stick to completed or actively updating stories as much as possible.

In alphabetical order:

Beautiful Hitchhiker by emarroquin: In the opening chapter, Bella has James demanding sex from her in exchange for a lift in his car, Bella refusing and being assaulted, and in swoops Edward (a stranger) to pick her up from the side of the road.  Despite the terrors of James and his knife and gun, Bella is screwing Edward in his car within the first few chapters, and they’re going at it non-stop throughout.  In between, James and his serial killer/rapist partner stalk them etc.  Oh yes, and they have a LOT of sex.

Break Even by TwiStar_Junkie:  Another Bella in peril story, this one sees Bella tolerating beatings from James, her husband, for years, even as Edward picks up the pieces and cleans wounds.  She tells him she’s pregnant and is beaten beyond anything before, and finally leaves him.  Edward the rescuer engages, offering to raise the baby as his, move her in, etc. – as her best friend.  He hasn’t revealed he’s in love with her, and she hasn’t revealed her love.  That’s somewhat grating (and years of standing by respecting her decision to stay with him is hard to appreciate if you’re in love) but at least the emotional healing work is realistic and the love affair sweet.

Could Be Worse, Right? by Savage:  In answer to the question posited by the title:  not really.  A tale of human trafficking, Edward purchases Bella as a sex slave, treats her as awful as that entails… and well, this scene happens and rage ensues:

I still didn’t understand her reasoning, and as much as that part of me wanted to just say “fuck it” and go with whatever the hell was happening here, there was the other, albeit smaller part that wanted answers.  Needed answers.  As much as it was physically painful to do so, I pulled back from her, kissing her lips softly just a couple more times before I looked into her eyes.
“Why?” I asked softly, just trying to make some kind of sense out of any of this, and figuring it was a hopeless task.  I knew why I wanted her – it was far too obvious – but I didn’t understand why she wanted me.   Not at all.
“Why what?”
“Why…how can you…want this?”
The backs of her fingers brushed my cheekbone.  She brought her mouth back to touch me briefly, gently running her lips over mine.  I let my hand glide down her side until it rested on her hip.
“Because I can see the man inside of you,” she whispered back.  “He’s not what he tries to show everyone else.  He’s not even what he thinks he is.  He wasn’t trying to do anything…evil.”
Even as I kissed her again, I didn’t believe her.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” I said with my lips still against hers.  “I can’t make up for what I’ve done to you.”
“But you have tried,” she responded.  Her fingers twisted into my hair and she pulled me hard against her mouth.  I felt her tongue on my lips, and I welcomed it…craved it…longed for it.
I would never be able to refuse her again.  It just wouldn’t be possible.
“I know what you really wanted,” she told me.
I felt that lump in my throat again.
“I wanted sex.”
“No, you didn’t, Edward,” she corrected me.  “That’s not what you wanted at all.”
“It isn’t?”
She slowly shook her head from one side to the other.
“You wanted someone to stay with you,” she said.  “You wanted someone you could trust – who you knew wouldn’t leave.  That’s not a bad thing to want, Edward.  You just didn’t know how to find that without doing something stupid.”

Fridays At Noon by followstrouble1017:  Classify this one under “tolerates abuse far too much”:  Edward is a rich, controlling asshole.  Bella is his waitress at a posh restaurant, where he treats her like garbage.  When she retorts, he’s turned on.  He pushes his way into her life, refuses to respect her opinions on accepting his money, keeps secrets but demands she tolerate his boorish behaviour… and she does.  Even when she’s in danger of being killed out of spite towards Edward by James.  There’s far too much “I can fix him” tolerance here to be healthy.

Love and Obsession by michelly: The entire plot of this one centres on Bella’s abusive relationship with James, who is also an Italian mobster’s relative, Edward rescuing her (along with her entire family) after she finally admits everything (she’s knocked up and said abusive love affair has been completely secret), and then makes stupid mistakes in Bella fashion to “spare” everyone else’s lives.  Grows more confabulated by the chapter towards the end.  I blame canon for this one.  That and apparently blind family and friends for not noticing months of relationship including sex in a room down the hall.

Mental by MaraPore321:  Not updating often, but worth noting if only for how disturbing it is.  Amplifying the canon notion of deadly Edward and enraptured Bella, the story takes place in a mental hospital.  Edward is confined for the murder of 14 women, at the behest of a voice in his head.  Bella, a new employee at the hospital, quickly becomes the object of Edward’s affections, even as the voice wishes her dead.  Edward beats an orderly who sexually harasses Bella; she swoons despite herself.  Edward orders her to say she belongs to him, that she won’t have sex with her husband anymore; she agrees and does not find cause to change jobs or report Edward.  Disturbing as hell, and not in a dark romance fashion.

Sins of the Father by bethaboo: I’m conflicted about this one, but enjoy it overall.  Edward is the troubled son of an IRA member who is kidnapped by his Irish side; Bella is inadvertently dragged in as a fan disillusioned with his loss of musical direction.  While primarily a story of Edward’s reconciliation with his history and family, his behaviour towards Bella can be emotionally abusive and worse, Bella tolerates it a little too much for my liking.  It’s hard to imagine why she’s fallen for him at times, but ultimately, it seems intent on not excusing Edward, which is a huge plus.

Speak Now by SaritaDreaming, wmr1601: Irksome shock value usage of sexual assault here.  Plot is kicked off by a plan conceived by Tanya to drug Bella, have Mike mack on her to send Edward running into Tanya’s arms, and Bella finding out years after marrying Mike, sending her to break up Tanya and Edward’s wedding.  The plausibility of Mike recording the conversation, let alone having to have drugging involved, grates deeply.

Teenage Dirtbag by palewhite_n_icecold:  This one decidedly falls under the umbrella of dismissive towards violence/thrown in to spice up plot.  Bella is dating super-popular jock, Jacob.  One day, Bella decides that Jacob is an asshole and tries to break up with him.  Jacob decides to try and rape her.  Lucky for her that Edward swoops in with Alice and Jasper and saves the day.  Of course.  Jacob spins the story to make Bella into a tramp.  Rather than march into a police station with her bruised arms and get some justice, the foursome concoct a weird scheme of Bella and Edward fake-dating to get Jacob to snap and reveal his douchebaggery in front of everyone, thereby saving Bella’s reputation.  You know, because that’s what really matters here.  Also, Bella has no problem macking on Edward after this trauma.

The Letter – changed_by_edward:  In the opening chapter, Bella recounts being nearly date-raped by a drunken Jacob, her father blaming her for the assault, and then marrying verbally abusive Mike Newton (who also rapes her within the marriage if she refuses sex).  These plot points fade fairly quickly – Mike re-emerges for mild drama during a court case – but these traumas are quickly set aside to deal with child-neglecting Tanya (Edward’s ex) and Edward’s borderline-abusive rap persona.  No matter, though:  Bella loves EC Velvet anyway.  She changes him, softens him and all is magical.

The Ride by aylah50: One of my favourite fanfiction stories of all time, hands down.  Written by a survivor of sexual violence and it shows in the raw honesty, emotion and journey Bella takes throughout the story.  Edward is no rescuer; Bella saves herself.  She heals herself through her own strength.  There are stumbles and falls along the way.  Haunting and beautiful.

30 Days of Darkness by Mkystich:  Ever seen or read Kiss The Girls?  Then you know the plot of this one.  Brutal, graphic violence against women.  Women fight back.  Women struggle to heal.  Not a pretty story, but not titillation either.

Turn To Stone by nikkipattinson: This is one of the stories that is centred on sexual assault, but is realistic and of the “healthy” variety.  One of my favourite stories, it centres on Edward and Bella’s relationship, her first since a violent sexual assault that nearly killed her.  The twist: Edward defended Bella’s rapist on a previous charge, getting him acquitted days before he attacked Bella.  Heartbreaking, raw and a tale of mutual redemption, Edward doesn’t just save or rescue Bella; they work together.

***

I will have more to say on this topic in general in the future, but for now, what are your thoughts?  Is violence gratuitous in fiction?  Is it more so in fanfiction?

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Books, Books, Books!

Whether I’m writing them or reading them, it’s book central here lately.  It’s a great feeling – reminds me of my teen years, where I’d dash out a novel in two months after homework and read dozens of books in a month.

I need to enjoy this right now, because once I’m full swing with the wedding, I can kiss a lot of this free time goodbye!

I have several books on the go right now (check the Reading List tab under Pop Culture Challenge!) and mainly, this is because of my Kobo Vox.  I love it to pieces except for one annoying aspect: I can’t search for a title in my library, which means that if I want to hunt down a book with a title like Suzy Two-Toes and the author is Fakey Thespian, I have to scroll… and scroll…. and scroll….  Hey, I have over 1000 books on the thing!  I like variety, okay?

However, a glorious thing is the book “collage” of the five most recently added titles OR the five you’ve most recently opened.  Solution: I hunted down five books I’d like to read soon, opened them and bam!  Collage of next set of reads!  I’m such a nerd I chose all different categories: psychological thriller; true crime; ‘thinking’ book; humour; and a title from the Banned Books Challenge.  Voila!

In writing news, I’ve been pounding the keys on my novel and making serious progress, which pleases me greatly.  I’m ambitiously trying to finish the draft by the end of my reading week, if possible, with hopes of publishing it electronically before I finish school.  Can I do it?  Maybe…. maybe.

For now, stay tuned for my review of Chevy Stevens’ Still Missing (cliff notes: way better than We Need To Talk AboutKevin) and merhaps details of my novel!

 

Book Review: We Need To Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver

I’ll be slowly bringing over all of my Goodreads reviews to this blog, past and present.  Enjoy! 

WARNING: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS.  I honestly feel I’m doing you a huge solid here by saving you the trouble of reading this, but there it is.

The hype surrounding Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin is enormous, what with the film and all, so I obviously jumped in to see if it was worth the fuss.  Plus, I’m a stickler for the most part about reading a book before viewing the film.  The plot sounded intriguing on the covers: Eva Khatchadourian is struggling to cope with the school shooting her son is responsible for, and the fact that it ultimately never should have surprised her.  In reading other reviews on Goodreads, the opinions seem divided between “powerful and intense” and “this is bull; no mother would feel this way about a child”.

In the end, I call BS on Shriver, but not for the typical reasons.

I can absolutely believe that a mother could not love her child, could sense that something was wrong, could resent his very existence, even.  I never once found myself questioning Eva’s feelings, nor Kevin’s evolution into school shooter; anyone familiar with the literature on sociopaths is aware that there are cerebral differences that are perhaps hardwired at birth, much the same with pedophilia.  Eva is foolish enough to embark on motherhood as some sort of adventure slash means of pleasing her husband, and like many women who have children for the wrong reasons, the bond is simply not there as one might expect.  I know this to be true because my own mother had me as a lark, a means to ensnare my father into marriage and further, in that Maury Povich way, imagined that I might be a cute little doll to dress up.  When the permanence and full scope of the parenting role became apparent, she resented my every breath, piling on the psychological abuse until I moved out at seventeen.

No, I do not find myself disbelieving the plot; in fact, it’s pretty solid for the most part, aside from the utter predictability of (SPOILER) these letters to Franklin being pointless exercises, what with him being dead by Kevin’s hands and all.  Saw that coming from the first page.

What really ticks me off about this book is the writing style.  I consider myself an articulate woman with an expansive vocabulary, an intelligent and astute woman like Eva.  Thus, I speak from a lived understanding when I say this:  no one, especially a grieving woman, talks like Eva!  No one.  The entire novel, but most notably the first two thirds, reads like a first-year Creative Writing student abusing a thesaurus, determined to drop as many fifty cent words as possible to impress the professor and somehow demonstrate genius.  All it demonstrates, in my opinion, is an incredible failure to establish a genuine character voice.  Her narration is unnecessarily obtuse and snooty, almost as if Shriver is determined to have the reader walk away feeling inferior.  “I am the master of words!” Shriver declares with every contrived sentence and endless pseudo-sociopolitical tirade Eva launches into.

This book desperately needed an editor willing to say, “Stop being such a pretentious twit.  Oh, and cut this book down by fifty pages, because the pacing blows in the first half.”  By the time the story truly picks up the pace, one is already unsympathetic to Eva due to the aloofness created through Shriver’s tone.  One might argue that we are meant to be detached from her, meant not to relate, but that would render the book useless, in my opinion; the apparent point is for us to understand what, on the surface, seems foreign (a mother who believes her child evil from birth).  Perhaps herein lies the reason why so many reviewers hate Eva and find her cold and unbelievable: the labyrinth of words constructed in an obsession with synonyms constructs a wall far too high to climb, with far too little to be gained for the effort.

Undoubtedly, Shriver believes this commentary on school shootings to be brilliant and timely; in the end, it’s pure cliche and only serves to suggest that the Orange Prize is awarded purely for the number of unique words used within a novel.  It’s a shame; this book held such promise for its story.  In the end, it’s weighed down and sunk by Shriver’s need to show off.

Congratulations; I too can use a thesaurus.  Colour me unimpressed.  Sometimes, the greatest writing is plain on the surface, but utterly poignant.  Consider that next time.

Rating: 2/5 stars

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2011 Pop Culture Challenge: Status Update

Back in November, 2010, spurred by my decision to read the most banned books in the States (as listed for Banned Books Week), I challenged myself to finally get off my lazy ass and ‘catch up’ on all of the pop culture and reading I always ‘meant to’ finish.  This is the first major status update.

So, four months into a thirteen-month series of challenges, I figured it was time to reflect on my progress, and also, on the recently enjoyed items on my lists.  For those interested in the full extent of the challenge, list items and the original posts, click the 2011 Pop Culture Challenge tab in the header.

We’ll take this by categories, for simplicity.

Literature
Progress:  2 new items crossed off on American list, 1 on Canadian

For all of the reading I’ve done as of late, I confess much of it was pleasure reading done without the list as a guide.  That said, one item I’ve crossed off both lists was really 7 books, so I deserve some credit.

I’ve polished off Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, which was not remotely a book that should be banned.  It wasn’t graphic, and it was appropriate for YA readers.  I personally found it a bit dull, truth be told, but a worthwhile read.

My other checklist completion was finally reading the Harry Potter books, and, with a few exceptions, they were really well done.  I don’t know that I would endlessly reread them or anything, but I enjoyed the journey, for the most part, and liked the end (even if it felt a little too easily achieved).  My favourite of the series was Goblet of Fire, followed closely by Chamber of Secrets.  I’m glad I got off my ass and gave them a go, and much thanks to my little brother, who never lends anyone his books… but lent me the first four.

Television
Progress:  1 new series tried; 2 caught up; others in progress

This is where I’ve made most of my headway; it’s easiest for me to find time and the attention span to watch an episode or two and then scurry off.  TV shows are also easier to find to watch than 150 movies, know what I mean?

Fiance and I finally tried out The Walking Dead and being zombie nuts, we loved it.  We knew we would, but we were so lazy about watching it.  Not having cable is a massive hindrance.  I was a little mixed about the ending of the season, but overall very satisfied and ready for the next.  This show really needs to be seen, because it is about more than zombies; it`s about humanity itself, in any crisis.  It`s what I wished 28 Days Later had been (the ending’s always irked me, because I wanted to know what happened!).

We also finally caught up on Dexter (three seasons plus!) and I have loved them, with the exception of season 3, which just pissed me off.  I think season 2 is the best overall, followed closely by 4.  I wish the Trinity Killer had been used to greater potential; I feel the reveal was way too soon, and we needed more suspense.  I loved Lithgow, though.  The Lumen story in 5 was patchy and hit or miss, but overall good.  Such a fucking good show.

I also finally watched all of South Park… This show really has aged well, far better than I even predicted.  LOVE.  It sometimes misses, but given how many episodes there are, whatever.

I’m currently in progress with Heroes (loved season 3, mixed on season 4 so far) and Robot Chicken (pure genius!).  Now that we have Netflix, this is even easier for me.  Whee!

Films
Progress:  7 new films seen

I’ve begun attacking the films list more thoroughly lately, being as it is so long and I have so many other obligations.  Part of the issue lies in tracking all of them down, of course, particularly older or more obscure films.  That aside, of the films I’ve seen, I’ve been quite happy about doing so.

The most recent one, M, is fantastic, and I never woud have even heard of this 80 or so year-old film without taking this challenge on.  It’s in German with subtitles, which I know aggravates some people, but it’s an insightful look at serial killers and how their crimes affect the public, society on the whole, and the killer himself.  Slumdog Millionaire was a long overdue viewing, as was The Wrestler; both should be seen by film afficionados.  The JJ Abrams reboot of Star Trek was pretty bad-ass, and unlike my Trekkie fiance, I rather enjoy Zachary Quinto as Spock.  Kick-Ass?  I’ve already REWATCHED that one.  The Departed?  It’s what Lock, Stock… wishes it was, even if the ending irked me.

But The Social Network is my big one, thus far, because it, by all rights, shouldn’t work on paper.  And yet, the casting, the score (fuck yeah, Trent!), the way it’s shot and paced…  I love it.  It’s truly one of the best films I’ve seen in years because, in so many ways, it’s subtle to pitch-perfection, and in your face in others.  Jesse Eisenberg’s performance makes it, and it was totally robbed for the Oscar.

I know that ahead lies a bunch of movies I have zero interest in (wtf, IMDB voters, with all the mobster and sci-fi action shit?), but for now, it’s been a blast.

See you in a few months… and hopefully, with a much more diligent progress report…

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New Year’s Resolutions

Everyone else is doing it, right?  Seriously though, without committing to things in writing, I never get them done.

1.  Get down to low weight by Halloween (don’t ask the number; it’s impolite ;)
2.  Mail out the holiday goodies I owe peeps.
3.  Meditate regularly.
4.  Go back to school!
5.  Complete the 2011 Pop Culture Challenge I designed.

Regarding that last one, I gave myself a head start at the end of 2010.  As of the start of this year, here’s my progress!

Movies seen: Blade Runner, The Social Network
TV Show Progress: Caught up on South Park; Seen all of The Walking Dead; Am now at 4X08 of Dexter (2 seasons’ gain approx).
Books: Read Books1-4 of Harry Potter series.

I’ll post updates bimonthly on my progress, just to make my sorry ass more accountable.

I Never Promised You A Rose Garden    Joanne Greenberg
Invisible Monsters    Chuck Palahniuk
The Final Warning    James Patterson
Max    James Patterson
The Last Vampire    Christopher Pike
The Immortal    Christopher Pike
Sharp Objects    Gillian Flynn
Whisper of Death    Christopher Pike
The Further Adventures of a London Call Girl    Brooke Magnanti
Thirteen Reasons Why    Jay Asher
Twisted    Laurie Halse Anderson
Weekend    Christopher Pike
LV2: Black Blood    Christopher Pike
LV3: Red Dice    Christopher Pike
LV4: Phantom    Christopher Pike
LV5: Evil Thirst    Christopher Pike
LV6: Creatures of Forever    Christopher Pike
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Goals For 2011: Literature (Part Two)

I’ve finally tracked a list of banned and challenged books from Canada since this 60s, and have decided that since there’s a lot of different titles on this list as compared to the American banned books I plan to devour, I will add these to my goals as well. I have omitted French language books, magazines and similar anothologies of them, as well as materials I know will be impossible to locate through my resources.  I’m only going to tackle the last ten years, to keep it on par with my previous goals.

You can see the expansive pdf, with details of the challenges and many of the results here.  Books I’ve read are in bold.

Canadian Challenged and Banned Books List

Takes One To Know One: An Alison Kaine Mystery – Kate Allen
Something To Tell – Ann Alma
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
In the Heat of the Night – John Ball
Color Psychology and Color Therapy: A Factual Study of the Influence of Color on Human Life – Faber Birren
Glory Days and Other Stories – Gillian Chan
Extraordinary Evil: A Brief History of Genocide – Barbara Coloroso
Wild Fire – Nelson DeMille
The Homoerotic Photograph: Male Images from Durieu/Delacroix to Mapplethorpe – Allen Ellenzweig
Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak – Deborah Ellis
Snow Falling On Cedars – David Guterson
Final Exit: The Practicalities of Self-Deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the Dying – Dereh Humphry
Hitler’s War – David Irving
A Little Piece of Ground – Elizabeth Laird
To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Outlaw Representation: Censorship and Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century American Art – Richard Meyer
Outrageously Alice – Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Silent Witness – Richard North Patterson
Waging War From Canada – Mike Pearson
The New York City Bartender’s Joke Book – Jimmy Pritchard
His Dark Materials series – Philip Pullman
Harry Potter series – J.K. Rowling

The Seduction of Peter S – Lawrence Sanders
Greasy, Grimy, Gopher Guts: The Subversive Folklore of Children – TKF Weiskopf and Josepha Sherman
Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
Trouble on Tarragon Island – Nikki Tate
Black Like Kyra, White Like Me – Judith Vigna
What We Don’t Know About Children – Simona Vinci
Paul Kagame and Rwanda: Power, Genocide and the Rwandan Patriotic Front – Colin M Waugh
Daddy’s Roommate – Michael Willhoite

Total Read At Start:  2/30

Follow my progress on the tab at the top of the blog!

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Goals For 2011: Literature

I posted over on my fanfiction blog about Banned Books Week and the list released of the 100 most challenged books in the United States in schools etc.  I decided, out of spite, to try and read as many of them as possible for fun.  Transferring that list here to keep my goals tidy, may I present the list of most challenged books of the last decade.

Books I’ve read are in bold.

The Top 100 Banned Books of 2000-2009

1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Myracle, Lauren
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
11. Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
12. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
13. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
14. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
15. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
16. Forever, by Judy Blume
17. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
18. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
19. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

20. King and King, by Linda de Haan
21. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
22. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar
23. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
24. In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak
25. Killing Mr. Griffin, by Lois Duncan
26. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
27. My Brother Sam Is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier
28. Bridge To Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
29. The Face on the Milk Carton, by Caroline B. Cooney
30. We All Fall Down, by Robert Cormier
31. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
32. Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
33. Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson
34. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
35. Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison
36. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
37. It’s So Amazing, by Robie Harris
38. Arming America, by Michael Bellasiles
39. Kaffir Boy, by Mark Mathabane
40. Life is Funny, by E.R. Frank
41. Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher
42. The Fighting Ground, by Avi
43. Blubber, by Judy Blume
44. Athletic Shorts, by Chris Crutcher
45. Crazy Lady, by Jane Leslie Conly
46. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
47. The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby, by George Beard
48. Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez
49. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
50. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
51. Daughters of Eve, by Lois Duncan
52. The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson
53. You Hear Me?, by Betsy Franco
54. The Facts Speak for Themselves, by Brock Cole
55. Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Green
56. When Dad Killed Mom, by Julius Lester
57. Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause
58. Fat Kid Rules the World, by K.L. Going
59. Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes
60. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
61. Draw Me A Star, by Eric Carle
62. The Stupids (series), by Harry Allard
63. The Terrorist, by Caroline B. Cooney
64. Mick Harte Was Here, by Barbara Park
65. The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
66. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor
67. A Time to Kill, by John Grisham
68. Always Running, by Luis Rodriguez
69. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
70. Harris and Me, by Gary Paulsen
71. Junie B. Jones (series), by Barbara Park
72. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
73. What’s Happening to My Body Book, by Lynda Madaras
74. The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
75. Anastasia (series), by Lois Lowry

76. A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
77. Crazy: A Novel, by Benjamin Lebert
78. The Joy of Gay Sex, by Dr. Charles Silverstein
79. The Upstairs Room, by Johanna Reiss
80. A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck
81. Black Boy, by Richard Wright
82. Deal With It!, by Esther Drill
83. Detour for Emmy, by Marilyn Reynolds
84. So Far From the Bamboo Grove, by Yoko Watkins
85. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, by Chris Crutcher
86. Cut, by Patricia McCormick
87. Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume
88. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
89. Friday Night Lights, by H.G. Bissenger
90. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle
91. Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George
92. The Boy Who Lost His Face, by Louis Sachar
93. Bumps in the Night, by Harry Allard
94. Goosebumps (series), by R.L. Stine
95. Shade’s Children, by Garth Nix
96. Grendel, by John Gardner
97. The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende
98. I Saw Esau, by Iona Opte
99. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
100. America: A Novel, by E.R. Frank

This list and its progress will also be tracked via a page on the upper header of the blog.  Join me, if you’re so inclined!  Fuck censorship!

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