Thursday, 22 September 2011

Review - Skins, Season Five

Summary; The melodramatic Generation Two crowd are replaced with the diverse gang of misfits that make up Generation Three. Probably for the better.

There's Mini, the leader whose strong exterior and controlling nature hide a vulnerable young girl. Liv, Mini's second in command, a clumsy but beautiful party animal with a big heart. Grace, who seems as pure as the driven snow, but even her best friends don't really no her. And into this group of best mates crashes Franky: super-intelligent, strange and androgynous. The universe bends to her difference and weirdness, and so do these girls - eventually.

Then there are the boys. Rich - a cynical metalhead who will never compromise. His best mate Alo - a farmer-boy, pot-head, porn connoisseur. Nick, Mini's boyfriend, is captain of the rugby team. He's good-looking, popular, arrogant and unhappy. And Matty, who fits the bill of tall, dark and handsome outsider. But is Matty all that he seems or does he have a darker edge that no one would've expected?

Skins is notorious for its biannual cast changeovers. The theory is that each "Generation" of characters spans two seasons and covers their two years at Roundview sixth-form college, and are then replaced by a new group of teenagers beginning at Roundview (a school that should have been shut down seasons ago, seeing what's been going on there for the last five years.)

A nice theory, but it initially failed in practice, when the second cast became a poor self-parody of the original show intentions. It's common knowledge that Generation Two (Seasons 3 & 4) was a severe step down from Generation One (Seasons 1 & 2), and many were happy to see them go. So it was a shocker when Skins was renewed for another two series, with an entirely new cast.

Yet, this new cast somehow defies all expectations.

Generation Three may not share the glamor and looks of Generation Two, nor the humor of Generation One, but the writers seemed to have learned a lesson through the failings of Seasons 3 & 4 and have taken great care to avoid similar issues occurring in Season 5. What follows is a far more sensitive, nuanced, and emotional depiction of this year's gaggle of disaffected Bristol teens.

What that makes Generation Three superior on so many levels to Generation Two is that the writers and actors take genuine care in establishing the friendships of the individual characters, and the overall bond between the entire cast. Whereas the friendship of Effy, Pandora, Katie, Emily, Naomi, Cook, Freddie, JJ and Thomas as a whole was tenuous at best, and they only truly seemed to function as a unit by the Season 4 finale, this entire season revolves around the growing bonds between Franky, Mini, Liv, Grace, Rich, Alo, Nick and Matty. Early episodes revolve around two distinct groups of characters; the outcasts, consisting of Rich, Alo and Franky, and the popular gang, compiled of Mini, Liv, Nick and Grace. The two come together in a superb piece of character development from queen bee Mini McGuiness, where she admits her failings and asks if they can come together and give everyone a second chance.

This is another lesson learned from the failings of Two; the outcast and "uncool" teenagers are given just as sensitive and intelligent portrayal as the popular kids. Whereas JJ, Thomas and Pandora were often ousted in favor of "cool kids" like Effy, Freddie and Cook, Three pays careful attention to its designated misfits. Gawky metalhead Rich is by far the most developed of the male cast, and androgynous pansexual Franky Fitzgerald is the undisputed star of the show. Interestingly, the least developed lead is the popular boy Nick Levan.

Friendship is the greatest strength for Three. Whereas Two seemed only interested in pairing off characters in romantic relationships, platonic relationships are carefully established between individual characters. Mini McGuiness (played by a superb Freya Mavor) especially benefits

Whatever epic love triangles might be in place, the storyline of Season 5 was that of a burgeoning friendship between eight vastly different teenagers. In light of the strengths of One and the failings of Two, this was an excellent narrative decision, and brought Skins back to those roots that once made it terrific television.

Nick Levan is the staple alpha-male of the cast, but Sean Teale's initially unmemorable performance holds neither the physicality of Jack O'Connell's Cook (of Two), nor the manipulative and affable evil of Nicholas Hoult's Tony (of One). As such, he plays a relatively small role in later episodes, but it's in the finale that he comes into his own as a great source of comic relief. An interesting new dynamic of an odd friendship with Alo also comes into play, but Nick's best moment comes in the climax of the finale . Teale doesn't hold the versatility of some of his co-stars, and it would be a poor choice to give him a major role in the emotional core of Season 6, but if he's kept as a supporting comedic character, Nick will be just fine.

Something that Three is lacking is a compelling male lead. Rich (Alex Arnold) is the most developed male character, but with the Grace/Rich storyline resolved in the finale, even Rich is now somewhat directionless. (What is worrying is in continuing Grace and Rich's narratives, the writing team will fall back on the same hackneyed trick they used to further Emily/Naomi and the once magnificent Sid/Cassie, and create some convoluted development to break them up, then have them tragically declare their love and get back together.)

Standout performances of Season 5 came from Freya Mavor's Mini and Dakota Blue Richard's Franky. The Grace/Rich romance remained the common thread throughout the season, but the emotional core rested with the terrific Mini McGuinness and Franky Fitzgerald. The writers seem to have acknowledged this, if Mini's late-season lesbian crush on Franky is anything to go by. Truthfully, this development did occur rather suddenly from nowhere, but still, it has the potential to be such a stunning pairing that I'm willing to let this slide, and if the writers have any common sense, they'll construct Season 6 around this storyline.

3.5/5. Season Five cannot claim the same brilliance as early Skins, but it's a touching depiction of adolescence and is one of the better teen dramas currently on television.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

30 Days Of Harry Potter: Day One - Favorite Book

Easy choice, people.

Honorable mentions go to Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire (the most solidly plotted of the series), Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince (which misses out on a top spot because Rowling should never join the Skins writing team) and Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix (which is conceptually great, but sometimes fell flat in execution.)

Sunday, 17 July 2011

"Song To Say Goodbye" Fanfiction - Seamus/Lavender

Felt the need to write something tonight, so I churned out an angsty little romance one-shot on Lavender & Seamus; Song To Say Goodbye. Set during Deathly Hallows, under Snape and the Carrows' reign at Hogwarts. A nice destructive little romance for you.

As you can see, I also made a spectacularly bad image for it. (The characters are Effy and Cook, from Skins UK, if you were wondering.) Seriously, if I ever start making banners for stories and fanfiction, I'll probably need to beg some readers to do it for me.

The title "Song To Say Goodbye" and lyrics quoted in the story are from the excellent Placebo song, "Song To Say Goodbye." Original on my part, huh?

It's probably not all that good, since I basically just opened my iPad and started free-writing (I just bought an iPad 2! How awesome is that?), but if you could tell me what you thought of it in a review or in the comments, I'd be very grateful.

Also, if anyone's interested, I've decided to do both fanfiction projects that I was discussing a while ago; Lily Luna Potter Series and Marauders Series. Should take a while, but I'd like to have a go at both.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

New Fanfiction Project... Umm

I am so stupid. I shouldn't even be thinking of doing this. I've got several fanfiction projects on the go, some already posted and some that aren't even written yet, and plenty that are probably going to become discontinued or what not.

Last thing I should be doing is conceiving of yet another project. Especially one that will very likely end up being seven volumes long...

Yesterday, I was reading some fanfiction writer's profile, and they were talking about a potential but abandoned idea for writing a Lily Luna Potter series, citing the fact that she got little love from the NextGen writers. (Which is true. There's a bunch of stories along the lines of "Albus Potter And The Mysterious MacGuffin", "James Potter And The New Lord Voldemort" and "Teddy Lupin And The Goblin Uprising" posted and completed. There's none like that for Lily Luna.)

Naturally, the Really Good Ideas portion of my brain starts going into overdrive...

Point is, I now have an outline for a Lily Luna Series in my mind, complete with a villain, a couple of OC friends, political unrest and some world-building. I've even written the first chapter. (Bearing in mind that I only thought of this yesterday and I usually win an Olympic Gold in procrastination).

Basically, trouble is that I've got a good plan for a series I would have fun writing, but in order to do so, I would have to put aside projects in my timetable to make room for it.

I want to get MRMI completed sometime soon. Too many people have reviewed and said they liked it for me just to keep them hanging. Plus, it was my first story up here - I need to finish it. However, I don't think four more chapters will be difficult in the grand scheme of things.

The real problem is my Marauders Series (currently titled Definitive Guide To Sex, Drugs And Rock And Roll or whatever). I posted basic details of this on my profile a while ago and I desperately want to get it written. It's intended to be a fairly complex exploration of Voldemort's rise to power and the involvement of James, Lily & Co. I want to be quite original, and I'm attempting to deconstruct a bunch of cliches in the Lily/James fandom. (This could also go completely wrong and end up falling flat.)

I have a detailed outline for this series, and it's the closest to my heart. It's also proving difficult to write - I'm still on the first volume and that alone has gone through several re-writes. (The first chapter of what was going to be my initial MWPP-Era story is currently posted and was scrapped a while ago. I'm not taking this down until I have something to replace it with.)

So. Dilemma; Do I write;

A) Lily Potter Series; Long series I would find easier to write and have fun creating,  OR
B) Marauder Seres; Long series I would find harder to write but prefer to have written.


Saturday, 2 July 2011

What Went Right; Why Ron/Hermione Work As A Romance And Harry/Ginny Do Not

Harry/Ginny is one of the most divisive pairings in a fandom already heavily populated with shipping warfare. Their shippers, JKR herself amongst them, argue that Ginny and Harry are true soulmates and that  "they're both very strong and very passionate. That's their connection, and they're remarkable together." (JK Rowling). Whereas, their detractors, including myself, suggest that their romance was rushed and unrealistic, that they have little serious interaction and that Harry's attraction towards her lacked foreshadowing. 

Romance writing isn't necessarily JKR's forte. I love her, and she's a wonderful fantasy-adventure writer, but lacks the skills of a romance writer. However, she gets the balances of falling in love just right in her best written pairing; Ron/Hermione. (I actually always felt that Ron/Hermione were the main romance of the books, rather than Harry/Ginny, due to theirs being built up from Book One.)

To have a look at why Harry/Ginny fail where Ron/Hermione succeed, let's take a look at respective points about their romances;

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Reccing For Know It Alls

I've just started recommending on Know It Alls - a Harry Potter fanfiction recommendations site. Yay! It's a site heavily focused on the Severus/Hermione pairing, and I'll most likely be recommending James/Lily and Ron/Hermione stories; namely because A) they're my favorites, and B) I know next to nothing about Severus/Hermione.

(I am probably way too proud of this. But I'm still really happy.)

For the few of you that are nice enough to be reading my blog, I've just posted my first recommendation on the site; for Scandalacious Intentions' Where Dwell The Brave At Heart Marauders and James/Lily story.

Once again, yay!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Review - Clockwork Angel, by Cassandra Clare

Summary; So-so urban fantasy, where teenage Tessa Gray arrives in Victorian London, discovers she is a shapeshifter, takes shelter with and falls for the Shadowhunters, all the while searching for her brother and trying to discover the identity of the Magister.

Magic is dangerous - but love is more dangerous still... When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray arrives in London during the reign of Queen Victoria, something terrifying is waiting for her in London's Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Friendless and hunted, Tessa seeks refuge with the Shadowhunters, a band of warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons. Drawn ever deeper into their world, she finds herself fascinated by - and torn between - two best friends, and quickly realizes that love may be the most dangerous magic of all. 

Whoop whoop. Hip-hip-hooray. Cassie Clare's done it again - churned out another mediocre YA fantasy, complete with recycled plots, poor description, a piss-poor attempt at steampunk, melodrama villains and characters plagiarized from her very own work. Welcome to the world of The Infernal Devices Trilogy, yet another attempt by Clare to pad out her original Mortal Instruments Trilogy. Gotta hand it to the woman, she sure knows how to keep a cash cow flowing.

If you happen to be a Londoner or historian, be prepared to punch everything in plain sight when you read Clare's depiction of Victorian London. Queen Vicky's London was a flawed and fascinating one - a far more intriguing setting for a novel than Clare's watered down version - brimming with hypocrisy, classism and misogyny. It was the wealthiest place in the world, yet had a massive crime rate and thousands of occupants were living in poverty. Sex was an unspeakable taboo, meaning rapists were rarely brought to justice. Society was incredibly racist, homophobic and oppressive. Yet to read Clare's London, a reader would be forgiven for believing that all anyone did was quote great literature, talk like a pretentious arsehole, be shocked and faint at pretty much anything, prance around in fancy dresses, or play-act at being a swashbuckling hero. In short, it's a caricatured and Disneyfied version of British history, one that reads like the extent of Clare's research was a series of cut-and-pasted Wikipedia articles. (AKA, Cassie Clare, quoting a few lines of Great Expectations does not a steampunk make!)

As well as barely attempting the basic definition of steampunk - reflecting a social commentary on said historical society - Clare seems happy to stick with poor caricatures of common Victorian cliches, made worse by the fact they're historical expies of the original Mortal Instruments cast; Tessa/Clary, Will/Jace, Jem/Simon/Alec and Jessamine/Isabelle. It's a genuine shame, as a couple of characters show honest potential as interesting heroes. Jem is mildly intriguing, but it's Tessa's foil Jessamine who seems like a potentially complex and compelling person, but again, she too falls victim to Clare's lazy development, and as a result, becomes a depressingly familiar stock character.

Clare's weak characterizations are made worse by her unrealistic romances. Like her early pairings of Draco/Hermione and Draco/Ginny from The Draco Trilogy, and Jace/Clary from The Mortal Instruments, Clare attempts another smart-ass-bad-boy-is-redeemed-by-cute-girl romance, this time in the form of Tessa/Will. It still hasn't worked. Will is an unappreciative wanker, Tessa lets him walk all over her, and somehow, this is supposed to create burgeoning romantic chemistry. (Once again, Clare's supporting cast unintentionally end up as more sympathetic than her designated heroes). Despite the occasional good one-liner, Tess and Will have zilch compatibility with one another, and if I hadn't been overly familiar with Clare's romance formula, I would have been surprised when I found myself reading their first kiss.

Unfortunately, the deriving from her earlier works doesn't stop with the romances and characters. The plots are glaringly similar, as well as kick-starting the plot with both heroines searching for a missing family member (Clary - her mother, Tessa - her brother), they discover their families are entwined in the supernatural world, end up learning that they are way too special to be boring old humans and instead become super-speshul powerful magical beings.

It's not only derivative of her own writings, it's derivative of the stock formula of the average teenage urban-fantasy novel of today. For a woman publishing her fourth novel, it is appalling storytelling and a depressing sign that Clare's writing has not yet matured since her infamous days of The Draco Trilogy.

However, there is the occasional saving grace that makes ploughing through the novel possible. One of the more enjoyable components of the Mortal Instruments was the mythology of the Shadowhunters, the Nephilim and the Downworlders. The adoptive family of the Institute too is occasionally touching. (However, I can't buy the idea of 23-year-old Charlotte being the governor of the Institute).

Still, a mildly interesting mythology, appearance of Magnus Bane, and occasional good one-liner can't save a derivative and poorly written novel. Clockwork Angel is a rip-off of a rip-off, and for this reason, I am not planning to set aside anytime for Clock Prince and Clockwork Princess.

2/5. It's got a couple of entertaining moments, but honestly not worth it unless your a hardcore Cassie Clare fan.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Review - James Potter And The Hall Of Elders' Crossing, by G. Norman Lippert

Summary; Harry Potter's kid goes to Hogwarts, tries to maintain an identity away from that of his father, discovers a group named the Progressive Element that is trying to paint the long-dead Voldemort as a good guy and uncovers a plot to raise Merlin.

What's it like to be the son of the most famous wizard of all time? James Potter thinks he knows, but as he begins his own adventure at Hogwarts, he discovers just how much of a challenge it really is to live up to the legend of the great Harry Potter. As if it wasn't enough dealing with the delegates from the American wizarding school and figuring out the mysteriously polite Slytherins, James and his new friends, Ralph and Zane, begin to uncover a secret plot that could pit the Muggle and Magical worlds against each other in all out war. 

One of the more well-known Next Generation Harry Potter fan-fictions, G. Norman Lippert's James Potter Series became (in?)famous through posting his fanfiction novel on a flashy website of his own making - a website that was so flashy that it got mistaken for an official project by JKR or Warner Brothers. Hits to his website went up to several thousand, and before he knew it, he was a big name in Next Gen fandom. (Not bad for a guy who didn't even know what it meant.)

His story doesn't quite live up to his brilliant website, although its clear Lippert has some talent. The characterization is great fun; less so from James, who is fair enough but reads like a mini, less-angsty Harry, but Ralph Deedle, a shy, large, awkward Slytherin, and American Zane Walker, a funny and outgoing Ravenclaw, are hugely entertaining OCs. Zane in particular had the potential to be hugely irritating, but he was done well and became likable. Ralph was the most lovable and human out of the three, and to be honest, I found him the most interesting, especially his Big Reveal at the end. Kudos to Lippert for creating a human and sympathetic Slytherin character. I was less certain on James himself though; he is likable enough in his insecurities, and the paragraphs about him on the train and at the Sorting, worrying about living up to his father, were touching enough and made James quite human, but they dragged on far too long. His reasons for not telling his father about the problems going on at Hogwarts became convoluted after a while, as did the constant refrain of "we can't tell the adults until we've got more proof!" James's failure on a broom, however, created a lot of sympathy for him and he does become a fairly decent protagonist.

Supporting characters too were entertaining. Ben Franklyn, I'm guessing, was a real base-breaker, but to be honest, I loved him, he was great fun. Teddy, Petra and the Gremlins gang were occasionally off at times - the parts where they shared rooms and classes with James & co were annoying, and I wasn't fussed about Raise The Wocket - but I more or less grew to enjoy them.

Tabitha Corsica, however, was less convincing as a villainous character. I was genuinely interested in the Progressive Element part of the story, and the real life connotations with giving a historical villain a more positive image. Unfortunately, Tabitha, whilst having an interesting morality, is a one-note character; she has no real motivation for giving Voldemort a better image. I hope this was elaborated on in the later books, since I genuinely liked this component of the story.

I could say less for the other major component of the plot. Merlin-reincarnation plots are overdone, and to be honest, annoying, and this story didn't do much with the basic formula. (I did, however, quite enjoy the revelation about Ralph's wand).

Technomancy, too, I'm guessing, is another large divider. Honestly, I don't see the point in describing all the physics of magic - it won't work, and it's a recipe for all sorts of continuity issues. It also slows down the plotting of the story; more interesting social and political elements are put on hold for long and doomed descriptions of magical mechanics.

Unfortunately, long, clumsy descriptions and expositions are something of a hallmark in Elders' Crossing. The Prologue, whilst being a nice shout-out to Reservoir Dogs, drags on for far, far, too long, and once you find out that much of it doesn't bear importance to the plot, a reader feels cheated. the technical skills here are few and far between - the plotting was far to slow, and long paragraphs felt awkward. Seriously, this would've been a much better story if Lippert had done some editing. The climax suffers from this; it's by far the weakest part of the story, and doesn't much involve the social and historical ramifications of the Progressive Element - a real shame, as its by far the most interesting part of the story.

Looking back on the review, it does come off is more harsh than I intended. I did enjoy it, even with my reservations, and I feel that Lippert has real potential talent as a writer. It was light and humorous, with some great comedic moments and could be really funny. There were some real touching moments, especially with the ghost of a certain canon character. Whilst some ideas were unimpressive, the Progressive Element was properly original. All in all, I enjoyed this, but it's always apparent that Lippert is here a first time writer.

3/5. It's clumsily written and it's clear that this is Lippert's first foray into writing. However, he some natural ability, his love for the series comes through, and with some more practice, he will become a pretty good writer. (Curse Of The Gatekeeper is on my fanfiction reading list).

Review/Rave/Ramble - Alexandra Quick Series, by Inverarity

Summary; A Harry Potter fanfiction series that has next to nothing to do with Harry Potter. A helluva lot Better Than It Sounds. (Currently numbers at three novels out of a planned seven; Alexandra Quick And The Thorn Circle, Alexandra Quick And The Lands Below and Alexandra Quick And The Deathly Regiment.)

The war against Voldemort never reached America, but all is not well there. When 11-year-old Alexandra Quick learns she is a witch, she is plunged into a world of prejudices, intrigue and danger. Who wants Alexandra dead, and why?

Instead of revising for that ever evasive Chemistry A-grade, I've discovered a new fanfiction series to obsess over. Yay for the wonders of Internet procrastination.

Inverarity's Alexandra Quick American fan-fiction series, titular protagonist Alex Quick learns she is a witch, attends a prestigious magical school, forms a close group of friends, discovers her tangled family history and tries to defeat a Big Bad of a Dark Wizard along the way.

Sound familiar?

On the face of it, Alexandra Quick sounds like a rip-off of Harry Potter transplanted into an American setting. However, despite sharing superficial similarities to its inspiration series, Alexandra Quick soon develops its own tone and mould... ending up travelling in quite a different direction to Harry Potter.

Alexandra herself is the series' greatest strength and a terrific protagonist.  Inverarity seems to have been aware right from the start about the stigma associated with female fan-fiction OCs (ie that they have a tendency to be blatant Mary Sues) and has gone out of his way to make Alexandra the complete opposite. It's arguably possible to view Alexandra as the deconstruction of the Jerk Sue; she is temperamental, gutsy, assertive and determined, as well as powerful in terms of raw magic, and damn does she suffer for this. Seriously, Inverarity could rival Jim Butcher and Joss Whedon in the amount of trauma he likes to inflict upon his main character. (He also likes to lean on the fourth-wall and tease about Mary Sue implications; Alex's teacher once writes her a letter explicitly stating she is not a "special snowflake" - a common fandom term for Mary Sues.) However, despite all Alexandra's flaws, she remains an essentially likable protagonist, due to A) the sheer amount of pain she goes through and the determined way she navigates through it, and B) she has very human desires; most of her motivations come through wanting to be reunited with her family.

Alexandra's difficulties are not the only demonstration of series' approaching from a darker angle earlier than Harry Potter. Unlike its inspiration series, which Grew The Beard during Prisoner Of Azkaban and Goblet Of Fire, Alexandra Quick starts out dark and descends into even deeper tangled territory. Much of this comes from Inverarity's deconstruction of various throwaway tropes in JKR's Harry Potter; for example, (sort-of) Muggle-born Alexandra is unable to truly tell her mother and step-father about witchcraft and the magical world, making for a very lonely young teenager. It's a rather tragic and realistic way of the integration of magical and Muggle-cultures; something that - due to lack of involvement of Hermione's parents - is never touched upon in Harry Potter. (And if you want to get all Buffy with the magic-is-a-metaphor for growing up schtick, I suppose it's a comment a big part of adolescence means a growing distance from your parents.)

What does elevate this series above the typical Harry-Potter-In-America fanfic - and is something JKR never quite managed even in the later Harry Potter novels - is the blurring of good and evil, and the grey against grey morality of the adult factions struggling to gain control over the American wizarding world. Abraham Thorn, Dark Wizard and major villain, is of an entirely different brand to Lord Voldemort. Whereas Voldemort is a personification of pure evil, Abraham Thorn is more a well-intentioned terrorist and strangely relevant to today's culture. Indeed, the Big Reveal of Deathly Regiment serves to highlight that Thorn is fighting very real evils against the bureaucratic government of supposed good guys of the Confederation. It's a far cry from Harry Potter, where the lines of good versus evil are evident, and the Ministry are merely a bumbling idiots who only serve the purpose to complicate the heroes fight against Voldemort and the Death Eaters.

Yet although Inverarity's writing serves to highlight JKR's flaws, Harry Potter too makes plain the problems with Alexandra Quick's universe. Harry Potter's greatest strength by far was JKR's creation of the Harry-Ron-Hermione Trio, and unfortunately, Alexandra Quick fails to replicate this with Alexandra's friendships and relationships; Alex's best friend Anna Chu is the only friend to get any real development throughout the entire series so far, and even she is often demoted to follower rather than true accomplice. David Washington remains static throughout the novels, and despite having an entertaining personality and good sense of humor, is given little to do and little character development. (It's a shame, considering the development given to Alex and Anna). Alex's Ozarker friends Constance and Forbearance Pritchard also change little throughout the stories, although offering slightly more to the plot than David. It's a major contrast to Harry Potter, where the heart of the series lay in the closeness and development of Harry, Ron and Hermione. This issue is definitely visible to a reader comparing the two series, and the story - Deathly Regiment in particular - suffers as a result.

It's a shame, as the rest of the world-building is magnificent - like how JKR's wizarding society had a certain Britishness towards it, Inverarity's depiction of wizarding America has a distinctly American feel. The creation of the Confederation, the Cultures, the political atmosphere, and the depiction of the Ozarkers are terrific, and there's a few sad and hilarious touches (like the ghosts of the Colonials and Indians regularly holding battles). For most part, the story, universe and characters are all at once good fun and quite clever. It's just a shame that the relationships between the characters don't get nearly as much attention and development.

4/5. Alexandra Quick is not without flaws, but the writing has significantly improved with each installment, and is overall an extremely enjoyable read.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Taylor Swift, Slut-Shaming And Better Than Revenge Snarking

Watch out. She steals
sweet innocent virgins
on the playground.
It's no secret I dislike Taylor Swift. I won't go into all the reasons why since A) I have other things to say and B) Other writers have already explained it in much better terms than I would be able to. (Plus, that guy's article has a symbolic flow chart of eyeballs and princesses. You know the one).

But I can't let go of the whole brouhaha with "Better Than Revenge" (AKA Camilla Belle is oh-such-a-meanie-slut-who-stole-the-lovely-and-saintlike-Joe-Jonas-from-my-heavenly-clutches. Honey, it's more likely he left you because he didn't want to be featured in any more of your "country" songs).

It's not just the blatant slut-shaming and the idea that a grown woman who bitches about her ex's new girlfriend being a slut is the same woman who is being held up across America as the ideal role model for young children. It's that the Better Than Revenge lyrics - as well as that they should be blacklisted by the Council Of Half-Decent Music - also hold examples of hypocrisy, classism and creepy-clingy-girlfriend-ism;

Now go stand in the corner
And think about what you did

Wow, Taylor Swift is so incredibly mature and not childish and petty at all. I wish I could've had more role models like her as a child. Then maybe I'd be making millions by bitching about my exes. Sigh...

Ha, time for a little revenge

Yup, really seeing the maturity here.

The story starts when it was hot and it was summer,
And I had it all, I had him right there where I wanted him
She came along, got him alone and let's hear the applause
She took him faster than you can say sabotage.

Here's where it gets bad. Taylor Swift, your boyfriend is not your possession, and people do not steal him from you. You cannot hold people "right there where I wanted him" as if you owned him. Seriously, it's impossible to see why she's held up as so saint-like once her lyrics have been analyzed. If these lyrics were gender-flipped, and it was about a weak-willed woman being stolen from her boyfriend by another man, the artist might not be declared such a role model for young kids anymore.

Also, the idea that she's blaming the "other woman" entirely for her boyfriend's infidelity doesn't sit right.  The idea that "hey, maybe my boyfriend's a flaky idiot" never crosses the narrator's mind. In fact, the boyfriend doesn't get any elaboration throughout the lyrics apart from being the token "virtuous pretty boy stolen by the slut." The fact that the narrator finding it conceivable that her boyfriend either didn't fancy her or was being a dick, but that she instantly assumes that it was the evil slut who corrupted her perfect boyfriend sends out a disconcerting double-standard.

(Good news, adulterers! It's not your fault that you're cheating on your girlfriend! It's the mean girl in short skirts and low cut tops that manipulated you into ditching your partner!)

I never saw it coming, wouldn't have suspected it
I underestimated just who I was dealing with
She had to know the pain was beating on me like a drum
She underestimated just who she was stealing from

Again, with the "stealing" and "dealing with." Swift acts like her designer jewelry or pet poodle was stolen, rather than, y'know, a human being.

Yes, it's completely wrong to try and get with someone already in a relationship - the lyrics aren't clear as to whether the boyfriend and the girl where cheating on the narrator, or whether he simply left her for another girl - but still, unless you're dating a programmable robot, it's highly unlikely this woman deserves all the blame.

This is even more disconcerting than the Actress/Mattress stanza, not only because it seems to be ingrained into Taylor Swift's brain that the woman is obviously the slutty man stealer, and the man is obviously the corrupted innocent, but because she believes all of her listeners will immediately agree with this. (And sadly, to look at the sabotage on Camilla Belle's Wikipedia page, she was right).

She's not a saint, and she's not what you think
She's an actress, whoa
She's better known for the things that she does
On the mattress, whoa

Whoa, Swift, I know Camilla Belle isn't exactly the greatest of actress, but - oh wait, she's calling her a slut. I R DUM.

Here's the famous stanzas that's had feminists amongst myself up in arms. Slut-shaming at its most crudest.

I may be being overly nitpicky, but something else isn't right about this. The concept here is that Swift is hammily implying that Belle is a slag, but she is unable to say it outright. She's like a preteen embarrassed about giggling at naughty words like "sex" and "boobs." It's as though she's so afraid of being labelled inappropriate or "naughty" and instead clumsily implies the accusation instead of outright saying it. In a way, that's even more despicable than actively calling Belle a slut.

Soon she's gonna find stealing other people's toys
On the playground won't make her many friends
She should keep in mind, she should keep in mind
There is nothing I do better than revenge, ha

And once again, a boyfriend is not a toy to be stolen on the playground. And I very much doubt that is cheating ass was as innocent as a child's toy.

She lives her life like it's a party and she's on the list.
She looks at me like I'm a trend and she's so over it
I think her ever present frown is a little troubling
She thinks I'm psycho 'cause I like to rhyme her name with things.

... And I find it difficult not to be sympathetic towards Belle for that.

But sophistication isn't what you wear or who you know
Or pushing people down to get where you wanna go

This is the one line in the song that makes me laugh. Hypocrite much, Swift? Why write this song if not to push Belle down in order to sell records?

Oh, they didn't teach you that in prep school, so it's up to me
But no amount of vintage dresses gives you dignity

This is uncomfortably snobbish. Calling someone unsophisticated because of their background is out of order - whether wealthy or poor. Swift is no longer having a go at Belle for going out with Jonas, she's become unnecessarily bitchy by criticizing her background and personal life. It's dangerously close to bullying and an attitude that a woman who takes so much pride in her perfect role-model image should not be demonstrating.


Am I overly critical here? Swift's attitude in these lyrics is a sharp contrast to the sweet innocent girl she is portrayed to be to create the mould she is slotted into to present her asa perfect role model.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

"Marauders Read My Immortal" Update

Dumbledore practicing his end of year speech.
It's coming. The finale, I promise. You will not be waiting another 6 months for me to get my act together and post a new chapter.

I've mapped out a relatively solid plan for the rest of the story; three more chapters for the gang to finish My Immortal, as well as an epilogue - where Dumbledore unveils his newly-decorated Great Hall, says "you-know-what", and everyone goes a bit mental. I'm actually really looking forward to the epilogue; it'll be a farewell to the story and kind of a thank you to everyone who stuck with it.

Thanks, MRMI fans.

I have exams over the next week, and after that I have an entire week free to get to grips with everything else going on. So realistically, if I use my newfound free time to update, Marauders Read My Immortal should be finished in just under a month.

Hope that's okay with you guys. ;)

Review - The Inbetweeners, Series 1, 2 And 3

Summary; Stupid teenage boys do stupid teenage boy things. And manage to be absolutely hilarious whilst doing it.

The Inbetweeners Series 1 - 3 follows the often misguided footsteps of Will, Simon, Neil and Jay, as they try to navigate their way through sixth-form, with their hormones running riot.

None of our heroes are exceptional, all are distinctly average. Will is constantly trying to raise their social standing, Simon is a hopeless romantic who is obsessed with schoolmate Carli, Neil is sometimes so slow it's more like owning a pet than having a friend, and Jay is a borderline sex-pest constantly bragging about imaginary sexual experiences.

In a nutshell, sixth-former Will McKenzie, a posh boy with delusions of high intelligence, is sent to a bawdy comprehensive where he becomes mates with three social misfits who make even Will look like a scholar - Simon Cooper, Jay Cartwright and Neil Sutherland. From there, they attempt to lose their virginity, get into parties, be part of the cool gang, and hook Simon up with sexy Carli D'Amato. (Note; none of these things ever actually happen. Instead, Will accidentally assaults a disabled girl, Jay gets caught wanking in an old ladies' home, a drunk Neil tries to get off with his Biology teacher at the prom and Simon... it's a toss up between puking on Carli's little brother or parading down the school fashion show catwalk dressed in an S&M costume with his testicles hanging out of his Speedo. It Makes Sense In Context).

The Inbetweeners is in part a a glorious sticking up of two fingers at male adolescence, and in part a piss take of more self-important teen shows with the likes of Skins. (Not that I'm dissing Skins). It proves that your teenage years probably aren't going to be the best of your life, and that whilst plenty of teenagers may boast about taking drugs and getting laid at every party, they're more likely to be begging for drinks in pubs and asking someone else to roll up their spliff joints for them.

Jay, Simon, Will and Neil are all archetypes of the teenage boy - the sex pest, the romantic, the up-himself wannabe genius with no notion of social skills, and the complete and utter idiot - and herein is the secret of The Inbetweeners's popularity with both kids and adults; nearly every viewer will be able to remember or recognize someone like that from school. All school kids have known someone who's lied about sleeping with every resident of the Playboy Mansion, and we've all known a guy who insisted they were in love with someone who they'd barely met and who treats them like crap.

Not only does Inbetweeners perfectly replicate the attitudes of a typical British teenager, as well as accurately observed dialogue - a rare feat from television, but "bell-end" and "clunge" are used frequently and hilariously on the show -  it's also able to laugh at them unashamedly. Inbetweeners reminds viewers of when they used to find keeping up with adulthood terrifying, when they thought that school was the be and end all of life, and gives them an opportunity to laugh at the person they were as a teenager through the medium of our four school boys that are embarrassingly similar to the kids they were once upon a time.

Still, that isn't the only reason Inbetweeners is so acclaimed and popular. Quite frankly, it's just fucking funny. All four actors - Simon Bird, Joe Thomas, James Buckley and Blake Harrison - slide into their roles perfectly, and breathe life into the nob jokes that infuse every second of the show. Their work has even been recognized by the awards shows - no mean feat for a teen comedy - with Simon Bird winning a Bafta for Male Comedy Newcomer, and James Buckley up for another Bafta this year. Terrific comic turns come too from Greg Davies's cynical headmaster, who hates everything including and especially his sixth-formers, and Will's "she's so fit I reckon she could be a prostitute" Mum, who's always happy to embarrass Will even further. Even Simon and Will's respective "love interests" Carli and Charlotte have their moments. (I use the quotation marks because, as love interests go, there's little development and interaction. Simon and Will's respective feelings for the girls are more of a joke-motor for the other characters - it turns out to be a surprisingly refreshing change from the typical angst-ridden romance that's common in teen shows).

Yet, despite all the "briefcase wankers" and cringe comedy, Inbetweeners does have an emotional side. As well as each season finale, when the boys manage to pull together and show that they are genuine friends, it also touches on teenage fear and insecurity through the medium of the (very) occasionally sympathetic Jay Cartwright.  At its heart, Inbetweeners is a sitcom about friendship, and about the ragtag bunch of loser friends that make it possible for you to survive adolescence, and it's perhaps for this reason - even more than the familiar cringe comedy - that resonates Inbetweeners so with viewers.

(Like other acclaimed British shows Skins and Being Human, The Inbetweeners is up for a stateside remake from... you guessed it, MTV. So it looks like they haven't been deterred enough from the failure of their version of Skins to stay away from British teen television. I am cautiously optimistic about this version; original show-writers Damon Beesley and Iain Morris are still scripting the adaptation and it's apparently going to be original episodes, rather than expies of the British episodes a la Skins. Still, it's disappointing that instead of making a remake, they can't, say, broadcast the original show in America? Anyway, I'll probably still tune in for the show, if only to see whether it turns out to be an Office or a Skins. And besides, whatever goes wrong, at least it'll piss the Parents Television Council off.)

5/5. One of the funniest British sitcoms of the 21st century.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Lily/James Fanfic Recommendations

It's no secret that I adore Lily/James Marauders-Era fanfiction. I've never been into kooky stuff where it turns out Dumbledore is OMG evulz and must be destroyed and then Harry has to go back in time or become a ridiculously powerful Boring Invincible Hero and inherit bazillions of money and become Lord Potter-Black or whatever and meanwhile Hermione's gone and had a makeover and Draco's like OMG she's so hawt I will ignore all my previous characterization and start writing flower poems and declare my true love for the Mudblood, but Hermione's all like no, no, I must go back in time and redeem Tom Riddle with the POWER OF LOVE and have lots of hot sex with him-

Sorry. Get very angry there. (Ron/Hermione forever, people!) There's some weird stuff in that fandom. But I do love a good story of unrequited love, lots of lovely yearning, crazy annoying friends, prank wars, kinky jokes, angst-oh-what-angst, immature teenagers, getting drunk, late night parties, plenty of oh-god-my-crush-doesn't-like-me-my-life-is-RUINED-FOREVER!, Quidditch matches, Voldemort rising... and then it all getting really depressing and ending with everyone dying or going to prison or betraying each other. In other words, I love Lily, James and Marauders fanfiction.

I'm a bit picky about fanfiction, and especially with Lily/James, there's a whole load of cliches and pet peeves that I get obsessive about, and like any popular fandom pairing, there's a lot of bad stuff in the genre. Luckily, as Sod's Law states, there's also at least 10% of good stuff, so here's a list of highly recommended Marauders-Era fanfic, due it being either tragic, funny, romantic, exciting, or just a plain good guilty pleasure;

  • Where Dwell The Brave At Heart (and the Outtakes) - Sirius, Remus and Harry go through Remus's school photo collection, each photo flashing back to the moment it was taken. A collection of non-chronological oneshots framed in an emotional style. It's a whole universe revolving around them, and it's epic. There's a lot of Lily/James romance, but there's also a love interest for Remus - love her/hate her Anna Lovett - and for Sirius - Slytherin ice-queen Electra Nott. (Also, this author adores Remus Lupin, so if you like reading about him, well, pretty much everything she's written centers around him in some way.)
  • A Lost Generation - The first James/Lily I ever really loved. It's definitely not a coming-of-age comedy; only the early chapters are set in Hogwarts, and it mostly concerns their life in the Order, the pressure of war, and the loss of all their friends. The writer's creation of Dorcas Meadowes, Lily's doomed best friend, is gorgeous, as is her failed romance with Sirius. I did have problems with Sirius's characterization; he's kind of an asshole here. The James/Lily romance, though... it's superb. It's incredible. (I wouldn't read this if you're just looking for a light piece of fun).
  • Tears On The Balcony (and its sequel, Kisses On The Balcony) - A funny, raunchy take on James', Lily's and the rest of the gang's seventh-year. It's lighthearted at first, and goes for a Skins'-esque version of Hogwarts; sex, drinking, partying, broom closet make-out sessions and what's more, writes it well. Riley, Lily's best friend and Sirius's love interest, is pure awesome. It has a few liberties with canon (Lily is an orphan, James comes from a large family and has a lot of siblings), and takes a chapter to get going, but it's well worth it.
  • Nobody Sees Me Wishing - Focused on a Sirius/OC romance rather than James/Lily, it's narrated by Lily's roommate Ivy Bennett, an aspiring writer who is hopelessly in love with an oblivious Sirius. It's a hell of a lot better than most OC romances, and comes to a sad ending. Seriously, if anyone's interested in Sirius/OC romances, this is practically the definitive work.
  • She Said What? - A first person account of Lily's seventh-year at Hogwarts as she tries not to go mad. As well as being an accurately depressing account of school life and stress, it's extremely funny and has a real knack for making mundane events hilarious.
  • Commentarius - It is impossible not to love this version of Lily. She's an awkward, self-conscious ginger with a temper problem and seriously weird friends. It's also written in a Bridget Jones's diary manner, and Lily's musings on love and life are sometimes hilarious, yet painfully realistic. The author rarely updates though, so you might be in for a wait to get this finished.
  • Written In The Stars - Written is the dark horse of the selection. It takes a bunch of traditional J/L tropes - Lily being shocked at James becoming Head Boy, James mysteriously maturing, Lily running out on their first kiss, James and Lily being involved in a Halloween misadventure, Lily having two best friends, one of which is beautiful, sharp-witted, likes fighting with Sirius and is *sooo not secretly in love with him*, and another who is quieter, shyer and falls for Remus - and writes them really well. Seriously, it writes them how they could and should be written. Not yet finished, but it's clear how much the writing has improved over the course of the story; the first chapter is pretty standard, and the last chapter is brilliant. Also, Eva/Sirius romance... :)... Damn, whyyy am I such a softie for Sirius Black romance???
  • The Marauders And The Rogues - One of those stories where Lily and her band of friends are also Animagi pranksters and arch-enemies with the Marauders. In this case, the Rogues - Lily, Hannah, Jamie and Regan - are each the counterpart and love interest to the respective Marauders; James, Sirius, Remus and Peter. I do have problems with the characterizations of the Marauders, but on the whole, I recommend this, because A) it's hilarious, B) the dynamic between the Rogues is terrific, and C) it's creations of Hannah and Regan are awesome, as is its version of Lily. It's not yet complete, and it's hanging on a surprising cliffhanger. (I think the story's currently on hiatus and may or may not be discontinued. Still, worth checking out - it's good fun.)

Review - Havemercy, by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett

Summary; Four very different men become unexpected heroes in winning and ending the war between their kingdom, Volstov, and its enemy, the Ke-Han.

Thanks to its elite Dragon Corps, the capital city of Volstov has all but won the hundred years' war with its neighboring enemy, the Ke-Han. The renegade airmen who fly thecorps's mechanical, magic-fueled dragons are Volstov's greatest weapon. But now one of its members is at the centre of a scandal that may turn the tide of victory. To counter the threat, four ill-assorted heroes must converge to save the kingdom; an exiled magician, a naive country boy, a young student - and the unpredictable ace the flies the city's fiercest dragon, Havemercy.

I'd wanted to get hold of Havemercy ever since I finished Jaida Jones's co-authored fanfiction, The Shoebox Project, of which I have a lot of thoughts on (in a generalized rush; as much as I adore the humor, characterization and James/Lily romance, for some reason I can never warm to the Remus/Sirius pairing). I was curious to see whether published work she was involved in stood well on its own, seeing the work of the other famous fanfiction writer who went onto a published career isn't all that great. (One thing I was wondering was whether the characters - four males - would bear basic resemblance to the four Marauders, the lead characters in the fanfic, seeing that was the big problem with Cassie Clare's writing - Jace/Cassie!Draco/Will are all the same bloody character. I digress, a rant over Cassie Clare is something for another day).

I needn't have worried. Danielle Bennett and Jaida Jones (or, as they are sometimes called, JaiDani), are a terrific pairing, and it's clear that they are debut authors - occasionally the plotting feels a little clumsy - but the prose is wonderful, and each of the four narrators develop clear, defined, original personalities. 

Like Shoebox, Havemercy is more character-based than plot-based, and the book unfolds at a leisurely pace, letting readers get to know each character; laddish Rook, studious but unworldly Thom, sophisticated and disgraced gay magician Margrave Royston and naive country boy Hal. The setting switches between the country - where Royston is suffering depression after his betrayal by his ex-lover, and Hal is slowly bringing him out of it - and the Dragon Corps barracks - where Thom is unsuccessfully trying to teach etiquette to the squaddie-like Corps. Myself, I preferred the Rook and Thom dynamic, as well as the ensuing HoYay. (Seriously, is there any project that Jaida Jones is involved in that doesn't involve copious amounts of homoerotic action? Not that I'm complaining). There's some subtle social commentary on the Dragon Corps and how institutionalized soldiers become during and after wartime, and Rook's character, which would've become just plain misogynistic in the hands of lesser writers, is well-handled; there's a moment between him and his dragon, Havemercy, that is one of the most touching in the whole book. Towards the climax of the book, a - fairly overused - reveal to the true nature of Thom and Rook's relationship comes to light, and to give credit to JaiDani, it's handled in a sensitive and relatively cliche-free way.

I loved the Hal/Royston romance. I'm picky with romances; it's all too easy to fall into common cliches and the like, but JaiDani handle it perfectly; Hal and Royston's descent from friendship, to hidden sexual tension, to fully-fledged romance was gorgeous.

There are some issues with the plotting - the reveal as to what will win the war and save the magicians is secondary to the effects this has on the relationships, and it's clear that the authors were more concerned with writing a character study than a fully-fledged high-fantasy warfare adventure. There's also a notable absence of prominent female characters, although I've heard this is rectified in the third novel. However, with its (mostly) lovable and unique characters, the story works very well, and I really enjoyed reading it. It's a well-crafted story, and for anyone who is sick of common dragon novel tropes and stereotypes, I will highly recommend this novel.

4/5. I had a couple of problems with the pacing, but it was a great story, and I'm looking forward to reading Shadow Magic and Dragon Soul.

Review - Vampire Academy (Books 1 - 3), by Richelle Mead

Summary; Rose Hathaway, a teenage dhampir, is training to be a bodyguard to her best friend Lissa Dragomir, a Moroi vampire princess, to protect her from the Strigoi, a race of evil vampires hellbent on destroying the Moroi.

(Note; I've only read the first three, so I'm reviewing the first three as a whole, and when I get round to reading the last three, I'll review them as a group. I'm weirdly obsessive like that).

I'll be straight here. I enjoyed Vampire Academy. I wasn't expecting to, and I have my reservations, but I did like it. Out of the storm of young adult books published in the whirlwind of post-Twilight vampire/paranormal/forbidden romance/fantasy knock-offs that hoped to cash in on the success of the franchise, Vampire Academy is the only one I ever liked.

Rose Hathaway herself is a major reason why. She's headstrong, clever, loyal, flawed, and ultimately likable. What's more, her flaws are actually addressed and she isn't treated like she's perfect. Richelle Mead, already you are head and shoulders above nearly every other young adult vampire writer in the business. Like most current heroines, she is gorgeous and has a harem of guys drooling over her, but still, it manages to avoid being annoying. (Besides, Rose is a good flirt. The funniest scenes in the books involve Rose discussing killer geese and broken hearts with Mason).

Still, it's difficult to get behind the Rose/Dimitri romance. Rose and Dimitri have chemistry. They compliment each other, they grow emotionally for each other. Dimitri himself was more likable than a typical "dark and brooding love interest"; he's intelligent, doesn't race in to play the hero in the way Rose does, and backs up what he teaches with proof that he is a powerful Strigoi hunter. But the student/teacher factor is still present, and for this reason, it is difficult to root for the pairing. And that's a shame, because I felt that I would've liked the romance otherwise. Dimitri's turning Strigoi element is unexpected, though, and I look forward to see how Rose deals with losing her first love in the later books. (And I'll admit that I would like to see some Rose/Adrian action. If only to piss the queen off).

One thing I do really like about the books is its depiction of teenage school life. Some of them smuggle alcohol in, get smashed, flirt, have parties, have sex and talk about it, and as well as that, often have their own insecurities and worries, and some of them have to see counsellors, take anti-depressants and the like. It's a refreshingly realistic representation of the teenage experience, especially coming from the YA paranormal romance genre, which has a tendency to gloss over some aspects and present a packaged, sugar-coated version of adolescence. I found Lissa's depression and self-harm storyline to be realistic, well-handled and touching. How the girls eventually dealt with it was good; Rose understanding that Lissa can't cope alone, Lissa eventually accepting that she needs help.

Otherwise, Lissa Dragomir is a wasted character. Originally, she seemed to be created as a foil and polar opposite of Rose, but so far, she's failed to grow out of her princess/damsel in distress mould and grow into a fascinating character. As Rose grows more and more complex, Lissa simply becomes insanely dull. Part of this arises from Frostbite; Lissa has recovered from her self-harm and depression, and it would be a great time to showcase what she can really do. However, she's pushed aside in this book to make way for Rose's developing relationships with both Dimitri and Mason, as well as introducing Adrian Ivashkov and Tasha Ozera. She isn't even present in the climax, and for the secondary female lead, that's disappointing. As a result, by Shadow Kiss, she's far less identifiable as a character; a reader doesn't know her as well, and now she has her depression cured and under control, she doesn't have many struggles that readers can sympathize with. (I'm guessing that the series is going to climax with some sort of dethroning of the Queen, and Lissa taking her place as the new queen. Unless she develops more of a personality later on, I can't find myself caring too much about her story-line). There are some interesting themes of classism touched upon in regard to Lissa and Rose's relationship; Rose is ordered by the bloody queen to lay off Adrian so he marry Lissa, Rose is expected to arrange her life to fit around Lissa's. Again, as Lissa is on the inside in all these situations, it's difficult to care about her, but Rose does give her a pretty heavy calling out at the end of Shadow Kiss, so I'm looking forward to how she develops in Blood Promise.

I do recommend this series. It has some touching moments, some hilarious ones, some genuinely tense places and when it comes to current vampire YA, Vampire Academy is definitely by far one of the better series. It's not perfect, it's not going to revolutionize the genre, but it's a good story.

3/5. It's a well-crafted story and has some great characters, but for every interesting character and good romance, there's something there to counteract this. Still, it's an entertaining read.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Review - Losing It, edited by Keith Gray

Summary; An anthology of short stories dealing with teenagers losing their virginity, finding their sexuality and figuring out the consequences and taboos that come with it.

Will you? Won't you? Should you? Shouldn't you? Have you...? A gift? Or a burden?

Virginity and sexuality is a touchy topic in modern YA. In a genre ruled by no-sex-before-marriage propagandists like Stephenie Meyer and shameless slut-shamers such as Becca Fitzpatrick, it can become a dangerously taboo subject with little good literature dealing with teenage sex currently being published. However, the blurb of Losing It calls itself "Everything you wanted to know about virginity but your parents were too embarrassed to tell you." It's not lying.

Complete with some of the most intelligent writers in YA today, such as Anne Fine and Melvin Burgess (both of whom have some of the most stellar reputations in the entire genre), Patrick Ness (author of Chaos Walking Trilogy, and one of my favorite writers), Sophie McKenzie (author of Girl, Missing, one of my sister's favorite books) and Bali Rai (author of The Last Taboo, and deals heavily with racism and interracial culture), the anthology came with high expectations, and I am really, really pleased to say that it did not disappoint. It is the sort of YA that should be dominating bookshelves, the sort that should send moral guardians into a panic, make Daily Mail readers campaign to ban it from libraries and send Stephenie Meyer and Becca Fitzpatrick slinking back to their holes in shame.

Patrick Ness's Different For Boys, a novella on boys coming to terms with homosexuality and trying to figure out what virginity even means, is the most memorable, introducing a concept of blacking-out all swear-words - and considering this is about teenage lads obsessed with manhood, whole paragraphs are sometimes blacked-out (in hindsight, it's not surprising, coming from Ness. His Chaos Walking series has recurrent themes of censorship). A character even leans on the fourth-wall and comments, "Certain words are necessary because this is real life, but you can't actually show 'em because we're too young to read about the stuff we actually do." I'm guessing this is going to resonate with a lot of teenagers that feel patronized or misrepresented.

Despite Different For Boys being the most striking (and arguably, the most shocking, along with The White Towel), it's not the only standout in the book; Anne Fine's Finding It is a touching story of a world-weary teacher having to teach the school's dreaded Sex Ed class, and finds herself reflecting on her first time, her later love, and her wonders on what lies in store for her students in their future. If you've had a bad first time, are worried that sex isn't all it's cracked up to be, or are just worried about the future of sex and relationships, well, this story might not put to bed those worries, but it may lessen them somewhat. It did with me.

By far the funniest in the anthology is The Age Of Consent, where a grandmother openly discusses her first time to her shocked family. The parents of the teenagers present are appalled, but the experience gives a valuable lesson to the sixteen-year-old granddaughter. This humorous piece subtly highlights a serious topic; adults need to be able to discuss sex with their children. (Without her crazy grandmother's advice, this girl could well have regretted her first time). Other stories in the series tell slightly more familiar tales; Scoring, written by the anthology's editor (whose other work I have not read but am now pretty tempted to get hold of), discusses the pressure of sex on teenage boys, contradicting advice coming from his coach, football team, other friends and girlfriend, and The Way It Is is another story about not giving in to pressure about sex. Despite the not uncommon premises, the writers to inject the storylines with refreshing, unsure, likable characters, and do incite the readers to care about them and their predicaments.

And adding a bitter tinge to the often funny stories about finding sex, love and yourself, come such heavier offerings as The White Towel and Charlotte; the former dealing with the taboo and dire consequences that a girl faces in a traditional Indian community when it is rumored she is not a virgin on her wedding night, the latter following a destitute Victorian girl as she is forced into prostitution to provide for her family. Discovering the darker side of what losing virginity can mean to some people adds a more sombre tone to the book; sex can have undeserved and unexpected consequences for some people, and needs to be treated with respect.

In all, the anthology is highly recommended; when we come of age, we worry heavily about virginity, sexuality, and whether it's even okay to be thinking these thoughts. We need books like this in our culture, letting us know it's okay to be nervous or curious, virgin or promiscuous, straight or gay, or whatever the hell we want to be, rather than the multitude of novels ingrained into pop culture and aimed at young adults (Twilight being the most iconic offender), dictating that teenagers must be in straight, attractive, chaste, so-unremarkable-it's-remarkable romances. I love this book.

5/5. Definitely.