Strong Female Protagonists

I thought I’d do a quick post today about books with strong female protagonists for any age group. All too often lately, especially in YA, I find that a “strong” female character is defined as being sarcastic, witty (though this is always the author’s definition of witty and I rarely agree with them), and ready to run head-on into dangerous situations. While sometimes this works, there are other ways for a female protagonist to be strong and a good role model, so I’m going to give some examples.

Warning: some spoilers ahead.

the-hunger-games

Katniss Everdeen

Katniss is the first example to pop into my head because yeah, while she volunteers for the Hunger Games, I wouldn’t call it “running head-on into danger” because she’s only doing it to save her sister. I also really loved how she didn’t fall into the classic YA trope of falling for Peeta, but instead she used him and manipulated his feelings to her advantage in order to get them both out alive. What I loved about this was that the author understood that it wouldn’t really make sense for Katniss to fall head-over-heels for Peeta in a situation like this, and also that characters’ feelings are much more complicated than “girl meets cute boy, girl falls in love.”

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Hermione Granger

Hermione is amazing. She’s smart, she’s the only girl in a group of three with two other guys, she’s headstrong, she holds true to her beliefs, and she makes tough decisions even if it means almost losing the person she loves the most in the world. I love Hermione for a load of reasons, but what I really loved was that, throughout the Harry Potter series but especially in the last book, there were more important things at stake than her feelings for Ron. There were more important things at stake in general, and she even wiped her parents’ memories to protect them while sacrificing her relationship with them. Hermione is, in my opinion, the definition of selfless and I admire her so much.

Also, does anyone remember her movement to help the House Elves? They never had it in the movies, but it was GREAT.

name of the star madness underneath the shadow cabinet

Rory Deveaux

Rory is from Maureen Johnson’s Shades of London series, and she is seriously kick-ass. The dialogue throughout the entire book is intelligent and interesting without being annoyingly sarcastic or trying too hard at being witty, and it’s not just her that is able to maintain these features. There’s a love interest, but she’s kind of just fooling around—she has more important things on her mind than the feelings of some boy. While this turns a little bit with book 3, Rory’s feelings are always kind of off to the side with the main issue at hand being the evil ghosts and what is going to happen with the world. There are more important things for Rory to focus on, and while she’s sad and misses the person she loves, she has perspective and knows what needs to come first.

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Hazel Grace Lancaster

I’ve been harping pretty heavily on the love stories in these books, so I want to make it clear that I’m all for a good love story if the girl or boy isn’t stupid about it. Hazel is a great character, in my opinion, because she’s flawed, and not in the ways that are so commonly written (such as an overuse of sarcasm or misunderstood wit). She’s a little bit self-centered (for example, thinking that her parents would sit around doing nothing after she died), which I really like because it’s so realistic. Nobody’s perfect, and Hazel is written that way EXTERNAL to her illness. I also loved that Gus obviously thinks she’s gorgeous and is all over her, but not every guy she comes across trips over his feet in her presence. This isn’t a Bella Swan situation where she thinks she’s ugly but every guy within a five mile radius wants to get in her pants. I also really liked that she pushed Gus away for a little while before finally giving in to her feelings. It shows a lot about her strength as a person, I think, especially in comparison to other YA females who give in easily to their feelings for the hot guy. Also, the way she handled Gus’s death was heartbreaking but so wonderfully mature.

dear dumb diary

Jamie Kelly

The Dear Dumb Diary series is a series that I’m not ashamed to say I read until I was eighteen years old. These books are hilarious, and Jamie is the epitome of what I hope my child will be someday. She’s smart, funny, is keenly observational, but is also heavily, heavily flawed. She is, after all, just a kid. But I love that, as a girl, she still does what some would call “gross” things and she has a crazy best friend (Isabelle). Basically, she’s just a regular girl, not what society wants to define as a “girl.” She’s not really “lady-like,” she has an equal amount of guy friends to girl friends (though her best friends are girls), and her biggest concerns are not getting punched by Isabelle and finishing her homework on time. I love it.

Who do you think makes a strong female protagonist?

-Ember Book Reviews

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The Author Today: Celebrities in the Making

I’m a pretty big participator in the Twitter-verse. I’m not posting all the time or anything like that, but I do check it constantly for updates. If you look at my Twitter feed, it mostly consists of book-related or writing-related things: retweets from favourite authors, my own thoughts on reading/writing, updates from the blog, etcetera. As a fan of authors like John Green and Maureen Johnson, it’s started blowing my mind just how much social media (Twitter especially) has contributed to the fandom surrounding books and their authors, and how now, every author has a face, a persona, an online forum of some kind. In this way, I realized that the author is no longer this mysterious entity hiding behind their words on a page, but a face that gives voice to so many things—not just their writing, but their opinions and their interests and lives, in many cases external to their writing, that I believe has created this aura of celebrity around the modern-day author, and I’m not really sure how this sits with me.

As someone who wants to be an author (I’ve mentioned my secret project on here before), I love the idea of people knowing my name. Maybe that’s egotistical of me, but all I’ve ever wanted was to walk into a bookstore and see my book on shelves, hear people talking about it, know that people have read it and enjoyed it. Nothing would make me happier than to share my crazy imagination with the world, and obviously, there’s something very self-centered and attention-seeking about that. I won’t deny it. I want to see my name on New York Times best sellers lists and on potential movie posters. I want people to say that I’m their favourite author.

But I don’t necessarily want people to know what I look like and where I live and what food I like and what my favourite colour is…

Lately, I’ve found myself avoiding—at all costs—seeing the author photo at the back of any book I’m reading. I’ve found that seeing that picture greatly influences how I interpret and experience the book. I’ll admit that if I’m reading a YA novel about a spunky, young girl and I see that the author is middle-aged, it’s off-putting. I think a part of me is disappointed to see that the author is not the same person I pictured voicing that particular narrative. In fact, I think that’s 90% of why it bothers me. There’s something amiss in picturing the main character and then seeing the author as a different person. Even more disturbing to my reading experience is if I read the author’s biography before or in the middle of reading a novel. It’s like reading The Hobbit and finding out halfway through that Tolkien was a brain surgeon who had a pet dog named Roger and was obsessed with technology (I made all these things up), rather than the hairy hobbit named Bilbo trekking across Middle Earth. I mean, obviously the author is not the same person as the narrator I’m trying to imagine while reading a book, but it doesn’t help me to be reminded of it.

There seems to be an obsession these days in putting a face to something. I mean, hello, Facebook. But every site has a space for an avatar, most books have a spot at the back for the author’s photo (which needs to get updated as time goes on or the author ages), and authors are expected to do publicity runs where readers get to meet them. YouTube is also a big thing, which not only puts a face to something, but a voice too, and in a different way than publicity runs because, theoretically, everyone can access a YouTube video without having to leave the comfort of their homes (or hometowns). Now, I don’t have a problem with all of this. For example, I really enjoy the idea of book tours. I think they’re fun and it gives authors the opportunity to receive valuable feedback as well as a little self-esteem boost which they may need in the midst of their next writing adventure. But a part of being an author these days—and something that many agents want to see before they take you on—is that you have the tools to build a successful online platform across a variety of social media outlets.

Now, from the standpoint of an aspiring author, I see the necessity, and I am absolutely, one-hundred percent willing to do whatever it takes to get my name out there. But from the reader’s standpoint, I’m starting to feel like experiencing the author as a celebrity (in this case, I mean someone whose presence is easily accessible online and where a name can easily be put to a face) greatly takes away from experiencing their work as separate from that world.

There are some authors who perform their authorial celebrity very well. I already mentioned Maureen Johnson (the queen of Twitter) and John Green (the archduke of YouTube), who have only made themselves and their work more endearing through their online presence. I think it helps that they both write contemporary novels rather than, say, fantasy or historical fiction, and I also understand that my perception of their online presence is dependent on who I am as a person. Someone else reading this may find either of them incredibly annoying. It’s all relative. But there are other authors who just fail miserably at this online world, and I’m sorry to say that through following them on Twitter, I stopped being a fan.

I won’t state the name of this author, as I don’t want to rub their name in the dirt. But she was my favourite author of all time. I mean, I’d been reading her books since I was twelve, and enjoyed every single one of them. I started following her on Twitter basically as soon as Twitter became a thing and I made my own account. For about a year to two years, I was fine reading her constant posts about the little details of her life. I was thrilled when she retweeted something I sent to her. But as the years went on, I got incredibly annoyed by her constant need to post these little, everyday details, her every worry or concern, and especially the posts where she would beat herself up over something followed by a tweet thanking everyone for their positive words and validation. I tried to ignore it, feeling like I was somehow betraying my favourite author by finding her incredibly annoying.

But something really interesting came of it, and largely inspired this post.

I purchased her most recent book, read it, and…didn’t like it as much as everyone else did. I wasn’t on that particular train anymore, it seemed. It was the first book of hers that I hadn’t felt was a definite five-star, where everyone else was calling it her best work yet. And when I thought about why that was, I noted that her writing style hadn’t really changed, but that I had taken my frustration of her online presence out on my reading experience, and had therefore enjoyed it less.

Yesterday, I unfollowed her. I’m hoping that, by distancing myself from her online platform and returning to the good ol’ days when the author’s published words were enough, I can eventually get back to enjoying her books. But it’s also completely possible that I won’t, that her online celebrity has forever tainted my experience as her reader. In the same way that I don’t want to know what the author looks like while I’m reading their book because it mars my imagining of the narrator, I think knowing who this author is outside of her literary world has completely changed my perceptions of her literary material.

I want to know what you guys think. Clearly, social media in this day and age is huge. I get that. I also get that authors need a platform. But do you ever think, as readers, that enough is enough? Do you ever find yourself put off by an author’s writing because of who they are external to that literary sphere?

-Ember Book Reviews

ALICE IN THE COUNTRY OF HEARTS, Vol. 01 by QuinRose, Soumei Hoshino

alice in the country of hearts

4 out of 5

After losing the man she loved, Alice falls asleep beneath a tree and in a dream, finds herself in a dangerous land where everybody loves her and is willing to do whatever it takes to gain Alice’s love in return. The Country of Hearts is a place filled with constant competition and strange characters vying for power but, most of all, Alice’s beating heart.

This is the first graphic novel I’ve read, so it’s going to be tough to review.

When you read a graphic novel, it’s not just about the story, but the artwork as well. Unfortunately, my copy was paperback and all the pictures were in black and white, which was somewhat disappointing. It took away from the artwork quite a bit. As well, the different drawings for each character were not all unique, which sometimes made it difficult to tell who was who or remember characters. However, this may have partly been because, as I said, my version was all black and white.

The story itself was interesting and I liked how bits of comedy were inserted throughout. Towards the end, though, the story became very jumbled and jumped around all over the place, which lessened my enjoyment of the experience as a whole.

Overall, it was an easy and enjoyable read, despite having to get used to reading from right to left and from back to front. I don’t think I’d actively seek out the second book in the series, but that’s simply because I rent them from the library and so they are all in black and white; if I’m going to read more graphic novels/manga, then I want them to be in colour. At the end of the day, I still find so much more depth to regular novels.

-Ember Book Reviews xxoo

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JACKABY by William Ritter

jackaby

4 out of 5

Miss Abigail Rook is in search of adventure. After taking off with her university money and ditching Europe for a passage to America, Abigail wonders if perhaps she’s acted too hastily. After all, she can’t seem to find work in the small town of New Fiddleham and is down to wearing one rather beaten dress and boys’ trousers. That is until she meets Mr. Jackaby. Jackaby is a bit of an oddity in New Fiddleham; some swear by him, and some simply swear he’s crazy. A nuisance to the local police force, Jackaby claims to be able to see creatures of lore and fables, such as trolls and banshees. Abigail doubts his sanity until she accompanies him to his apartments and finds a ghost occupying one of the rooms as well as a man-turned-duck in the upstairs pond. Desperate for work, Abigail takes up a position as Jackaby’s assistant on a grisly murder case. It all seems rather adventurous, but then the murderer turns its eye on Jackaby and Abigail, and they must race to figure out who the culprit is before they, too, are killed.

Sherlock Holmes meets a quirkier version of the Brothers Grimm in William Ritter’s debut novel, Jackaby. A fun, if at times a bit silly, read, this book is definitely worth checking out if you’re looking for some quick entertainment.

Jackaby is a very good book. As I said in my synopsis, it has a Sherlock Holmes-meets-fantasy-and-lore feel about it, though I do find the original Sherlock Holmes stories easier to follow in terms of Sherlock’s deduction and whatnot; Jackaby’s conclusions were a bit more jumbled and harder to follow at times. As well, it tended to transgress from being serious to being goofy, and I would have preferred it to err more on the serious side.

When it came to our MC, Abigail, it was difficult for me to decide whether or not I liked her. I found she fit right into the modern-day mold of storytelling from a Victorian girl’s perspective, where said girl always wants to break gender boundaries and dislikes dresses/other impractical clothes, etcetera, etcetera. While I’m all for that in a book that takes place in the modern world, it’s very difficult for me (especially as a scholar of Victorian literature) to accept this role that we seem to love writing in YA these days. Of course there were women from the Victorian period who longed for gender equality and who were tomboys, but they didn’t all do it in open defiance and through cross-dressing. Just once I would like to read a YA written in the modern day that is from a female perspective but sounds more like the Victorian novels I have to read in university, because that would be much more truthful and, in my opinion, awesome. Show me the ways that a Victorian girl would have been a strong main character based on actual Victorian novels written by women. If more YA authors writing historical fiction read novels from the time period they are basing their novel in, then the story would feel so much more accurate to me and it wouldn’t lose its strong female protagonist (I promise you) because many of them already exist.

The ending was far too long, and I found myself getting bored quickly post-climax. I do, however, look forward to reading the next book and watching the relationships and characters develop further.

That being said, Ritter has laid the groundwork for a rich world. I would like to explore other towns and the countryside rather than just New Fiddleham, and I look forward to seeing him build more depth to this in the second novel.

-Ember Book Reviews xxoo

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Has anyone else read this book? What did you guys think?

MOSQUITOLAND by David Arnold

Mosquitoland-David-Arnold

3 out of 5

Mim knows one thing for sure: her mom needs her. Everything else is up in the air: her sanity, the reason behind her parents’ divorce. In the wake of said divorce, her dad’s recent remarriage, and the recent Breaking News, Mim holds on to her memories of Labour Day weekend with her mom and sets off on a cross-country adventure in the hopes of getting to her mom in time for Labour Day weekend. What she didn’t expect was the Greyhound rolling over, coming into too-close quarters with a psychopath, and befriending Walt and Beck on her journey.

As I’m sure you can tell, my summary was a little rough on this one. That was because I had a hard time enjoying this book for the majority of my time with it. The more interesting story lies in the snapshots we get from Mim’s life with her mom and dad, and then her dad and stepmom. I think the better story lies there, and I wish it had been told from that place and time. It was a missed opportunity, in my opinion.

Arnold does a good job of putting the question of Mim’s sanity up in the air throughout the novel, to really come to a head at the end. My heart nearly stopped, to be honest. It was really well done.

The ending is really good. I feel like it’s here that Arnold truly knows the voice of the narrative and the character that is Mim, whereas the beginning felt very jumbled and lost—though perhaps this is meant to indicate that Mim has finally found herself, but I’m not so sure that this was at all intentional. I only wish we were told what was actually afflicting Mim’s mother. That was never clear in the ending.

I was happy with the way Arnold wrapped up intersecting storylines, though I didn’t feel invested enough to really wonder or care about them further. For example, I’m not really thinking about Ahab and his boyfriend at all, or Poncho Man, or Caleb. If I’m being honest, I’m not even really thinking about Mim, Walt, or Beck beyond the end of the book either.

Overall, Mosquitoland was all right. I couldn’t find Arnold’s writing humorous, as much as I tried. I found Mim to be incredibly annoying up until the point where she meets Walt and Beck, but by that point the book had largely lost me, which was unfortunate because I really wanted to like this book.

-Ember Book Reviews xxoo

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Sex in YA: An Ode to Authors

I love YA. Of all the books written in the various age groups, I find YA to be one of the most diverse groupings of novels that you can find. Even though I’m in my twenties, I still prefer YA to Adult novels, but as I get older, I do have one complaint that has been plaguing me since I was about, oh, sixteen.

In my past reviews, I’ve hinted that I love when an author actually describes a sex scene, however briefly or detailed. Now, of course I only mean when the timing is appropriate and it advances or contributes to the plot in some way. This isn’t Game of Thrones the TV show, here. But I strongly feel that a descriptive sex scene between characters can help to strengthen the growth of characters and their relationships, much like in real life. It’s so frustrating to me when a YA author builds up the steaminess in a novel to an all-time high only to skip over the sex part even though it’s strongly suggested that it happened. It’s almost like if books were given ratings, they’re trying to keep it at PG-13, and it’s super annoying, for a few reasons.

1: As I said, a descriptive sex scene helps to develop character and can strengthen the relationship between characters. I think knowing what happened during that really intimate, vulnerable moment is key from a reader’s perspective, because I want to know that both characters were respectful and caring with each other, and when it’s skipped over, I have no way of knowing that.

2: I’ve noticed that in a lot of older YA books (where the characters are sixteen or older), the steaminess will be really loaded on but none of the actual sex is seen. This relates to my PG-13 comment. First of all, the characters are older. They know about sex. Most likely, the older readers know about sex. When you make the book really steamy and sometimes even talk about the character getting turned on but leave out the sex, it’s like you’re saying we can only handle it to a certain extent. That we, as readers around the same age as the characters, can handle the foreplay but not what’s happening behind closed doors. I think it sends extremely mixed messages to the audience, and it often leaves me feeling confused, left out, and like the book wasn’t fully whole. My feelings on this are that either the author thinks we can handle sex or thinks that we can’t, but they need to decide one way or the other before writing the book. It’s like if you write a book but end it right before the climax (no pun intended). I mean, really? As a reader, I feel really condescended to.

3: It also really annoys me because the writers of YA are adults. They are adults who know about sex, might have even had sex, and have a bunch of life experience behind them. All this considered, their book is a platform where they can share that life experience and help to shape the viewpoints of their readers. When it comes to sex, descriptive sex scenes can help teenagers to form healthy ideas about sex, consent, and come to understand themselves better through that. I mean, we start getting taught sex-ed at ten years old, so why can’t we read about it at sixteen?

My complaint is that there isn’t enough descriptive sex (like I said, however brief or detailed) in older YA novels and the previous are my three reasons to support that complaint. Basically, at the end of the day, it just feels really condescending, especially considering the authors are adults. I mean, come on. You’re an adult writing for teenagers. You’ve been a teenager. Surely you know that we know about sex and aren’t afraid to read about it. And for those that are (likely a very few percentage), they can just not read that part. It’s really that simple.

Feel free to share any of your thoughts on this subject. I know it can be touchy for some, and I’m happy to clarify anything I’ve said in this post. Happy reading!

-Ember Book Reviews xxoo

VOICE OF GODS by Eleanor Herman

voice of gods

4 out of 5

Voice of Gods, the prequel to Eleanor Herman’s first novel in the Blood of Gods and Royals series, tells the story of three women who are catalysts in this fictional rendition of Alexander the Great’s legacy. There is Helen, the young oracle who detests her fate and feels so lonely despite the voices that crowd her mind; Ada, Helen’s friend and sister to the incestuous king and queen of Caria, who fears she may be destined to live the same life that the king and queen chose; and Myrtale, saddled with an abusive stepmother and the love for someone that she can never have, vows to gain power so that she can make people miserable in the same way power wielded over her has made her miserable. Together the stories of these three women—two of them factual, one of them not—weave together in much the same way as the threads of the Furies’ loom to propel the reader forwards through the events leading up to the heart-stopping Legacy of Kings and also raise new questions for the books to follow. Free to download on any device, Voice of Gods is definitely worth the read as we eagerly await the release of Legacy of Kings, Book 1 in Herman’s new series.

While not on the scale of Legacy of Kings [which I reviewed here], I enjoyed this novella and prequel to Legacy. Voice of Gods starts off with the narrative largely in Ada’s perspective, and her character development is slow, which made it difficult to get into. However, there is lots of physical action happening, which was somewhat interesting; my only complaint is that it was difficult to follow along at times, in part because of the slow character development, but also because so much was happening in such a short space.

Character development is much more progressive when it comes to Helen and Myrtale, characters who are also in Legacy of Kings. The storyline here is also much more interesting. However, when it comes to Myrtale’s storyline, it can be a bit confusing because there are minor parts where it is not quite linear. One minute she seems to want one thing and the next that changes. It felt a little scattered to me at times.

For a while it was also unclear what the purpose of introducing Ada as a separate narrative was, but it is more evident towards the end. However, I think less time could have been spent with her in the beginning. The narrative should have shifted to Helen and Myrtale faster, as it is much more interesting and points the reader in the direction of the main storyline. I didn’t understand the need for so much focus on Ada’s perspective early on. This being said, once the narrative shifts away from Ada, the narrative voice more closely resembles the one I grew to love in Legacy of Kings. I am very pleased with the questions this prequel raises that are significant to the plot of Legacy of Kings and its sequel(s). Voice of Gods thickens the suspense of Legacy of Kings really well and I’m even more excited for the second book in the series to come out in 2016!

-Ember Book Reviews xxoo

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