Saturday 30 August 2014

Book Review-This Book is Gay by James Dawson

Title: This Book Is Gay
 Author:  James Dawson
Series:  N/A
Published:  4 September 2014 by Hot Key Books
Length: 271 pages
Source: publisher
Other info: James Dawson has written many things. 
Summary : Former PSHCE teacher and acclaimed YA author James Dawson gives an uncensored look at what it's like to grow up as LGBT. Including testimonials from people 'across the spectrum', this inclusive book explores everything anyone who ever dared to wonder wants to know - from sex to politics, how to pull, stereotypes, how to come-out and more. Spike Gerrell's hilarious illustrations combined with funny and factual text make this a must-have read.

Review: I don't normally review nonfiction, but this is a hugely anticipated book by a brilliant author and a topic I have an interest in. There’s so many things that make this book wonderful.
First, there’s the fact that this book exists, with a bright rainbow cover and direct information and not hiding.  I can only think of one other sex-ed book that addresses queer people as well as cishet people, and that's Scarleteen's book, which I read  once in a library but it later disappeared. The fact  there's a book that speaks directly to a group of people ignored by almost every school when it comes to sex-ed, is brilliant, and I hope this book finds its way into the hands of everyone who needs it.
Then here's the breadth of topics covered; labels and common definitions, biological theories, stereotypes, coming out, dating, sex, marriage, and children, as well as more serious, less happy topics, such as religious opposition, homophobia, transphobia, HIV/AIDS.
James gives clear advice that hopefully will be hopeful to people of all genders and sexualities about how to combat homo&transphobia, coming out,  and many other things.
I love the range of voices from the online survey, especially the longer studies, that talk about experiences such as living with HIV, transitioning, and having children via surrogate mothers. They give a snapshot into many different lives, and, after reading about things like this in fiction, it's fascinating to see real-life perspectives.
My favourite thing is James's voice tying it all together. I read the book straight after James did a reading from this book, and it's so easy to imagine him reading it aloud. There's a lot of laughs in appropriate places, highlights including "a very bad lady-let' her Maggie....some years later [there was] a slightly less evil man let's call him Tony",    "what I felt for Dean Cain (whose name I did not change for this book- I mean, I think it's time he knew of my love", and (in the first edition) bullet points 2 and 3 on page 45.
Now, this is going to sound really picky, but I did notice that it sometimes reinforces the gender binary (yes, I'm aware one of my contributions does too, and I apologise for younger, less informed me and cis-centric language) and uses ciscentric language when talking about sex (e.g. a label of a  woman being accompanied by a diagram of a female-bodied person, or the words "gay women get turned on by vaginas" (here not taking into account e.g. gay women with preop transwomen). I do get that it is impossible to cover the full range of identities in one book, and my noticing this is probably a result of me getting used to sites where gender and sex are strictly separated, and this book is wonderful in its existence, but still, a couple of word changes here and there could make this book absolutely perfect.

Overall:  Strength  5, tea to a book that needs to be everywhere.

Thursday 28 August 2014

Blog Tour Book Review- A Dark Inheritance by Chris D'Lacey

Title: A Dark Inheritance

 Author:  Chris D’Lacey
Series:   UNICORNE Files #1
Published:  7 August 2014 by Chicken House
Length:270 pages
Source: blog tour
Other info: Chris D’Lacey has also written the Last Dragon Chronicles.
Summary : When Michael Malone discovers his supernatural ability to alter reality, he is recruited by an organization dedicated to investigating strange and paranormal phenomena. He joins in hopes of finding his father, who mysteriously vanished three years earlier. Michael's first task is to solve the mystery of a dog he rescued from a precarious clifftop -- a mystery that leads him to a strange and sickly classmate and a young girl who was killed in a devastating accident. Stakes are high as Michael learns to harness his newfound ability and uncover the deadly truth about his father's disappearance.
A bold and thrilling tale of alternate realities, paranormal mystery, and extraordinary adventure.
Review:  Michael’s going to school via a non-normal route when he senses the thoughts of a suicidal dog, and somehow manages to stop her going over a cliff. This brings him to the attention of UNICORNE, who say they can tell him what happened to his father, who disappeared. They set him on the task of finding out what the dog was doing on the cliff, and this leads him to a mystery involving a classmate, a dead girl, and his newly discovered powers.
I’ve heard great things about Chris D’Lacey’s other work (which I have never read) so I was hoping this would be good. The blurbed concept isn’t particularly original, but I really liked the idea of cellular memory and the way it played out in the book.
There’s science-fiction elements, fantasy elements, and some thrillery elements too. It could have been a good mix, but in parts it goes so quickly that things don’t get explored as much as they could have been.
I like the characters, especially Josie, Michael’s ten year old sister, Chantelle, a UNICORNE agent, and Freya, Michael’s sick classmate.
The plot twists and turns, sometimes well, and sometimes in convenient places. I like the mix of more normal things that Michael has to deal with, in between the paranormal. I think the start of it was stronger than the way the setup played out though; it started with a strong hook, but then got a bit confusing. The main mystery did get played through well looking back on it, but with side elements being created due to Michael’s powers, it is harder to follow than it needed to be.
Overall:  Strength 3 tea to a genremixing thriller.
Blog tour!

26th August - Book Zone For Boys
8th August - Death, Books, and Tea
29th August - Fiction Fascination
1st September - Booktrust
2nd September - Teen Librarian
3rd September - Book Angel Booktopia

Sunday 24 August 2014

Does YA Challenge or Reinforce Gender Stereotypes?

You may have remembered a few months ago, I begged for responses to a long thing about gender and stereotypes and then a few weeks later I begged for responses to a shorter one. HUGE THANKS TO ALL OF YOU FOR GIVING ME RECS OF WHAT TO READ AND THINK ABOUT AND/OR DATA TO QUOTE HERE! 
This was for a level two project, also known as a higher project qualification or HPQ. We got to choose anything to research and come up with a 2000 word essay on it. It was finished in February 2014, and came back with an A* :)
 Anyway, I chose to write about YA and how heavily gender stereotypes feature in it. A googledoc of this essay can be found here; the essay is uncut here, but there you can find the whole bibliography, and results of the shorter surveys. What do you think? Does YA challenge or reinforce gendered stereotypes, or is it changing? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Does Young Adult Fiction challenge or reinforce gender stereotypes?

Gender stereotypes invade every aspect of life. From the moment a child is born and pronounced a boy or a girl, they will have the trappings of gender thrust upon them.  However, by the time they are teenagers, they will have started questioning these, and many other things about the world around them.   Literature written for teenagers, also known as Young Adult literature (YA), addresses many issues such as grief, bullying, drugs, suicide and rape. However, in my years reading a wide range of books on the market, I have not found many books that prominently challenge gender stereotypes, unless it is one of the few with a main character on the transgender spectrum. I have also often thought about the more general representation of gender throughout YA-the characteristics, traits and ideas attached to characters of different genders. In my time as a book blogger, I have also grown to know the methods of marketing YA literature, and I am going to analyse these, and if and how gender plays a part in these.  Gender stereotypes are rife throughout all forms of media, not just young adult literature. But as teens question and explore life, and are influenced by the media they consume, the books they read challenging or reinforcing gender stereotypes will help form their ideas that will stick with them throughout their lives.

Wednesday 13 August 2014

Theatre Reviews: I Need a Doctor and Shakespeare's Avengers Assembleth

Title: I Need a Doctor: The Whosical

Director: Benjamin Occhipinti
Major cast: James Wilson-Taylor and Jessica Spray
Seen at: Pleasance, Edinburgh Fringe
Review: Jamie and Jess are two Whovians who want to perform a Doctor Who themed musical. Who have recieved a Cease and Desist notice from Stephen Moffat. Oh well-changes can be made so copyright infringement can be avoided, right? With this in mind, Jamie and Jess take on the roles of a companion, A Doctor, and multiple villians, and journey through time and space in the TARD- Phone Box. I wasn't sure if I was going to see this, but then I got told they make fun of Moffat and I was sold.
Its a very clever parody. Yes, they do  make fun of Moffat, using fairy godmother Amy Wand, who continually advises Jess to obey the Doctor and stay where she is. Like companions of a better time, Jess ignores her and goes and has adventurers.
Both performers, and the pianist, are very good at what they do. The multiroling that Jamie does is brilliant, especially when portraying A Doctor and Da Master simultaneously.
Jokes come continually, a mix of Who-related, musical related, generally awesome lines, and one thing that was set up from the start just to include
which just made the whole show better.
 [if you can't see it, that’s the BARROWMAN gif]
The original songs are catchy, and funny. I also likes how they included changed bits from other musicals like The Ballad of Sweeney Todd (the Exterminators), Confrontation (from Les Mis, A Doctor and Da Master), and Music of the Night Phantom of the Opera  [edited] (from Phantom, Da Master and Jess, leading to "sing for me, angel....bloody hell!")

Overall Strength 4 tea to a really fun show that every Whovian and every fan of musicals (that catches most of you guys, right?) must see.
Links: Company

Title: Shakespeare’s Avengers Assembleth
Performed by: Drake's Drummers Theatre Company
Seen at: Greenside Theatre, Edinburgh Fringe
Review: Queen Elizabeth is about to be crowned, making England Protestant. Knowing that The Pope will try and keep England Catholic she commissions William Shakespeare to write a play with his greatest heroes,  warning of Catholicism. The Vatican's High Inquisitor is not happy about this, and he in turn summons Shakespeare's greatest villains. This results in a cobbled together play starring Cardinal Dave, William Shakespeare, and his greatest characters (and Brutus).
I was very excited about seeing this play. I knew it wasn't going to be Marvel's characters in Shakespearean (though that would have been awesome too), and was excited to see how they'd all interact.
There were lots of running gags that always made me laugh, such as Hamlet  always talking to Banquo, Ophelia's offstage actions, Brutus being very stabby and the High Inquisitor's grasp on his religion.
Interpretation of characters was a mix of brilliant and...interesting. I loved the characterisation of Brutus, Macbeth, and Juliet.
The plot wasn't great, and the play within a play was impossible to follow. I think that might have been intentional though, judging by the jokes about it within the script. This play should be judged more on its jokes; the oneliners, physical things, and ones that take a bit more time  to set up.
The cast multiroled and played off each other really well. The lighting and stage were kept very simple, and I think as well as a riff off Shakespeare, it's also a comedy about very amateur productions and how they get produced (that is, badly organised, lots of arguements, and lots of laughs, which is highly highly accurate). 
Overall Strength  4 tea to a fun story and spin on Shakespeare's characters.

Theatre review- Travesti

Title: Travesti
Director: Rebecca Hill
Performed by: Unbound Productions
Major cast: John Askew, Dominic Attenborough, Aled Bidder, Hugo Bolton, Stanley Elridge, James Lawrence
Seen at: Pleasance, Edinburgh Fringe

Review: Six men tell women's stories about things such as makeup, pressure, sex, and assault.
The set of six revolving mirrors is very effectively used throughout, as ironing boards, kitchens, display boards, and hanging spaces for the suits the actors wear at the start.
For a cast that all works very well together, I found it a shame that they put some actors out of action at various points in, the play, and they don't return until the end.
At times, they used songs to transition to the next topic. Props to Francesca Fenech, musical director, for putting in some really nice harmonies. Also, the actors have very good voices.
In parts, there's two or more stories being told at once. I have mixed reactions to this; it works at times when two contrasting opinions on one topic are being related, but sometimes it seems like they're talking over each other and interrupting in midsentence just for the sake of it  which made both stories disrupted and harder to follow.
They talk about a good range of topics, and it's interesting to see lots of perspectives on things.
Each individual actor is very good at using movement to emphasise the point that is being made. This is especially clear at the points when they strip, the way they do so and their expressions showing how the person being objectified at that point feels.
The concept of Travesti is a very good one, and does make you think about the differences between expectations and perceptions of genders in society; for example, people were laughing when the men were grinding and singing Do What You Want With My Body, while if it were women doing it then it wouldn't be anything out of the ordinary. It's a very good play to see starkly the way different genders are treated in society, in situations ranging in seriousness.

Overall: Strength 4 tea to a thought provoking, well performed piece that everyone should watch.

Links: Company

Monday 11 August 2014

Theatre Review-Lysistrata by Christopher Adams and Aristophanes

So, I went to the Edinburgh Fringe festival. It was brilliant-most shows. I’m only going to review the shows I really enjoyed though-I don’t really see much point in spending time writing a 250 word review saying “this was okish.” So over the next week, here’s my pick of shows.

Title: Lysistrata
Writer: Christopher Adams and Aristophanes
Director: Christopher Adams
Performed by: DEM Productions
Major cast: Lousia Holloway, Charlotte Mulliner, River Hawkins and Robert Willoughby
Seen at: C Nova
Review: It starts with Lysistrata's birthday party and her friends have bought her a stripper. But prices are rising, they can't pay and so he leaves. Lysistrata, angry with the austerity measures and work exploitation and the state of Greece in general, convinces her friends to withold sex  until the men of Greece sort out the situation.
I've read Lysistrata by Aristophanes and I thought this was a very clever adaptation. I love the relavence of the Greek  financial crisis and the use of social media as a rallying call to women.  The transitions between rhymed verse and normal speaking is quite jarring  and the tone set up at the beginning means the verse sounds really out of place.
It starts off a faithful modern adaptation, as much as you can do with four actors, distilling choruses down to single people and using sound effectively to create crowds. Then about the 2/3 mark I think (I’m not entirely sure) it gets very different, a lot darker, and by the end I'm thinking two things: this was meant to be a comedy and the writer seriously thinks Greece is screwed. I left thinking “woah. Not expecting that.” and I think it worked in this version [possible spoiler-highlight to see] as the war on austerity would obviously take time to fix and not be sorted by a sex strike in one night, as opposed to a war being fought by men who could easily stop. [end spoiler]
All four actors are very good. Louisa Hollway is Lysistrata throughout, doing well as a drunk angry woman who wants change, but also good at showing a more vulnerable side. The other three actors multirole, often crossdressing, creating very different characters through voices and movement.
The logistics could have been better. I sat in the centre of the third row, but a few scenes were on the ground, an unraised stage, so only the front row could really see, and the actors didn't have microphones so it was really hard to hear them when music was playing, meant to be in the background but drowning the actors out.

Overall: Strength 4 tea to a strong modernisation and adaptation.