Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Discussion: Tangled Web of Blogger & Author Friendships

This is a controversial issue, so I know I must tread lightly. I just want to be clear that I'm not policing your friendships, nor am I discounting them or am I shaming you for having them at all. The intention of this post isn't some attempt to make you stop interacting with authors. Rather, it's an a discussion post intended to create conversation through some observations I've made and quite a few questions I have for the community.

One of the many things on my mind is how does one remain impartial while maintaining author friendships? How much weight do they or do they not hold on the final rating or review? For me I find the whole point of writing reviews is to showcase your honest opinion on a story. So, personally, when bloggers are openly/publicly interactive and very friendly with an author and give their story a glowing five stars in the back of my mind I wonder: how much did their friendship influence their review or rating? Did the blogger feel pressured, perhaps to the extent where they felt in order to maintain their ties with the author they must inflate the rating? Do they feel guilty they didn't like the book and feel they to overcompensate the positives? It's hard to say and honestly leaves me wary and at times creates mistrust.

Personally speaking, I'm friendly (in my eyes there's a difference between the odd tweet and constant everyday sorta friendship thing) with authors. I wouldn't say I'm particularly close with any to the point of true friendship however. Part of that is because I fully admit I may be prone to adjusting ratings, or at least may feel the need to if the circumstance of becoming close friends with an author was presented. I think it'd be awkward to say the least to have a very strong friendship, read their book, find it mediocre or worse and continue talking to the author casually. So, the thing is- I get it. I understand why somebody would feel pressured to heighten ratings. Do I personally agree with the integrity and honesty lost with it? No, not in the least especially with the very core of the community based on honest opinions. I hold that honest integrity above all else. It's because of that I keep a professional distance from authors and don't cross into that  murky friendship area.  This is definitely an individually based choice, I think it would differ from blogger to blogger on whether or not they would be able to remain impartial or not.

It's no doubt in my mind that some bloggers who have crossed that line of professionalism into friendship and at one point or another may have felt obligated to heighten ratings (especially bloggers at a younger age, I feel they'd be more prone to the influence that comes along with the friendship) despite their genuine feelings about a novel.To anybody out there who may be feeling the temptation to inflate ratings I would encourage you to consider other options.

Many alternate options do exist and while they won't be as pleasing to an author as a glowing five star review, they're certainly more honest and the more trustworthy thing to do. The best one in my view would be an honest rating and review, of course while remaining respectful. I know some bloggers would worry that this would impact their friendship with the author but quite frankly, if an author is really your friend (and not just there for opportunistic promotion, which unfortunately does exist and I've personally experienced) I'm sure they wouldn't be put off by a 3 star review. Another choice is to to quietly rate on goodreads or not even rate at all and avoid all the possible awkwardness all together. While this one does bother me as it's restricting you of your true opinion, I definitely find it better than a falsified and frankly dishonest perspective.

Overall it's clear to me that Blogger & Author friendships and the line that exists in terms of professionalism is no easy thing to determine as it honestly differs from person to person. I personally do feel that pressure to inflate ratings exists. I think the crucial thing to do is to recognize this pressure and if you do have blogging friendships, consider the weight of their friendship on your impartiality in order to reach a option that works for you.
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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Discussion: Get Off Your Fucking Pedestal

Often times in the genre of Young Adult, I feel as if the main character is put on a pedestal of sorts. By this I mean the main character is lifted far up and beyond the other characters in the story and is seen as more powerful/knowledgeable/simply better than everybody else. Sometimes it seems as if the main character is even condescending or judgmental at times because she is put on such a high pedestal.  I feel as if this occurs in a multitude of ways, all of which I find to be of annoyance to me but one way is certainly more problematic.

The first technique I have seen several times in YA to make the main character just seem utterly amazing and borderline perfect is the "special snowflake" trope. This one isn't a new idea and seems to occur most often in the YA paranormal and fantasy novels. Pretty much the main character makes discoveries about the supernatural world, is the true heir to the throne etc etc. Then we discover the main character has special abilities or perhaps there is a prophecy..AND THE MAIN CHARACTER IS THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN SAVE THE WORLD FROM RUIN. Naturally the main character will become ultra amazing at her power right away with little training. From there on out nearly every character who crosses the MC will love her and if not they're totally evil. Despite impossible circumstances the main character will always prosper.

While the aforementioned method is irritating, a tired trope and has been done about a thousand times it's not particularly offensive or hateful. I find other methods of promoting the main character much worse, just because they usually involve the degradation and tearing down of the side characters in order make the MC appear even more "appealing".

An example of this would be an YA novel where the main character has a best friend/sister/acquaintance who is a little bit more sexually promiscuous than the main character. Honestly, I'm fine with this being included as I don't expect us all to be sexual in the same way or at all. However, what I'm not fine with is it being included, having MC point it out so frequently and then points out her own innocence right after or judges the side character for her sexual experience. This infuriates me as it plays into the societal ideal that sex = taboo/bad, therefore the main character is much more angelic and "good"  than her sexually active side character. When this technique is used it also makes it seem like the side character's only purpose is to solely exist so the main character appears more "wholesome" and appealing to the reader which frustrates me to no end. Not only is it slut shaming, but it also promotes unhealthy female friendships.

Another example of an side character whose entire existence is usually torn down is the quintessential mean girl. Not only is the mean girl often slut shamed/judged by the main character (see the above paragraph for more on that) but it also appears that this side character is often never developed in any shape or form. The mean girl is just mean for the sake of being mean it seems (which is also very unrealistic). While I don't justify bullying in any way, by not developing the mean girl beyond the stereotypical trope it honestly just seems like she's being included just so she can victimize the MC and evoke the reader's sympathy. It not only demonizes the mean girl but also dehumanizes her by making her once again, nothing more that a character to increase the MC's appeal.

It's truly unnecessary (and sometimes even problematic) for the main characters to be put on such a high pedestal, especially since it's usually done in at the expense of the side characters. I think it's a very juvenile and narrow minded perspective that the main characters must be "perfect" or appear "better" than every other character in a novel. I personally prefer the main characters in novels to be flawed and to be not constantly reminded about how much better she/he is than everybody else. I also enjoy reading about side characters and believe they deserve way more development and credit than just being a tool to further enhance the main character.
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Sunday, March 6, 2016

Review: The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

The Dark Days Club (Lady Helen #1)
By Alison Goodman
YA, Historical Fiction, Paranormal
Release Date: January 26th, 2016
Viking Books
★★★ .5
New York Times bestseller Alison Goodman’s eagerly awaited new project: a Regency adventure starring a stylish and intrepid demon-hunter! London, April 1812. On the eve of eighteen-year-old Lady Helen Wrexhall’s presentation to the queen, one of her family’s housemaids disappears-and Helen is drawn into the shadows of Regency London. There, she meets Lord Carlston, one of the few who can stop the perpetrators: a cabal of demons infiltrating every level of society. Dare she ask for his help, when his reputation is almost as black as his lingering eyes? And will her intelligence and headstrong curiosity wind up leading them into a death trap?

First off, some of you may know how big of a fan I am of the sub-genre historical fiction within YA. I love it and will pretty much read any story marketed this way. I think Dark Days Club does the genre justice as it so obviously well researched, the author capturing so many details specific to the Regency period. The details are also weaved throughout the story seamlessly, in a way that makes you truly feel the atmosphere of the time period. Never did it come across as like a textbook flooding you with useless and detached information though nor did it come in the form of an info dump. It was natural and immersive without being too much.

Sometimes in historical fiction as well (especially in Regency novels or stories which feature main characters of higher status) I've personally found that sometimes they only focus on the wealthy upper classes or don't really even mention other socioeconomic statuses and what their lives were like. That wasn't the case at all in The Dark Days Club, you really got to see characters from all sorts of different backgrounds and how because of such their lives differed from one another's. I also enjoyed how Goodman included real historical events and truly discussed the conflicting political views of the time period. She also captured the societal views (such as the misogynistic "proper" role of women in the time) with honesty. All of the aforementioned made The Dark Days Club stand tall as a even more strong piece of historical fiction to me.

This novel also has some paranormal elements, which I felt were well done but at the same time missing a little something. I did enjoy them overall, as the paranormal aspects didn't overwhelm the story in that way that it would have totally changed it's course entirely. I liked that Helen, the main character, still continued on with her regular life amidst the increasingly shocking and world changing discoveries. So often you have YA novels where the main character learns about the paranormal AND BOOM RIGHT AWAY EVERYTHING CHANGES AT ONCE. I felt that Helen's slow immersion and into the supernatural world felt very natural and was done in a way that really fit the story rather than make it a whole new one. However my issue with the paranormal aspects lies in the fact I never really felt the urgency of it all, for example the few fight scenes fell quite flat. I honestly felt more tension with Helen's douchenozzle of a uncle if I'm being honest. Also I found the world-building itself surrounding the demons and the actual reclaiming lacking. While it was there (and I enjoyed knowing what was there) I couldn't help but still have questions. I do have high hopes that Goodman will answer these questions though in future installments.

Now for the characters themselves, I absolutely adored our gem of a main character. Helen was so likable and I instantly found myself loving her and her insights to the world she lived in. I love how she was strong, but not just in the physically strong sense. I loved her desire for knowledge, her unwavering love and loyalty to her parents and friends. I appreciated that she truly understood that time period that she was living in and recognized her own privileged upbringing. Really, I have nothing but love for Helen and her narrative was nothing but pleasant to read. I also appreciated the side character of Darby, Helen's maid. There was a great friendship between the two that only grew over the course of the novel and the interactions between them were one of my favorite parts of The Dark Days Club. 

There are also two male characters who show interest in Helen. I wouldn't say there's a love triangle quite yet but I do definitely see the possibility of it forming in future novels. Both of them aren't really developed that much yet (there isn't really any romance in this novel which I honestly see as a positive) so I feel fairly apathetic towards both and any possible relationship they may have with Helen. I do however like one over the other, and honestly I think it's because I'm just so sick of the brooding and mysterious love interest trope in YA.

Overall I quite enjoyed The Dark Days Club, especially the historical elements and the main character. I will definitely be checking out future installments of this series and there is no doubt in my mind that Goodman is a stellar author whose previous work I will be giving a shot ASAP.
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