Goodreads Review: Winter.

Winter (The Lunar Chronicles, #4)Winter by Marissa Meyer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I reviewed the Lunar Chronicles on my blog back while waiting for Fairest to be released. Now that I’ve read Winter and the series is complete, I’d just like to officially place all of them on my personal THIS SERIES/BOOK IS TOTAL PERFECTION MY FAVORITE FOREVER list. That’s a little hyperbolic, but you get the idea.

I stand by my gushing in the old post, and especially by my saying this series just gets better with each book. Winter had me on the edge of my seat for, well, a lot of the book judging by my progress updates. I still adore my precious OTPs (all of them. I ship them all so hard), and the writing is so accessible and easy and fun, and the characters and dialogue and relationships (friendships included because they are just as precious and perfect and shippable) all sparkle off the page, and the act is tense and nerve-wracking and…

Ahem, anyway. Again, all that comes across very strongly in my progress updates. Along with a lot of shouty-typing. I love this book, I love this series, and I never want to say good-bye to this world. I’m not sure I can coherently say much more than that about it. But that’s what happens when I love something this much: too many feels = diminishing eloquence. Everything becomes gushing and flailing and shouting and hyperbole. So let my shortened review of this final installment of the Lunar Chronicles stand as testimony of just how incredible it is, and how much I think everyone should read all the books in the series.

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Goodreads Review: Isla and the Happily Ever After.

Isla and the Happily Ever After (Anna and the French Kiss, #3)Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I overly relate to Isla’s self-estimate issues like whoa.

I really like that this book broke the love triangle mold of the other two. It’s nice not dealing with that every time, especially when we all know how it’s going to turn out in the end. It’s also good to explore the “after” part once in a while — after you fall in love and finally get together with your crush, what happens next? Of course, that inevitably meant I then spent the next half the book constantly flinching in anticipation of what exactly was going to go horribly wrong to blow up the happy couple. I admit I didn’t quite expect it to happen the way it did, and I was further blindsided by the clear spelling out of exactly was Isla’s insecurities were and how they made her act and why. Which, as I mentioned, was basically like looking in a mirror. So I might be a little bias about how fiercely I now feel about Isla. Just a little.

It was cool returning to Paris and the school, seeing it through someone else’s eyes. As I mentioned in my review of Lola, these books are heavily bias in their descriptions by their very nature; everything on the pages is through the lens of the storyteller’s mind. Getting to know Josh through Isla instead of Anna paints a very different picture of his character, and her familiarity and comfort with Paris, the school, and her classmates creates a very different atmosphere than we get with Anna being the New Girl. It really helps separate each girl as her own person, with her own personality, tastes, friends, and styles. They all have very unique voices, while still being easily accessible (at least to me). One thing I thought was especially cool was the way Josh’s art was used in the narrative to break out of having only Isla’s perspective on events, particularly at the end.

I also liked that Isla gave us a good look at the friendships and family relationships around her, too. That’s true to various extents in the other books as well, of course. I just automatically have strong feels about sisters because I have more of a relationship with my own sister than with my brother — no one’s fault, but he’s almost a decade older than me, so he’s just never been around as much in my life. My sister and I fought like mad and resented each other and played together and shared secrets, and then we each grew up and got even closer. So when I read fictional sisters doing that, it totally give me all the feels. Plus, I could relate a bit to Isla’s friendship with Kurt, since so many of my friends are also on that spectrum. Basically, I guess I’m just saying if I were any of the three main girls, I’d probably end up being Isla by default, even if I’d rather have more of Lola’s fashion tastes.

But back to the actual book! I really enjoyed this one. I’ve enjoyed all of them, of course, but obviously I ended up projecting myself all over Isla, so it gets bumped up a little for that.

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Goodreads Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door.

Lola and the Boy Next Door (Anna and the French Kiss, #2)Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was, for me, probably about a 3-3.5 star book. However, it gets bumped up to four stars on the merits of Lola/fashion, which was my personal OTP.

The love triangle felt like a gender-swapped version of Anna and the French Kiss, which was amusing but make it extra predictable. Lola was basically the definition of a hot mess throughout most of the book (albeit with good reason some of the time). The narrative failed to make Max at all believable as a serious love interest, mostly only showing him in moments of jealously or anger despite how many times Lola says to the reader that she thinks he’s the one. I didn’t fall in love with the setting the same way I did with Paris.

Plus, I started keeping count on my progress updates of all the times the writing felt like it was making an unintentional pop culture reference. Seriously, Max drives a Chevy Impala from the 60’s (Hello there, Dean from Supernatural), Lola has similar ideas about fashion expression as Weetize Bat from Francesca Lia Block’s dream-like lyrical novels of L.A. fairy-tales, Lola talking about being empty vs full for being in a relationship reminded me of a lesser version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer saying she’s still cookie dough and not ready to be with someone until she’s warm gooey cookies… [EDIT: oh, I forgot one! The more over-protective of her gay dads was named Nathan, and I just kept picturing him as Nathan Fillion playing Richard Castle. Admittedly, that wasn’t so much the text as just how my brain works, but still! It totally fits.]

But despite all this little flaws and pet-peeves and moments of distracting reference, despite taking quite a while to warm up to Cricket (largely due to having imagined something much worse than was actually the case about what happened in the past), it was still a fun and enjoyable book, and I still ended up reading it in basically one day(ish). It was also pretty cool getting to see Anna and St Clair from the outside. All three books in this series are told first person, from the POV of a teenage girl falling in love, so the Unreliable Narrator trope is pretty much a given. It makes it extra interesting to see the same characters again in the other books, because it’s a perspective we’ll never get from another book.

But Lola and fashion! Half the reason I love the Weetzie Bat books so much is the whimsical creative daring fashion choices so lovingly described throughout, and here Lola doesn’t disappoint in doing the same. It makes me long to get a sewing machine and a workspace and wigs and go to thrift shops and start CREATING. I adore the way Lola commits to expressing herself through amazing bold fashion statements, and dream about the day I can do the same. It seriously makes up for not being another love letter to Paris (sorry Paris).

Anyway, it was an enjoyable book, and I’ll be rereading it once in a while, right along with the other two. But as Roux said in the movie version of Chocolat, “It’s good…but it’s not my favorite”.

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Storytelling is a superpower, and other thoughts.

Dear Cyber-Friends,

I’ve said (written) a lot of positive things on here about fanfiction. I stand by everything I’ve said before, but due to some recent discussions I’ve been seeing on Twitter lately, I wanted to add a little complexity to my position on some of the issues surrounding fanfic.

Storytelling is important. How we tell the story, what we choose to focus on, and what we do with it afterward, all matter very deeply. These things effect people in a very real way, with very real consequences to their lives. This post is going to talk about some topics that you might not want to expose yourself to right now. I talk about them in pretty general terms, but if even hearing (reading) the name of an issue will adversely effect you, please take care of yourself first and not read this post until/unless you’re in a mentally and emotionally safe place to do so.

The discussions that sparked my own thoughts into wanting to write this post was about toxic shipping in fandom and fanfics. The release of Jessica Jones on Netflix is starting lots of very awesome powerful dialogue due to the incredible handling of PTSD, abuse, rape, misogyny, and other relevant topics for today’s culture. It’s also brought out some less awesome behavior with those people who seem to see romantic tragedy where others see abuse, manipulation, and rape. These are people who ship Kilgrave/Jessica Jones, ignoring all evidence that that’s about the most sickening and unhealthy thing they could possible do. That’s not even touching on the fact that shipping an abusive one-sided relationship is triggering for survivors of such, and also the fact that it’s showing support and/or excusing that kind of behavior in the real world.

The things we create in fiction don’t live in a vacuum, safe and away from all “real world” consequences. It doesn’t matter if we’re creating TV shows, best-selling YA fiction, or internet-only fanfic. All it takes is other people, even just one other person, seeing it. The moment that happens, it’s effecting the real world. It has become part of the world, released into the wild to spawn and grown and change in someone’s mind, becoming part of their thoughts and ideas. So us storytellers must, MUST, be responsible about what we say. But we also have to let go after it’s out there. The time for us to make sure we’re getting it as right as we can is while we’re creating it. After that, it’s too late. It’s already out there, and we don’t get a second change to fix our mistakes.

So when the story is about an abusive relationship, it needs to be called out on being an abusive relationship IN THE NARRATIVE. This is something Jessica Jones did. My skin crawled seeing Kilgrave, despite how much I adore David Tennant. They never shrank away from the fact he was a horrible awful person, even when they gave him complexity and backstory and explanations (and please note: these were NEVER framed as excuses except by Kilgrave). Not all narratives do this; in fact, very few of them do at all. They turn abusers into someone misunderstood, broken but fixable through love and sacrifice. That’s the lessons learned by people who ship Kilgrave/Jessica, because like Kilgrave, they learned about love by seeing it in movies and TV shows. That kind of narrative about love not how the real world works, and survivors of abusive relationships know it.

People who buy into the toxic narrative and defend it are hurting the survivors. They’re also hurting themselves and anyone else who listens to that narrative, because it makes it easier for the myth to perpetuate. They’re giving confusion and uncertainty to people who won’t always recognize abuse because it’s been dressed up as romance. They’re giving excuses and justification to those who will use romanticized abuse to get what they want from other people, consciously or not. They’re supporting a culture that doesn’t acknowledge rape, abuse, misogynist, violence against women. They’re supporting a culture that can’t tell the difference between what’s okay and what isn’t. They’re supporting a culture that devalues the abused and their experiences.

I’m not saying the people who ship these things are bad, necessarily. They might be. I don’t know, because I don’t know them at all. All I can tell is that they’re certainly misinformed and in desperate need of some feminist education. I’m sure a lot of them would disagree with me and call me a lot of horrible things if they read this. I’m sure a lot of them wouldn’t even realize the irony of doing that, how it would in fact prove my point better than my own words can. This happens all the time, both on the internet and in the “real world”. Despite all progress, we’re still living in a toxic culture, one where just telling the truth about it on the internet can, and often does, lead to death threats, rape threats, and verbal abuse.

Which is why storytelling is so desperately important. The real world hurts, and a lot of us use escapism to survive it — I certainly do. The thing is, it isn’t really escapism. It’s just a different way to change and explore the very same narrative we’re living in day after day. The way that narrative is framed will either make our wounds bleed more, or help them to heal. If someone is telling a story with toxic relationships, framing them as tragic romance is adding to the very thing that’s hurting us in the first place. But framing them with in-your-face honest realism, showing just how bad and awful and insidious they are, makes them become something we can then point to and say, “See, this is what’s really going on. This is what it feels like to be stalked and manipulated and trapped and then survive. It’s not romantic. It’s not something you get over by the next episode. It’s scary as hell, and it changes you for life. It doesn’t make you weak. It doesn’t make you strong. It’s awful, and it’s happening every day. But we can still fight back.”

There was another conversation happening a few days ago. It was about how J.K. Rowling was continuing to tell people the right and wrong ways to interpret her characters. These people were talking about how hurtful it was for an author to do that. They had bonded with the people in these stories because the characters resonated with real life experiences and people. The characters were real to them, like all our favorite fiction characters are real to us. They had claimed them, had written and read fanfiction about them, had created their own narrative and framing about them, both by using what was in the text and by going beyond it. These people were offended and outraged at the author telling them they were wrong in their own interpretations.

So how are those people different from the people shipping Kilgrave/Jessica Jones?

They’re different for a very simple reason: the framing and narrative created by toxic shipping is ADDING to a toxic culture. But these outraged fans are creating interpretations to DISMANTLE toxic culture. They’re creating narrative to add POC, to add queer relationships, to call out abusers, and other important issues that were overlooked or deemed unimportant in the original text. No work of fiction is perfect, even Harry Potter, and it can certainly be hard to tackling every issue at once. So these people are taking something they love, something profoundly important to our generation, a touchstone of our culture, and they’re adding this framing to it. They’re doing it because they love it, and because they have the real life experiences and knowledge to understand where the failings and shortcomings are, and they have the passion to try and fix them. This is something I love and adore about fandom, by the way.

J.K. Rowling coming along and telling them that no, those things are wrong, is hugely upsetting. Harry Potter and co are her creations, but as soon as she published the stories, their names and experience became ours, too. They’re part of everyone who reads the books or watches the movies or listens to the audiotapes. They’re part of our culture, a lexicon in our ongoing dialogue about the world. She doesn’t get to invalidate that by telling us we’re doing it wrong. She can and does try, but it doesn’t mean we have to listen to it. She had her chance to tell that story, and now it’s our turn. Which means the responsibility in how the story is framed falls to us, too.

A storyteller gets one shot to get it right. And, regardless of if they do or not, everyone who received that story then gets their own shot to get it right. And on, and on, and on. Stories never really die or go away. They keep mutating, traveling, forming and breaking apart and reforming, over and over and over. Stories are alive, even the ones pinned down with print or film or tape. They’re alive in our minds, as soon as we read them or watch them or listen to them. They never leave us, and they never stop changing our thoughts and feelings and actions. They get passed on, warping themselves through the lens of our perceptions and experiences, and again through those same things of the ones who receive it from us.

How we tell the stories is so important. They can literally change the world for someone, for good or bad. The moment we’ve told the story, we’ve lost the chance to tell it better. So we’d better get it the best we can the first time, because that’s all we get, and with that one chance we can heal or break someone else. It’s scary and huge and real, and it’s powerful and beautiful and magic. Storytelling is the ultimate superpower. It doesn’t matter if you think you have an audience or not. Chances are, someone somewhere is still listening. You’re touching their life. So you can either add to the toxic culture that’s probably already hurting them, or you can use that superpower to help create dialogue to dismantle it, and let them know they’re not alone.

We all have our own experiences, our own truths and struggles and wounds and insights. Storytelling is how we can share those things, finding the common ground with others and opening the eyes and minds of those who never realized what life was like for us. It’s a chance create understanding, compassion, empathy, outrage, revelation, and a myriad of other things that are extremely hard to pass on without the wonder that is storytelling. Storytelling is how we learn about other people, it’s how we can grow to understand the world, how we remember the past, and how we can shape the future.

That’s one reason why I think fanfiction is so important. Not everyone has the same experiences (obviously), so when someone can take a beloved narrative like the Harry Potter books and flesh it out even more by drawing on their own unique view, that adds to both the story as a whole, and to my own views of other people. I can become a little more aware of other peoples’ realities in the real world, and the world of Harry Potter gets a little closer to being complete because more than one voice is adding to it. The more voices and the more diversity gets added to it, the better it gets at breaking down toxic culture for more people. No one is going to get things 100% right, but the more people who add to it, the better the chances get for the overlap to make up the difference. Not to mention how cathartic it can be to add to that narrative and framing yourself, which is exactly what I experienced the first time I venture into writing fanfic as an angsty teen.

I’m a storyteller myself. Not just in this blog, either. I recently finished a first draft of a novel I hope to actually publish in the next year or so, and I’ve started on a sequel already. I’ve been world-building fantasy and sci-fi worlds for stories since I was about twelve or so, and do it by playing Let’s Pretend for as long as I can remember. Saying I love it is kind of a “does not compute” understatement moment for me, because it’s just part of who I am. It’s not something I’m passionate about, because it’s synonymous with passion for me. I breath, I blink, my heart beats, I create people and worlds and scenarios in my head. It just is. Obviously, thinking about getting to share one of those worlds and some of those characters is exciting and cool. But you know what the thing I’m most excited about is? It’s seeing what other people will do with them.

I want to see my own stories get out there, because I want to see how they grow and change with each new interpretation. I want to see what other stories get told with these characters who are real to me, because that means they’re real enough to someone else to inspire those other stories. I want to see what will happen when someone else uses them to tell personal stories, uses them to explore other issues, uses them fulfill other dreams and hopes. I want to see how someone else thinks the story should end. I want those things because seeing them will make me a better storyteller, and a better person. Those are the things that will help me understand someone else, and help me to understand the world and the cultures and all those other things I’m not going to experience as myself. I don’t know what it’s like to live the world as someone else, but using stories like this helps me get closer to that. Especially if they’re using the power of storytelling for good.

Stay strong, cyber-friends, and keep telling stories that help to heal and dismantle those toxic cultures.

Love,

GeGi.

Advanced Sexuality 101.

Dear Cyber-Friends,

In last week’s Tuesday post I talked a bit about my gender identity. Thanks to some inspiration from one of my bloggy friends, I thought a good follow-up would be talking a little more on that, and start talking about sexuality. This is a huge subject to cover in one post, so I’m going to try for just a basic introduction to some of the more complex aspects this time. If you have any questions afterward feel free to ask in the comments!

To a majority of people, I think sexuality is still considered a bit of a yes/no, black/white, gay/straight subject. Hopefully quite a few people are aware of some of the middle ground — bisexuality — and see that it is a legitimate aspect of a spectrum. However, there’s a growing awareness that sexuality, like gender, can be much more complex and multifaceted in reality and practice.

Below is a useful chart for reference; I like this one because it contains enough categories that I think it starts to reflect a bit more accuracy with us more complex humans, yet it is still a fairly simple and accessible breakdown for those being introduced to this concept.

According to this chart’s categories and definitions, for instance, I would currently self-identity this way:

  • Gender Identity is genderqueer.
  • Romantic Attraction is lesbian.
  • Sexual Attraction is bisexual.
  • Sex is female.
  • Sexual Practice is grey asexual.

This is basically why I label my sexuality with the catch-all term “queer”, in case you wondered.

Now, I’ve already talked about being genderqueer in the prior post I mentioned. “Bisexual”, for me, is not about binary genders; it is saying “I like those with gender/sex like me, and I like those with gender/sex unlike me”. I prefer it to pan-sexual for personal reasons (nothing against those who prefer pan-sexual! I’ve used that label as well, and have zero problems with it. Labeling yourself is all about personal preference). I’m going to assume that “lesbian” and “female” probably don’t need explaining. If they do, then just ask me in the comments, or do a search on the internet, or look in the local library.

As for the last category, “grey asexual” is a term that can have different definitions depending on who you ask. Broadly speaking, it can be an umbrella-term for folks that aren’t quite sexual, but aren’t quite asexual either. The middle ground, so to speak. This one is a bit tricky for some people to understand, so I’ll get into it more further down. For now, just try to keep in mind that sexuality can be more than just an “on/off” thing for some of us.

I’m going to assume that thinking of sexuality and gender in these ways is new and unfamiliar for you. If it isn’t, awesome! I love awareness and diversity, so good for you! For the rest of you, I’m going to start getting into these categories a little more. This subject is about as huge as the number of people in the human race, since we’re all incredibly diverse and unique in many ways — so if I get something wrong, it’s because I can only speak for myself and my own understanding. Think of this as an introduction rather than the definitive word on the subject.

Obviously, a lot of people are probably not overly complex, and therefore might not think of some of these things being separate categories; not every chart separates romantic attraction, sexual attraction, and sexual practice, for instance. But that’s one of the reasons I love this particular chart. Those ARE separate things for some people, and defining our own sexuality to ourselves — much less coming out to other people — can get very confusing very quickly without the realization that we can have different answers for those aspects.

Much the same way my biology is female but my mind and personality are genderqueer, I experience physical attraction — “that person looks sexy”, etc — to all genders, but tend to only have romantic attraction — “I wanna spend time with that person”, etc — with non-male/female gender types. Oddly enough, I’ve been in more “dating” type relationships with men; I guess I seem to come off as a straight female unless I correct people all the time, and for a while it was easier from me to do as expected and ignore how I felt, due to unfortunate circumstances. But I usually didn’t feel quite right in those relationships, more like I was playing a part than just being me, and they rarely lasted very long.

As for sexual practice, I would personally like to break down this category further: Sexual Practice Identity and Sexual Practice Behavior. Like the separation of other categories, those can legitimately be different things for some people. It can cause confusion and distress for one’s self and others trying to deal with the seeming paradoxes caused by trying to definite them as one thing. Currently my answers would be the same for both, but there have been times when they were not. For instance, the last time I was in a relationship, my identity was still grey asexual, but my behavior wasn’t. That caused a lot of problems and stress for me, because at the time I didn’t know how to break it down into these categories to reconcile how I felt with how I acted.

Speaking of grey asexual, this would be a good time to get into another aspect of the sexuality spectrum. Hopefully most people are aware of the range between gay and straight, with bisexuality being in the middle. However, this is only one side of a sexuality pyramid. Asexuality — those who do not experience sexual attraction/desires — is the other tip. In that vast space between those points, are all the people in-between; those who rarely experience sexual feelings, those who only do under very particular circumstances, those who experience it very atypically, and so on. If you want more information about this, I suggest you check out AVEN’s website here, because it’s basically a whole other post to really get into it, and I’m just doing overviews at this point.

I call myself grey asexual to indicate that I’m somewhere in the middle of that pyramid/spectrum. In terms of Sexual Practice (both behavior and identity), I don’t consider myself completely asexual; yet I have very little interest at the moment in pursuing a physical relationship with anyone — and am only slightly less averse to the idea of a romantic non-physical relationship (those relationships would be called demisexual, by some definitions). As mentioned above, I have a history of feeling conflicted about physical relationships even when I do think I want them — so I’m pretty sure I would label myself grey asexual for my Sexual Practice Identity even when my Behavior did not indicate it.

All in all, I tend to approach all aspects of my sexuality — like my gender — as being quite fluid. I’m aware this view is pretty atypical from the majority. It can lead to a lot of confusion and uncertainty, for myself and others, but I find the fluid and multifaceted approach helps my own sanity more than it hurts anything else, and that’s the important thing. Everything I’ve talked about here is only as useful as it is helpful; if it doesn’t help you, don’t apply it to you. But by the same token, please keep it in mind when dealing with others, so you can be respectful of their identities and needs.

There’s a lot of information in this post, so I’m going to leave at that for now. I didn’t really get into everything, but it’s a start, and hopefully it will spark some interest in learning more about this fascinating subject! If you have any questions or would like me to do another follow-up on one of these topics, leave a comment…

Love,

GeGi.

Pass The Tissues, Please…

Dear Cyber-Friends,

Third Star is one of the most beautiful movies about death and friendship and life I’ve ever seen. The Welsh film is directed by Hattie Dalton and stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Burke, J.J. Feild, and Adam Roberson.

The basic story is that four friends are taking one last trip to Barafundle Bay before one of their number — James, played by Benedict Cumberbatch — dies of cancer. He’s just celebrated his 29th birthday, and everyone knows he won’t be around for another.

They take a special cross-country wheeled chair, because he’s too weak to walk the several day journey, and they take his medications and morphine and some special things like a tree one of them grew from seed and wants to plant at the Bay.

The film progresses a little like a road-trip movie — without the car — with montages of travel across the beautiful Pembrokeshire landscape breaking up each segment of events; a fight at a pub, an encounter with a beachcomber, and so on.

The interactions between the characters really play off perfectly as a group of friends who’ve known each other forever; they joke, they fight, they tease, they carry on. Nothing feels forced or overdone, it all seems genuine. I love seeing relationships done right in movies!

The moments of each scene in Third Star really counterpoint each other well, too. As in real life, the tragic parts mix and blend with humor. Life continues in the face of sadness, and there are absurdities happening even when it feels like nothing will ever be funny again. Death and dying bring out the whole gambit of emotions, from anger to sorrow to laughter. So it goes.

I’ve gone through losing my best friend at too early an age. It was under entirely different circumstances, but some things are true no matter what the trappings. I could understand what they were feeling in this film, because I’ve been to a similar place. The most beautiful part of Third Star to me were how they were able to accurately capture that surreal time in life when a loved one is dying and surrounded by friends.

This is a quiet and understated sort of story, which is exactly as it should be. It’s showing intimate things, both death and friendship, and the strain and relation those things have on those experiencing them. This film feels honest. There’s nothing noble about what these people are going through, but there’s nothing ordinary about it either. It’s real and it’s what happens, the good and the bad and the strange.

This story really hit home for me, especially right at the end. Yet I didn’t find it to be sad or depressing. I did cry, quite a bit, but it was good tears. It was kind of… death affirming, I suppose, though that might not be quite what I mean.

You’ll have to watch it to find out.

(And yes, the title is a Peter Pan reference.)

Love,

GeGi.