I don't know if I like the beginning or the ending the best: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." "It is a far, far better thing tha...moreI don't know if I like the beginning or the ending the best: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done..." Both are the world's most quotable quotes and I suppose one wouldn't be complete without the other.
As with all of Dickens’ novels, there is as much complexity in the characters as in their historical setting, so history is lived and felt more than read about. It was a terrifying time, and it is frightening to read what human beings are capable of.
Yet heroes are born in such times, and Dickens doesn’t disappoint.(less)
Well just to post another unpopular review (there are lots of books I do love, just look at my favourites!) ... here's one I wrote for Mercatornet.com...moreWell just to post another unpopular review (there are lots of books I do love, just look at my favourites!) ... here's one I wrote for Mercatornet.com a while ago.
It is hard not to notice when a book takes off like a bushfire around the teen/tween female population...
Twilight is the story of 17-year-old Isabella Swan and her “forbidden love” relationship with Edward Cullen, a vampire who masquerades as a human.
Bella is plain, clumsy and prone to accidents, but having recently moved to rainy Forks she enjoys popularity as the new girl. She has no real friends -- none that she spends unforced time with. She has a shallow relationship with her father, Charlie, whom she “hates lying to” even though she does so frequently since, “for his own good”, he remains ignorant about vampires. While Edward is always telling Bella how selfless she is, she never does anything to support the theory. All she wants is for him to make her a vampire so that she can be breathless in his presence 24/7 for all eternity.
Edward should be 100, but since vampires do not age he has remained 17. He is perfect in every regard (beauty, strength, speed, intelligence, immortality...) but, strangely, he never fell in love until he met Bella, to whose blood scent he is irresistibly attracted.
Jacob Black is a 16-year-old werewolf, mortal enemy of vampires. His declaration of love for Bella turns the romance into a love triangle.
One thing is for certain: it is not characterisation that makes these books irresistible to adolescent girls. It's romance, of a sort. What is more, Bella’s ordinary, vaguely sketched looks allow any female reader to put herself in place of the heroine. Tens of thousands are joining Facebook and MySpace groups such as, “I am absolutely in love with Edward Cullen”, or signing on as friends to his hundreds of profiles. No need to be beautiful, just hide behind a pretty name and you can still manage to attract the most perfect guy in existence -- it’s a teenage girl’s dream.
Sensuality, with a dash of ‘virtue’
For parents, however, Meyers’ romantic world is a nightmare. While there is, technically, no premarital sex in the books, sex is a big part of what they’re about. The characters’ dominant -- almost exclusive -- trait is emotional (hormonal) sensitivity. The tone is one of perpetual breathlessness brought on by intense physical attraction. The language is very, very sensual. For example:
“Bella?” I turned and he was leaning toward me, his pale, glorious face just inches from mine. My heart stopped beating.
“Sleep well,” he said. His breath blew in my face, stunning me. It was the same exquisite scent that clung to his jacket, but in a more concentrated form. I blinked, thoroughly dazed. He leaned away.
I was unable to move until my brain had somewhat unscrambled itself...” (Twilight, p193)
By book three things are more explicit:
“Bella...” He shook his head slowly, but it didn’t feel like a denial as his face, his lips, moved back and forth across my throat. It felt more like surrender. My heart, racing already, spluttered frantically...
He did not stop kissing me. I was the one who had to break away, gasping for air. Even then his lips did not leave my skin, they just moved to my throat... (Eclipse, p449)
Meyer told the London Times she finds it “fun” to write about teen romance: “It’s the first time you fall in love, it’s the first time you kiss somebody. All those feelings are so much stronger. You are not calloused up yet...” Not yet. But, by leading girls down the path of sexual fantasy, she hastens the day when the callouses appear.
The odd thing is that Meyer is an observant Mormon. She attended Brigham Young University (run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) where premarital sex is considered “a violation of the honour code”. As a mother of three boys she hates to see young people “screw up” their lives with sex and she hopes her sons “are smart enough to…make the right choices”. With their mother as guide they’ll have to be more than smart.
“The right choices” in her fictional world are about not falling off a tightrope. The scene quoted above, for example, continues like this:
“No,” he promised solemnly. “I swear to you, we will try. After you marry me.”
I shook my head, and laughed glumly.
“You make me feel like a villain in a melodrama – twirling my moustache while I try to steal some poor girl’s virtue.”
His eyes were wary as they flashed across my face, then he quickly ducked down to press his lips against my collarbone.
“That’s it, isn’t it?” The short laugh that escaped me was more shocked than amused. “You’re trying to protect your virtue!” I covered my mouth with my hand to muffle the giggle that followed. The words were so... old-fashioned.”
“No, silly girl,” he muttered against my shoulder. “I’m trying to protect yours. And you’re making it shockingly difficult.” (Eclipse, pp452-453)
In the midst of all this sensuality the sudden appearance of restraint seems incongruous -- if not dishonest. “Virtue” turns out to be simply a line that can’t be crossed. Keep a sheet between you and it is all OK. But who could go that far and maintain real virtue? Sounds like a recipe for a lot of baby Junos with jaded teenage mums.
Meyer seems to think a “thou shalt not” ethic is a soul’s ticket to heaven: “Most religions believe there are some rules to follow,” says Edward piously. Rules. What a contrast to John Paul II’s “theology of the body”, which understands sex, relationships and affectivity as wonderful dimensions of human life, to be guarded and affirmed, not simply out of a fear of hell but to enable human beings to reach their full potential in a free and total gift of self.
There are several other problems with these romances. Edward’s struggle to control his monstrous desire for Bella’s blood make human desires seem wonderfully natural by comparison. How bad can sex be compared to killing someone and feeding on their blood? The moral benchmark has moved way off centre.
There is a complete lack of realism in the expectations placed on the male in this relationship. After a century of resisting human blood, this vampire has the strength to resist crossing the sexual line too. But leading a girl to believe she can push a guy this far and then expect him to be as strong as Edward is unrealistic and unfair. Mind you, many girls are clued up to this lack of realism: see the Facebook groups Because I read Twilight I have unrealistic Expectations in Men (53,547 members) and After Reading Twilight, Human Boys Just Seem Lacking (19,413 members). But if you read the wall posts, it doesn’t stop them wishing.
Another concern is the mocking of parental authority. When Bella’s father tries to give her the “responsible sex” talk she is able to shout at him “I’m a virgin!” She knows that Charlie would freak out if he knew Edward spent the night in her room (watching her, because vampires can’t sleep), but she dismisses his concern exclaiming “nothing’s going to happen!” Then, in the very next paragraph she is breathless (again), and he’s struggling not to give in to his desires.
And what messages are coming to girls through all of this? The only thing that makes life worth living is having your (irresistibly attractive) man. Forget all your other aspirations, friends, family, interests, education... Growing old is a fate worse than death. Love is based on appearances and physical attraction.
One of the most serious issues is the glorification of obsessive love, an intensely emotional experience which is more important than life itself, yours or anyone’s. Then there’s the problem of having this obsessive love for more than one person at the same time. Jacob also loves Bella, and she realises she loves him too (a bit of kissing helps this along). Many girls have told me how desperate they find this: “She’s fully fallen in love with two people, both love her truly, this is an impossible dilemma, how can she live?”
Based on Twilight’s definition of the word, it is possible to fall in “love” with any number of people. Yet, in the real world, people do live, and what’s more, they really learn to love, sometimes giving up a love they might feel because it’s not right (for example, the person is married to someone else), or many times learning to love a person once feelings have faded, or rather, have deepened and matured. But when Jacob gives up Bella at the end of book three, he appears completely emotionally crushed. The message is that it’s not really possible to live if you have to give up this kind of love.
There are serious consequences for marriage. It is presented as a commitment based on this intense feeling of desire, when a person is so essential to your happiness that you can’t live without them. I’m not sure that many marriages would last long with that premise.
What there is not in these books is the usual trash talk one finds in young adult literature -- no drugs, alcohol, dirty jokes, just a lot of sensuality and obsessive love to make up for it.
To read, or not to read?
In view of all that, should we just tell teens “Don’t read it!”? I don’t think so. The books are not obscene, and many good kids have found practically nothing wrong with them. A few have felt the need to read a book on true love after reading this series, but most think it’s just the author’s skill that makes them so engrossing. So there is a lot of ground to cover, and that might be impossible if all you tell them is “don’t read it!” I suggest the Twilight saga falls into the “read and talk about” category.
Ask the girls who read them: What do you think about this scene? What’s missing there? What else could she have done? If you were in this situation, what would you do? What would be the best thing to do? Do you think there is anything more to relationships than this?
Can you think of one guy like Edward? Do you think it’s very realistic to pressure a guy like that and expect him not to give in? What’s a more likely response or action from a guy? What do you think is the right thing for a guy to do in this situation? How could you help him do what’s right?
This kind of discussion can be invaluable for good kids to help them avoid naively falling into situations they don’t know how to deal with. It also develops mature readers; when a book does not offer great role models it can still help readers to think for themselves. That is worth encouraging.
Looking at the themes introduced in these books, where emotions play such an important role, it is important to open readers to the much broader panorama of what love can bring to life. (Someone, please, write a novel, any genre, that gives teens something they can chew on, something they can feel with and learn with, not preachy, just honest.)
Love is not about having to live restraint in order not to mess up an unbroken record. Affectivity, the connection between body and soul, is not fully human when the soul is just a slave to the body and emotions. It reaches its full potential when human beings are able to make a true gift of themselves to another in a way that transcends selfishness.(less)
Watched the final movie the other night and was remembering how much I love this series - I think I'll have to re-read it this summer to take a break...moreWatched the final movie the other night and was remembering how much I love this series - I think I'll have to re-read it this summer to take a break from reviewing. In all the kids books I read it's so rare to find such a great combination of character and relationship development, social commentary, action, continuity from the first book to the last, unforced and unexpected plot development, a variety of good characters with unique personalities, appreciation for family, the variety of erroneous ways the evil characters judge what is good, the hard work that goes into learning virtue, humour, friendship, humility, romance, red-heads, intelligence, courage, hope... and it's just so much fun. Yes, definitely due for a re-read.(less)
I need to write a proper review for this wonderful book, but for now... It's a highly entertaining mix of adventure fantasy (Lord of the Rings), and A...moreI need to write a proper review for this wonderful book, but for now... It's a highly entertaining mix of adventure fantasy (Lord of the Rings), and Austen-esque characters: good and evil are not obviously apparent but must be discerned through her fascinating study of actions and intentions.
An absorbing romance that's impossible to put down. The heroine is characteristic of Sherwood Smith's best works: independent, humble, interesting and...moreAn absorbing romance that's impossible to put down. The heroine is characteristic of Sherwood Smith's best works: independent, humble, interesting and warm, and the 'hero' somehow manages to be irresistable precisely because he is down-to-earth and full of common sense. Several themes are introduced through secondary characters that require maturity, making it inappropriate for younger teens.(less)
A fascinating historical plot with fast-paced action adventure. Zac is a 16-year-old African-British kid who doesn’t believe his grandfather’s stories...moreA fascinating historical plot with fast-paced action adventure. Zac is a 16-year-old African-British kid who doesn’t believe his grandfather’s stories. But when Pops is murdered in the street, Zac is thrown into a world of secrets which cover a shocking and long-hidden past.
Zac learns he is the descendent of a Cormantin Prince captured as a slave in 1700. This broke a bond and ransom exchanged between the British and the Cormantin King, something for which Zac could sue the British Government, and which, therefore, the British police are desperate to conceal. Zac must avoid sinister figures who lurk in the shadows.
The first-person narrative offers us the random thoughts of an adolescent mind which tends to exaggerate or underestimate danger. But this perspective allows us to empathise with an otherwise long-distant historical tale. The language is not sophisticated but is relatively refined and, thankfully, often implies without saying. We learn of the brutality of slavery, but descriptions are not gratuitous. Sadly, Christianity only turns up as a false cover for the baddies, but at least the guise is easy to see through.
And evil doesn’t win: a harrowing past with cowardly and selfish people is transformed through courage and friendship into a heroic and ultimately successful struggle.(less)
For many years Sabriel has lived outside the walls of the Old Kingdom. But now her father, the Charter-Mage Abhorsen, is missing, and to find him Sabr...moreFor many years Sabriel has lived outside the walls of the Old Kingdom. But now her father, the Charter-Mage Abhorsen, is missing, and to find him Sabriel must cross back into that world.
Though her journey begins alone, she soon finds companions: Mogget, a cat who is perhaps something more, and Touchstone, a young man long imprisoned by magic and still trapped by painful memories. With threats on all sides they must travel deep into the Old Kingdom toward a battle against the true forces of life and death.
It’s rare to enjoy a story from the first page, but this is a thoroughly enjoyable fantasy from beginning to end. Garth Nix masterfully creates a new fantasy world that feels immediately familiar.
The characterisation is just right, a balance of human qualities we relate to (both admirable and despicable), and a sense of history that heightens the consequences of moral choices.
In terms of magic the story is deep into the fantasy world of necromancers and their associates (creatures in various stages of death), however, there is a clear distinction between good and evil, and once again fantasy is used successfully to visualise deeper philosophical truths and bring them to life.
It’s a shame that several small indiscretions prevent it being suitable for younger readers as well.(less)