Sunday, 30 April 2017

Fandom Mashup | Material Girl

Fandom Mashup is an original featured created and hosted by the lovely Micheline @ Lunar Rainbows Reviews. Each week she proposes a unique fictional scenario and then invites you to build a dream team of five fictional characters from five different fandoms to help you to complete the task. Make sure you check out Micheline's blog for more info!

This week we've gained the means to acquire any magical items you desire! YES!  Pick 5 magical items from 5 different magical worlds as your top picks.

It actually took me a while to think of a list of five, and Micheline's list is great, but thankfully I managed to get there in the end...

I have to still one of Micheline's answers first, there's no way I couldn't have my very own wand. On Pottermore my wand's core is unicorn hair, which I think is especially fitting for me!

I currently live near the coast, so being able to control the whole sea? Yes please. Gimme that trident. Also being a mermaid sounds like it could be fun; I'd love to go searching for some sunken treasure.

I was always more of a Bedknobs and Broomsticks fan than a Mary Poppins fan, and I'd love to have Eglantine Price's bed. It's basically a more comfortable broomstick that will take you literally anywhere you want to go, even inside a book. Being able to travel anywhere, and on a bed too, is basically my dream.

So if you've been following my blog for a while you'll know Silvia Moreno-Garcia's Signal to Noise is one of my favourite novels. It's set in Mexico City in the '80s, where 15 year old Meche learns to cast spells using her vinyl records - I want a magic vinyl record, too!

Swords and whatnot are cool and all, but I always loved Susan Pevensie's horn in The Chronicles of Narnia. Just give it a blow and aid will come - sounds pretty useful!

Which items would you choose?

Friday, 28 April 2017

Should Disney's First Openly Gay Character Be Celebrated?

Disclaimer: Some mild spoilers for the Beauty and the Beast remake. Yes I do take Disney movies too seriously, no I’m not sorry for it. These are my own thoughts, views and opinions etc. – in no way am I presuming to speak for the LGBT+ community and I apologise in advance if I come across that way at any point in this discussion, it’s not my intention. This post was first posted on my other blog, which I'm considering moving over to permanently in future.

As Disney goes through its remake phase, just like it went through its sequel phase, it was only a matter of time before 1991’s Beauty and the Beast was given a fresh lick of live action paint.

News stories started asking if the fairy tale promotes bestiality or Stockholm syndrome as though this were the first time those questions had been asked – seriously, do they not realise how often fairy tales have been studied over the years? This isn’t a shock revelation – until it was revealed that LeFou, played by Josh Gad of Frozen fame, was going to be reimagined and portrayed as an LGBT+ character. Naturally, that was all the press could focus on and, in some ways, I can’t really blame them. LeFou’s hardly the hero of Beauty and the Beast, but that Disney were actually going to acknowledge someone as openly gay in one of their movies was a big deal – especially to the LGBT+ community who have been waiting for this kind of representation for years.

Now that I’ve seen the film (and I won’t talk about my thoughts on it here, because this  blog post would turn into a book) I can say that, yes, I certainly got the impression that LeFou is a member of the LGBT+ community, but at no point did he use the all important sentence: I’m gay (or however else he might choose to identify himself). This is a real shame considering the director of the remake, Bill Condon, is an openly gay man himself. If LeFou being gay was the director’s intention then why not just come out and say it? Would including a piece of dialogue like that take too much attention away from the main storyline?

Well, it shouldn’t. We need to start getting to a point where it’s not a shock for someone to reveal they aren’t heterosexual, if they’re comfortable enough to discuss their sexuality. If attention can be taken away from the main storyline by something like that then that’s the fault of the creators and of the audience, because people talking openly and safely about their sexuality in the media, whatever their sexuality is, isn’t going to seem normal until we make it normal, and we need more creators who are willing to take that risk – especially with media that is largely consumed by children. What better way to make children realise, from a young age, that people are deserving of respect regardless of who they choose to take to bed (or choose not to, in some cases).

So, should Disney be praised for their decision to make LeFou an LGBT+ character?

Honestly, I don’t think so. We don’t really know for certain that he is gay because he never tells us that he is. Sure, at the end of the movie there’s about two seconds of screen time when we see him dancing with another man and we’re led to believe his adoration of Gaston is more along the lines of wanting to be with him than like him, but this feels a little like the Dumbledore fiasco all over again. When Rowling revealed Dumbledore was gay there was an outcry from the LGBT+ community because it wasn’t blatantly said outright. At the time I wasn’t sure what people were expecting – was Dumbledore’s sexuality really revelant to Harry’s story? – but I don’t think we can ignore so many voices, from the very community Dumbledore is supposed to be a part of, telling us they weren’t satisfied with the years of only hinting at non-heterosexuality.

Whenever we watch a film or read a book, we’re programmed to automatically assume that everyone is heterosexual, and that’s why it’s important for creators to just come out and say when someone is gay or bisexual or pansexual or demisexual or asexual – sexuality is fluid and all members of every sexuality deserve to see themselves reflected in the stories they immerse themselves in. That’s why it was so important for LeFou to come out and say: ‘I’m gay.’

I can already hear people’s counter-arguments: ‘The story’s set in 18th century France, LeFou would have been executed for sodomy if he’d come out as gay’. Hm. Yeah, but I don’t remember many stories of 18th century French villages having their own royal families who they’ve forgotten about because an enchantress has turned their prince into a beast. It’s a bit like saying the sexual violence in Game of Thrones is historically accurate even though Westeros is entirely fictional and its own rules could apply. There are dragons in Game of Thrones, too, but no one argues that they’re historically inaccurate. This is exactly the same for our nameless French village; there’s no reason why this one village, with its own royal family they clearly decided not to send to the guillotine, couldn’t be a far more liberal place than the rest of the country.

Also, LeFou doesn’t necessarily have to come out to the people who could potentially cause him harm. Belle is portrayed as forward-thinking and you can guarantee the Beast knew someone in his circle of aristocratic friends who wasn’t straight, what’s important is that LeFou comes out to people who accept him in front of the audience. What’s important is that children see him not being used as comic relief, but as someone who questions the constraints of traditional masculinity and is rewarded for it.

On the one hand, I want to praise Disney for taking another step closer to one day having openly non-heterosexual protagonists, to encourage them to take further steps like this one, but on the other I find it difficult to praise a movie for having Disney’s first ‘openly gay character’ when we don’t know for certain that he is gay, and it’s certainly not openly if he is, and when we remember that Disney was founded in 1923. This is far too long a wait for representation that has come in the form of a side character who still isn’t really given the kind of voice that the LGBT+ community deserves.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Top Ten Tuesday | Bookish Turn-Offs

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!

This week's theme is all about the things that make us NOT want to read a book. I did struggle with this theme a bit at first, but the more I thought about it the more I remembered just how many bookish tropes get on my nerves. So, without further ado, here are my top ten eight!

A city girl starts a new life in the country... This has been done to death in contemporary - looking at you, Jenny Colgan - and while some stories can be charming, the more I see it the more it bugs me. I'm a country girl myself, I've always lived in the countryside and I love the countryside, and there's something a tad patronising about the way the country is often portrayed as this quaint, idyllic, backward place with no wifi. The countryside is just as varied as the big cities, and it'd be nice to see this reflected more in fiction.

It's hard being a white, middle-aged, middle class, able-bodied, cisgendered man, I think I'll have an affair... NOPE. Sorry fellas, but I don't care about your problems that aren't really problems. By all means give me a protagonist who fits all the afore-mentioned criteria but who is also a unique and real voice, but don't give me a man chasing a manic pixie dream girl.

Dude, where's the blurb..? I hate it when I want to know what a book is about, but all I get is a blurb so vague it might as well not be there or nothing at all. Some people like no blurb, and that's fine, but personally I want to have an idea of what a book's about before I give it my time.

Waaay too much blurb... On the other end of the scale, I'm immediately put off by a blurb that starts to feel like I'm reading an essay. I want to know what the book's about, I don't want to know the plot twist or the protagonist's love interest's grandmother's budgie's maiden name.

The Dead Girl Test... I've mentioned this before. The Dead Girl Test is a test I give every crime/thriller novel I pick up which involves the murder of women. If, at any point, the detective sees the corpse of a murdered woman and describes her as beautiful, I'm outta here. Why? Firstly, I hate the way that it implies that her death would be any less tragic if she were ugly. Secondly, I think corpses are too grim to be thought of as beautiful, especially if a person's been murdered and their body has just been found.

Three's a Crowd... Love triangles are done badly 99.9% of the time. I have no interest in them, especially after living through the dark years of YA brimming with the damn things.

Strike a Pose... This is purely personal taste, but I'm very, very rarely drawn to books that have the photograph of a person on the front. I like to imagine the characters for myself and I'm a big lover of simple, eye-catching, typographic covers.

Not Like Other Girls... In historical fiction in particular, I'm really bored of reading about heroines who are ahead of their time and are somehow better than the other women they know because they want to do something other than get married and have children. Can we stop the girl hate please?

What turns you off a book?

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Top Ten Tuesday | Unique, just like everyone else

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!

This week's theme is 'Top Ten Of The Most Unique Books I've Read', which is a topic with a whole lot o' scope. How do we judge what's unique when every single one of us reads different books and even reads the same books in a different way? But there's no need for me to get all philosophical.

Here are ten of the most unique books I've read, all for different reasons, and if you haven't read them yourself I recommend them! Or at least most of them...

Holes by Louis Sachar: I was lucky enough to read Holes in school, and when I was first told I was going to read it I wasn't impressed. It's essentially described as a story about boys digging holes but it turned out to be so much more than that and I have such fond memories of it now.

Blood Red Road by Moira Young: This one was a unique read for me because of the way it's written. Usually I find it hard to get into books written in dialect, but this book pulled me through it and I ended up loving it. I still haven't read the sequels because it turns out I'm rubbish at reading series, but I do still love this one.

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: As always, I refuse to miss a chance to mention this book. I love witches and I love stories about witchcraft, but there are a lot of samey ones out there. Signal to Noise, however, is such a fresh witchcraft story; it's set in Mexico in the 1980s, where fifteen year old Meche learns to cast spells with her vinyl records. It's so good and you need to read it immediately.

The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig: I don't read many time travel books, but I think the way time travel happens in Heilig's debut is such an exciting, new way. The characters in The Girl From Everywhere don't find secret portals or build time machines, instead there are certain people who can sail to places on a map - but there's a catch, if they find a map to 17th century France then they'll travel to 17th century France. It's just so cool, and a really fun novel, too!

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli: My favourite book of 2017 so far, it's still gives me the warm fuzzies just thinking about it. The protagonist, Molly, is overweight, but something about this book is truly miraculous: the story isn't about Molly wanting or trying to lose weight. I know, it's astounding, isn't it? Read this if you haven't already, it'll make you feel better about the world.

Wise Children by Angela Carter: Sadly I'm not the biggest Carter fan, aside from The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, because her work is just a little too weird for my tastes - Wise Children is no exception. I had to read this during sixth form and it's just bizarre. I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it yet, but any book that ends with a seventy-five woman sleeping with a one hundred year old man who she knows is either her uncle or her father is definitely unique in my book. And bloody weird.

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix: Sadly, this story about a haunted store rather than a haunted house turned out not to be as different as I was hoping, but the way it's been published is definitely unique. Horrorstör has been published to look and feel like a department store catalogue and I love it for that alone.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin: Probably the most unique high fantasy book I've read, which doesn't really say much because I haven't read much high fantasy since I was a teenager and have only started getting back into it in the past year. The way this book is written is unique, the characters are unique, the relationships are unique, the ways magic and science intersect are unique. It's a brilliant book and you should read it.

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson: I've yet to come across any other books in which the narrator is a nameless pornographer recovering from severe burns. That's pretty unique to me!

The Meat Tree by Gwyneth Lewis: This is a retelling of one of the stories in The Mabinogion. Now The Mabinogion is already weird in and of itself, and this sci-fi retelling took it to a whole other level that, to be honest, I didn't really enjoy. I haven't read anything else like it, though!

Which books made your list this week?

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Top Ten Tuesday | Tonight, Matthew, I'm going to be...

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!

This week's theme is a fandom freebie, so I'm going to talk about some of the characters I'd love to cosplay as. I love a good Comic Con, though I've never been able to go to the biggest one in the UK which is, of course, in London, but I haven't cosplayed since my teens. These are the characters I'd love to be for the day if I ever have the confidence to cosplay again!

(Sorry, I think only people who can remember Stars in Their Eyes will get the reference in my title...)

Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas: This is one of my favourite films from my childhood and every Halloween I try to dress up as Sally before I go out for cocktails, but unless I want to try making her dress myself (which would be a terrible idea) her outfit is either too expensive or the cheap ones aren't made of very nice (or flattering) material. One day!

Katrina Van Tassel from Sleepy Hollow: Another much-loved film of mine, and to be honest the main reason I'd love to cosplay as Katrina is down to the dress she wears right at the end of the film - I call it her Beetlejuice dress.

Belle from Beauty and the Beast: My favourite film of all time, I love it so much. I actually had a fancy dress party for my 18th and dressed up as Belle in her ball dress, but I'd love to cosplay her in her blue dress; she looks most like herself in that dress.

Violet from Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Various Artists: This is probably my favourite graphic novel series and I just adore Violet, plus I think one of my friends would be a fantastic Hannah - I'll have to try and convince her to cosplay with me.

Alexia Tarabotti from the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger: I've only read Soulless (reviewed here) so far, but I still think Alexia is such a fun character and I could have a lot of fun putting together a 19th century outfit.

Evy Carnahan from The Mummy: If Beauty and the Beast is my favourite film, The Mummy is a very close second and most of that is down to Evy. As you can see, I have a thing for nerds and bookworms in films - I think The Mummy is the first time I saw a person a bit like me in an action movie, and that was quite a big deal.

Clarice Starling from The Silence of the Lambs: Another cinematic heroine of mine, though I enjoyed the book, too. I like Clarice because she's not perfect; so many women in thrillers are unrealistic because filmmakers feel the need to make a woman flawless to make her likeable, but they didn't do that to Clarice. She's still learning and she can make mistakes, but that doesn't take anything away from her successes.

Éowyn from The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: This lady is the mother of the Warrior Princess trope, and she's fantastic. She's one of my favourite characters from The Lord of the Rings and I'd love to swish around in one of her dresses while also feeling bad-ass.

Alice from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: This is another one of my favourite classic stories, and I think so much fun could be had with an Alice cosplay; you can be as innocent, as mad or as dark as you like, that's why the story's constantly being retold.

Rowena Ravenclaw from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling: All I'd need is a medieval blue dress and the Ravenclaw diadem and I'd be set! I'm still waiting for Rowling to write me a book about the Founders to be honest...

What did you talk about this week?

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Top Ten Tuesday | O Captain! My Captain!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!

This week's theme is 'Top Ten Authors I'm Dying To Meet / Ten Authors I Can't Believe I've Met  (some other "meeting authors" type spin you want to do)'. You may or may not know this, I have no idea, but I studied Creative Writing for four years at university and got tutored by some brilliant writers, but today I thought I'd talk about some of the authors I wish I'd been able to have some lessons with while I was a student - they're all writers I still wouldn't say no to a lesson with now!

Sarah Waters: I love Waters' fiction, The Little Stranger is one of my favourite books, and I think the stories she chooses to tell are fantastic. The focus of my MA was how historical fiction can be used as a tool to write women, the LGBT+ community, poc and any other form of 'other' back into history, so to be tutored by a woman who specialises in LGBT+ historical fiction would have been amazing.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: I read Adichie's story collection, The Thing Around Your Neck, earlier this year and loved it. She's also a very political, outspoken person and I think I could learn an awful lot from her.

Margaret Atwood: The woman's a genius, what more is there to say?

Samantha Ellis: Some Creative Writing MA courses in the UK make you choose between focusing on solely prose or solely poetry, but what I liked about my course at Lancaster University was that you could explore anything you wanted to. Having said that, I've never tried my hand at writing scripts and I think part of that is because we didn't have any tutors who specialised in them, and Ellis is a playwright as well as a writer of non-fiction. She also seems like a genuinely nice human being and I think a workshop with her would be really interesting - if nothing else we could gush about Anne Brontë together.

Alison Weir: I haven't actually read any of Weir's books yet (something I'm hoping to change this year!) but I think she'd've been a great tutor for me during my MA because she's both a historian and a novelist, and I think I could have learned a lot about knowing when to separate fact from fiction and knowing how much research to do without driving myself around the bend as I sometimes found myself doing.

Gail Carriger: I've been struggling to write fiction since I finished uni and entered the world of full-time work, which I'm finding really frustrating and it's making me lose my confidence when I sit down to finish an incomplete short story, and there's something about Carriger's work that seems so indulgent and fun that I think a workshop with her would encourage me to actually get some words on the page.

Angela Carter: Sadly Carter died in 1992 when I was a measly 4 months old so I'll never have the opportunity to be taught by her, and, if I'm being honest, I'm not actually the biggest fan of her work aside from The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories. She did teach at the University of East Anglia, one of the best unis in the UK for Creative Writing, and I think workshops with her must have been fascinating because she was so radical.

Robin Hobb: Another author I haven't read but I'm planning to read this year. I think we can all agree that Hobb is the biggest female author in the world of high fantasy and I think she'd have a lot to teach me about building a whole world, with its own countries and cultures and environment, from scratch.

Kurtis J. Wiebe: Something else I wasn't able to explore at uni is writing for comics and graphic novels, and as Rat Queens is my favourite graphic novel series I'd be happy to have a workshop all about writing for comics with Wiebe.

Roald Dahl: Yet another author who has shuffled off this mortal coil, and one who would be 100 now if he was still alive. Dahl died the year before I was born but he was still a huge part of my childhood - I got my dad to read Fantastic Mr. Fox to me so many times that I think we both knew it by heart - can you imagine having a workshop about writing for children with this man? Yes please.

Who did you talk about this week?

Monday, 27 March 2017

Review | A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

by Becky Chambers

My Rating:

Lovelace was once merely a ship's artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in an new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who's determined to help her learn and grow.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.

Considering The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is one of my favourite books of all time, I'm a little ashamed it's taken me quite this long to get to A Closed and Common Orbit. If you haven't read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet yet and you're planning to, I advise you to stop reading this review now! I try to keep my reviews spoiler-free, but I don't think you should go near A Closed and Common Orbit at all if you've yet to read the first book.

It was lovely to be back in this world, in this universe I fell in love with in the first book, and stepping back into it felt like stepping into a place that restores my faith in humanity. Unfortunately I didn't love this one as much as I loved the first one, but I also wasn't expecting to; The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is one of those rare books that's simply perfect.

When I read the blurb for A Closed and Common Orbit I predicted that I'd find Lovelace's story much more interesting than Pepper's, but it actually turned out to be the other way around. That's not to say that I didn't find Lovelace's chapters interesting because I really did; as I expected, Chambers' exploration of AIs was fantastic throughout the novel, but while I enjoyed those particular parts of Lovelace's chapters and completely empathised with her frustration at being trapped in a body she felt she wasn't suited for, Lovelace just didn't grow on me in the same way that Pepper did.

I'm not sure I can accurately pinpoint what it was about Pepper that made me so fond of her. We discover how much crap the poor woman went through as a child, so I found something really rewarding in watching her overcome all that hardship with the help of a woman called Owl who may have been my favourite character in the book. The relationship between the two of them was heart-warming, and while it became just the slightest bit saccharine near the end of the novel I didn't mind; I needed to read something nice, something hopeful, and though this book isn't hopeful in the same way The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is, it's still lovely.

It would be unfair to compare another book, even a book set in the same universe, with A Closed and Common Orbit. The two books are such different stories - A Closed and Common Orbit is a much more confined, secretive story, as the title suggests - that it's impossible to truly compare them. Chambers excels at quiet, kind science fiction, and I enjoyed learning more about AIs and Aeluons in this book. I can't wait to return to this universe for a third time, and will happily gobble up whatever Chambers writes.