Book Review: Fangasm – Supernatural Fangirls by Katherine Larsen and Lynn S. Zubernis

Once upon a time not long ago, two responsible college professors, Lynn the psychologist and Kathy the literary scholar, fell in love with the television show Supernatural and turned their oh-so-practical lives upside down. Plunging headlong into the hidden realms of fandom, they scoured the Internet for pictures of stars Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki and secretly penned racy fan fiction. And then they hit the road — criss-crossing the country, racking up frequent flyer miles with alarming ease, standing in convention lines at 4 AM.

They had white-knuckled encounters with overly zealous security guards one year and smiling invitations to the Supernatural set the next. Actors stripping in their trailers, fangirls sneaking onto film sets; drunken confessions, squeals of joy, tears of despair; wallets emptied and responsibilities left behind; intrigue and ecstasy and crushing disappointment — it’s all here. And yet even as they revelled in their fandom, the authors were asking themselves whether it’s okay to be a fan, especially for grown women with careers and kids. “Crazystalkerchicks” — that’s what they heard from Supernatural crew members, security guards, airport immigration officials, even sometimes their fellow fans. But what Kathy and Lynn found was that most fans were very much like themselves: smart, capable women looking for something of their own that engages their brains and their libidos.

Fangasm pulls back the curtain on the secret worlds of fans and famous alike, revealing Supernatural behind the scenes and discovering just how much the cast and crew know about what the fans are up to. Anyone who’s been tempted to throw off the constraints of respectability and indulge a secret passion — or hit the road with a best friend — will want to come along.

Amazon | GoodReads | The Book Depository

I will always remember my precious first days in fandom. Like a little baby deer taking its first steps on ice, I joined a Sailor Moon forum when I was 12 and never looked back. Then I went on to Harry Potter, then Dead Like Me, and then a few years later, there was this massive buzz on LJ about a new US TV show called Supernatural. (According to this book, the buzz (particularly, the fan-fiction community) began before the series even aired its pilot, thanks to promotion at San Diego Comic Con one year prior.)

Even back then, I didn’t get the hype. I eagerly bought the full box-set of season one on DVD just to see what all the fuss was about, and repeat viewings of this first series never filled me with the same enthusiasm that I was seeing all over LiveJournal and DeviantART. I mean… it was very, very formulaic. Season one has Sam and Dean driving to a small town, discovering there’s a demon, and then finding a few locals there to help them. One of these characters will every now and again go directly against the advice given to him (i.e., stay in the fucking salt circle when you’re told that there’s a man-eating demon wandering around) and die. Of course, early on, there’s many female characters that just get used as plot devices to motivate the main heroes or to act as the audience avatar who is just swept up in all this chaos and (usually) winds up dying. My best friend came over a few years ago and while we were watching this first season, she turned to me and said she was already formulating a drinking game in her head. We were two episodes in.

But, I’m fair and I always try to give shows the benefit of the doubt. ITV2 started airing Supernatural here in the UK, but I always found that they messed around the schedule a lot, and I never got to watch the series cohesively. I’d just take it as a little episodic TV show to watch before I went to bed, and several years later, I found out that it had been picked up by Sky, but by then I’d stopped watching it.

Anyway, enough of my time in fandom and how I don’t really get Supernatural. I mean, I know different strokes for different folks applies, but the fandom was just everywhere and to this day, it’s the second most popular fandom on Fanfiction.net (until the Gleeks came and knocked them off the top spot). So of course, with my interest and background in fandom, I read the synopsis on Net-Galley and thought this could be a really smart and interesting collection of essays, detailing not only a passion for the fandom, but also the reasons behind why women in particular become quite so attracted to fandom.

Larsen and Zubernis actually cite some really good psychological and sociological theories as to why fandoms are such a big thing with the advent of the Internet. Back in the days of Lord Byron, this meant sending dear old George enough fan-mail to crush an elephant. In the recent past, being a “fan” meant subscribing to a zine or getting a pen-pal and enthusing about the latest episode that was broadcast in your area, or collecting any scrap of merchandise or any mention of your favourite series in the media. For the past 15 years, forums, communities and social networks with dedicated fandom circles are just one click away, and this means that there are fans of just about any TV show, book series, comic, musician, cartoon, or movie that has ever existed. Humans are predisposed on an evolutionary level to try and socialise and fit in with any new group, and in the virtual world of fandom, you can find people of all sorts who will have a lot in common with you.

Yet fandom has always been demonised in some form or another. If the fandom is predominantly female, then there’s a rather large chance that they’ll all be tarred with the same brush — creepy, over-possessive, and prone to insisting that an actor or a character interpretation is “theirs”. “Twilight moms” who idolised Taylor Lautner and Robert Pattinson were pretty soundly thrashed by the media, who quickly latched onto the question: “If these were males following around teenage actresses…! Double standard!”

Women are coming into fandom and staying there later and later into life. Society has another strange double standard where it’s perfectly fine for men to express fandom by following their favourite football team around the country and painting themselves in the team colours, but women’s hobbies are almost always viewed as being either unproductive or a tad on the creepy side, as we saw with the Twilight moms example.

Fanboys are no stranger to fan shame. But while male media fans fear being perceived as not being sexual enough, female fans seem fearful that being a fan makes them too sexual. [...] Fangirls aren’t sedate, controlled or quiet – therefore, they must be crazy stalkers who can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality. Fan shame for female fans often seems inextricably linked with shame about sexuality. (p. 55)

Of course, the Supernatural fandom is quick to get rid of get rid of such misconceptions. People have been kicked out of the fandom at large for asking the actors about fan-fiction, and one 14 year old, desperate to get a hug from Jensen Ackles, knocked him to the floor of an elevator, then spent the rest of the weekend at the convention trying and failing to get back in, such was her devotion. (I’m guessing there’s an obvious bias towards Jensen in this book, because the authors don’t talk about Jared Padalecki or Misha Collins nearly as much.)

But for all the interesting psychological and sociological studies cited in why people get so ardently into fan communities, the writers themselves… let’s just say that there are times where their behaviour comes across as really self-absorbed and the worst kind of fans. I mean, as a teenage fan, it’s one thing to go to a play Jensen Ackles is starring in, and loudly gasp when he bends over, but when you’re adult women and academics… Yeah. What about rearranging plans to stay in the city where Jensen is performing, just so you could perhaps get a glimpse or an autograph of him and Jared when he came to visit?

The most irritating thing I find is that there’s all these huge expressions of fandom, with grown women running around like little kids who drank way too many fizzy drinks at a pop concert, which are then quickly dismissed with sentiments along the lines of: “Well, we knew that what we were doing was a little bit odd, but we couldn’t seem to help ourselves!” Occasionally it would segue into an interesting point about why fandoms are so attractive on a social level, but the majority of the time it was just a few BNFs giggling about how much they enjoyed writing fics and analysis, whilst being completely blind to their families beginning to find their obsessions more than a bit, well, obsessive.

For what it’s worth, the book is a decent read, but I would have preferred more research into fandom, rather than memoirs of being in the Supernatural fandom since its inception in 2005. This laid-back, giggly approach soured quickly when I realised these were adults with children who were shoving their personal lives to the wayside in favour of travelling to Comic Con and any other engagement involving the actors or producers of the show. I mean, I’m all for fandom, but I have actually met people who were around the same age as these ladies, and for whom fandom is their only crutch in life, and it’s not really healthy. Like everything in life, there’s got to be some form of moderation. Getting to the point where you’re mentally beating yourself up for missing meeting one of the actors by a few minutes… I mean, really? (And I say this as somebody who cried after meeting J.K. Rowling.)

3.5/5

Bloody Annoyances (Chi no Ai #1) by Marie McKinley

The human who has nothing left to live for, and the vampire who thinks he’s a tasty treat. That’s a terrible reason to keep living.

For a long time Nathan Hayashi had cut himself off from the rest of the world and committed himself to avenging his family’s murder. Is a chance encounter with a happy, persistent vampire enough to distract him away from his dubious goals?

Nobuhiro Kurosawa has been alone among humans for a long time. All Nobu wants is to convince this silly, stubborn human to stay with him so they can live happily ever after together forever and ever.

Amazon | GoodReads

(A digital review copy was graciously provided by the author and her editor.)

Two months ago, I was approached via e-mail to review an M/M vampire romance, set in Japan. I was informed that this was the author’s first work, and she and her team had worked very hard to make sure that it was of an acceptable standard for publishing on the Kindle store. So naturally I opened up the digital copy and I got reading.

When I first began to read it, I was kind of worried that Bloody Annoyances was going to be a product of the mind that’s like: “OMFG YAOI AND NIHON DAISUKI”, but as I read on, I was quite impressed! I mean, I’m hardly an expert on Tokyo or Yokohama, but Marie McKinley was able to make the cityscape seem very authentic. It’s clear that she did her research, especially on the little things that go a long way, like putting in the social mores of the historical period Nobu was born in, modern street names, subway stations, etc. (I also liked the inclusion of Nobu’s workplace, Ristorante Paradiso – named after the Natsume Ono manga, I hope?) The writing is also very well done, favouring just the right amount of description and only occasionally falling into purple prose territory.

To begin with, Nathan and Nobuhiro’s relationship is sweet and doesn’t go anywhere near the dubious/non consensual sex that’s favoured by a lot of yaoi manga. Nor do Nathan and Nobuhiro fall into the stereotypical seme/uke relationship (one partner is harsh, the other is sweet) that’s common in a lot of poorly-written yaoi manga. I mean, sure, looking at the blurb, you’d think they would fall exactly into the seme/uke category, but thankfully, they don’t. Nathan behaves realistically, and he falls for Nobuhiro at a rather natural pace. I don’t read a huge amount of M/M romance, but I was pleasantly surprised by Bloody Annoyances.

Where I have to dock a star or two though, is almost the entire middle of the book. Everything just gets a little bit overstuffed — there’s almost too much story, and at times the plot just seems to be seriously grasping at straws, or throwing things at the wall to see what sticks. Other vampires are introduced, then somebody Nathan has known for years is revealed to be from a pack of European werewolves… Nathan just winds up falling into more and more trouble as the story goes on, and perhaps some of these plot cul-de-sacs could have been reworked or just skipped over. It’s unfortunate, but these just don’t really fit quite so well into the plot and wind up over-inflating what would otherwise be a fairly short and sweet romance.

Similarly, Nobuhiro loses a lot of his original enigmatic nature as the plot goes on, and it’s more than a bit of a wasted opportunity when a vampire who’s over a hundred years old winds up developing this bland personality and is only there to pop in whenever Nathan is earmarked by another vampire, or to comfort Nathan when he discovers other things about his family that he wasn’t expecting… It’s a shame, but it doesn’t completely ruin the book.

In fact, if you do like manga, this book really is like somebody had their own idea for a manga and wrote it down as an original story. Presumably, some of the flubs in the book would be much easier to forgive if it were in a graphic novel format, but like I said, the occasional spate of overblown plotting isn’t enough to complete detract from the enjoyment of Bloody Annoyances.

3/5.

Seriously, Kuroshitsuji?

Those of you who’ve been following the blog for quite some time now will know that I enjoyed Kuroshitsuji (aka Black Butler) enough to do a recap of every chapter as they were released, and I’d even review the individual manga volumes as they came out in English.

Then came the Weston Private School arc, and that was a slog to get through. The new characters were all one dimensional and completely stupid, and despite all the build-up, there was very little pay-off. Undertaker and Ryan Stoker are making zombies again, the same plan they revealed in the Campania arc preceding that. I stopped reviewing the newly-released chapters roughly 13 months ago, because there was honestly very little for me to say except “bleh.”

Because that’s what this new arc is. Bleh. Sebastian and Ciel are called to Germany by Queen Victoria, and they find themselves in a secluded town where the locals speak a strange dialect of German and are very, very hostile towards outsiders. It’s revealed that Finnian can speak German (although this hasn’t been expanded upon any further as of this writing), and everyone winds up in the castle, where the fabled Green Witch resides.

The Green Witch turns out to be a little girl called Sieglinde Sullivan (yeah, very German), who, despite her young age, is a gifted herbalist and fully accepting of the role she’s been born into. She honestly believes that her magic-using ancestors made a deal with the ancient werewolves to protect the village from outside influences, and that the strange miasma that severely affects anyone who goes into the forests late at night is a “curse” that is all to do with the wolves. Also, her disability — withered legs and feet, reminiscent of Chinese foot-binding — is a hangover of the deal the werewolves made with the witches oh so long ago.

Following yet? Hopefully you are.

I mean sure, it’s a bizarre plot, and it’s kind of clear from early on that Sullivan is being manipulated in some way… But not like this.

Okay, so Ciel decides to go out into the forest to test the miasma theory, and winds up getting seriously ill, having terrible nightmares, delusions, and sickness. He won’t let anybody near him except for Finnian, and spends most of his days cowering under his blankets. So I guess the miasma is like Scarecrow’s fear toxin. Sullivan tries to heal Ciel, but it doesn’t work until Sebastian goes in and threatens to go back and his and Ciel’s contract. Ciel eventually snaps back to his normal self, and he and his servants agree that it’s time to get down to business with investigation. So they come up with a plan to distract Sullivan’s intimidating butler, Wolf, and discover a very strange conspiracy deep within the vaults of the castle.

There’s a fucking working radar and surveillance system. In 1888/1889. Granted, I did do some Googling and found out that radar technology was being researched in the late 1800s… But a sophisticated system like that wouldn’t be commonly used until decades later. Oh, also, the villagers have been manipulating Sullivan for years by dressing up in werewolf costumes and polluting the forest every night as test their chemical weapon — a gas that can be used to cripple soldiers with fear on the battlefield. Also, they’ve kept up the story that Sullivan is a descendant of a long line of witches who’ve protected this little town, and their harsh attitudes towards outsiders are so that they can be evil dickheads and gaslight a little girl into believing she’s a witch when she’s actually contributing to research that would kill millions of people in the future.

Okay, okay, what am I even complaining about? There have been more modern technologies featured in Kuroshitsuji before. Right off the bat, in the very earliest chapters of the manga, Sebastian uses a mobile phone to inform Ciel that he’s dealt with some assassins. (The anime turns it into some weird in-car, old-style phone.) Prince Soma even watches TV at some point. The manga tosses in silly little anachronisms like that every once in a while, and it’s generally agreed upon that the series utilises the Victorian aesthetic, rather than being an honest adaptation of the era. We’re not reading Kaoru Mori’s Emma or Shirley here, after all. Black Butler is a silly, trope-y manga almost carefully calculated to satisfy both a shounen and a fujoshi fan-base.

I’m not complaining that it’s silly to have a surveillance system and chemical weaponry available in the late 1880s. No, I’m complaining about something else. This chapter, this dénouement to the entire German Werewolves arc (or whatever the fans are calling it) is a complete and utter fucking ass-pull. (I should have seen it coming, really. There’s a part where Sullivan, who until then spoke entirely in German, started speaking fluent English. How does she suddenly know English? She hasn’t ever been tutored in English, she isn’t withholding her language skills à la Daenerys Targaryen, nor has she taken to studying in secret… it’s because she’s a witch. That’s the only explanation you get. Seriously.)

The writing’s never been particularly deep or well-done in this manga, but Christ, it used to know how to tie up its loose ends. The Weston College arc ended with “SURPRISE! ZOMBIES!! THIS ENIGMATIC FIGURE YOU’VE BEEN SEARCHING FOR OVER NINE MONTHS IS ACTUALLY JUST UNDERTAKER DOING IT FOR THE LOLZ” and this whole train wreck chugged weakly towards a chapter that very weakly wrapped everything up, almost as if the writers were embarrassed by this whole plot and wanted to get the characters out of that setting as soon as possible.

This arc is ending basically with: “SURPRISE! WE ONLY DRESSED UP AS WEREWOLVES AND MANIPULATED YOU FOR YEARS SO WE COULD MAKE A CHEMICAL WEAPON! AND JUST WHEN YOU’VE DISCOVERED OUR PLAN, SULLIVAN, WE’RE GOING TO BREAK YOUR MIND EVEN FURTHER BY NAMING THE CHEMICAL FEAR TOXIN AFTER YOU.”

Yes, this manga can be really fucking bullshit at times, but I do like it still. Which is the one of the worst things about it.

Damn it, series. I wish I knew how to quit you.

Book Review: Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin

In the summer of 1926, sixteen-year-old Garnet Richardson is sent to a lake resort to escape the polio epidemic in the city. She dreams of indulging her passion for ornithology and visiting the famous new amusement park — a summer of fun before she returns for her final year of high school, after which she’s expected to marry a nice boy and settle into middle-class homemaking. But in the country, Garnet finds herself under the supervision of equally oppressive guardians — her father’s wealthy cousin and the matron’s stuck-up daughter. Only a liberating job in a hat shop, an intense, secret relationship with a daring and beautiful flapper, and a deep faith in her own fierce heart can save her from the suffocating boredom of traditional femininity.

Silhouette of a Sparrow is a coming-of-age story about a search for wildness in a confining time, and a simultaneous quest for security in an era full of unrest. It is the tale of a young woman’s discovery of the science of risk and the art of rebellion, and of course, the power of unexpected love.

This book is lovely. I know it may be terribly twee to use that word to describe a book, but honestly, it’s been a long time since I read a book that was this sweet and earnest.

It is only a very short read, though. It took me a few sessions because I wanted to savour it. Normally short books only leave me wanting more, and to be honest, this one did. I felt like it needed an extra 50 to 100 pages. All the drama towards the climax just seems far too neatly resolved, and it kind of made me raise my eyebrows at one point. It’s not particularly a rushed ending, but unfortunately the story does become victim to the short length of the book.

As much as I love Garnet, I sometimes felt there was a lack of tension too — we’re told a lot about how she’s terrified of having to go back to a boring life where she’s expected to marry her boyfriend and unable to indulge in her passion for biology by studying at a university, but not necessarily shown. Certain events in the book should leave her a bit shaken, especially towards the ending when it seems like all of her dreams have been dashed permanently, but it’s all kind of glossed over, unfortunately.

I absolutely love the romance between Grace and Isabella, though. It’s well done, and I’d definitely recommend this to people looking for MOGII and LGBTQ books. I know I found it on an LGBTQ book recommendation blog on Tumblr, and decided to buy it after falling in love with the blurb on Amazon.

I tend to run out of things to say about books I really like, such as this one, so this is going to be quite a short review. Needless to say, this was great but fell victim to its brief page count. Still, Molly Beth Griffin did manage to pack in some beautiful writing and believable character development, which is always a plus.

Verdict: 4/5.

Book Review: The Class Book of Baby Names by Katie Hopkins

Katie Hopkins believes a name is a short cut to understanding everything you need to know about a child and more importantly the parent standing behind it.

Take Ashley. Shut your eyes and picture mum: legging clad, slightly overweight and clutching Primark bags twice the size of her latest baby. There may be another one on the way, but you can never be sure.

There only so many times you can hear ‘TYLER’ yelled aggressively across a playground before you work out Tyler means trouble.

Katie Hopkins has created the Class Book of Baby Names as a response to requests for her to #ratemyname. There will be some candid thoughts on characters you recognise. You will also find inspiration for more intelligent sounding names to set your child on a path to greatness.

Amazon | GoodReads

To all budding writers of the world: I have a challenge for you.

Open up your word processor of choice. Put your finger over the keystroke for your favourite letter of the alphabet. Keep your finger held in place until you eventually hit 40-45 pages. Save, and put this document on Amazon for the criminal charge of £1.53. At least your book will be considered a postmodern work of art, and not the rantings of a smug, bellicose harridan who is desperately trying to cling to some modicum of cultural relevance, despite the general public growing tired of her schtick.

Scrolling through her Twitter feed, which is somehow less painful than this entire book, you’ll discover a few things about the esteemed author.

  • Katie Hopkins hates women who want maternity leave.
  • Katie Hopkins hates the idea of gender-specific prizes and shortlists.
  • Katie Hopkins hates working class women who are tasteless enough to name their child Tyler.
  • Katie Hopkins outright despises left-wingers.
  • Katie Hopkins hates working class people.
  • Katie Hopkins hates middle class people.
  • Katie Hopkins hates upper middle class people.
  • Katie Hopkins hates Muslims.
  • Katie Hopkins hates people who are overweight.

In fact, we could go on for hours. Katie Hopkins just seems to be a hate elemental. If we could harness the energy she puts into being vitriolic for the sake of TV ratings and column inches, we could illuminate our corner of western Europe like a supernova for years to come.

There’s a disclaimer to begin with, of course. Katie Hopkins insists that more politically correct people actually say exactly what she spews behind closed doors, and thus, are ‘closet Hopkins.’ I think she’s describing a different kind of creature altogether – the ‘closet Hopkins’ is actually some breed of hobgoblin that spouts xenophobic regurgitations whenever you open the cupboard under the sink. “Eastern European plumber. Ain’t right, support British trade,” it grumbles, glaring its hateful little eyes out from behind the waste food bin, and sticking its nose back into The Sun newspaper.

Also, there’s the fact that, unlike Hopkins, I was raised with basic human decency and taught at a very young age to not judge others, or be a nasty little bully.

You’ll learn in this book that judging little children by their names is perfectly de rigueur in Hopkins’ twisted view of the world. Little kids who had absolutely no say in what they were called. Little kids who, despite the chance that they could grow up to be very respectable and responsible working adults, will be turned away by Hopkins due to being saddled with a name like Wayne or Tanya.

Maybe Hopkins lives in a fantasy world where children are nameless until they acquire language skills and magically blurt out the one name that becomes theirs from that day forward. That’s perhaps the only way this could work, because unless little Kyle learns about changing one’s name by deed poll and gets legal aid to do just that, Hopkins is basically picking on a small child for something that is completely out of their control. If you don’t see how that’s wrong, please tell me how a 40 year old ‘television personality’ and ‘businesswoman’ sneering at some little kid’s name is somehow correct in your universe.

This book is, from what I can tell, a very lazy fabrication cobbled together by some rubbishy digital publishing house who made their interns scrawl through Hopkins’ timeline, back when she jumped on an opportunity to ‘rate names’ with a hashtag that provoked morbid curiosity at first, which soon turned into snobbery and the fact that Katie Hopkins’ brand of ‘comedy’ is about as funny as Jim Davidson at rock bottom trying to impersonate Dane Cook.

You see, as Hopkins tries to say, she doesn’t just make a snap judgement on the kids’ name when she pulls away her kids from the riff-raff they attend school with. (Which begs the question – if you hate state schools so much, why not home educate your children with a tutor, or send them off to an upper-crust private school?) She also judges based on the mother stood behind the child. If she’s wearing leggings at all, is a bit overweight, or perhaps looks like a hippie, Hopkins institutes a code red for her children to never play with that ruffian Tyler, or his friend Jayden.

Apparently, if my mother had named me Ruby like she originally intended, Hopkins would look down on her as a cursed vegan cyclist. Neither of my given names are in this book, which is rather amazing. You’d think that at least some effort would be put into a digital publication, rather than blithely printing the results of what Hopkins could reasonably respond to that one day on Twitter when #ratemyname was being bandied around. The introduction is less than one hundred words, and about the only thing the publishing house have really done that differentiates this book from a .pdf file of Hopkins’ timeline is added in a table of contents, and perhaps created the most half-assed book cover that has ever existed.

Reading this book is akin to having the Spanish tickler scraped across your frontal lobe. Hopkins’ vitriolic pigswill actually gets boring after a while, and almost totally predictable. Oh look, this name is a vaguely ‘common’. Yep, there’s some comment about fat mothers. Oh, this name is vaguely exotic or hippie-sounding. Yes, the mother probably has ‘hygiene issues,’ according to Hopkins. Yawn.

1/5

Book Review: Halo by Alexandra Adornetto

An angel is sent to Earth on a mission.

But falling in love is not part of the plan.

Three angels – Gabriel, the warrior; Ivy, the healer; and Bethany, the youngest and most human – are sent by Heaven to bring good to a world falling under the influence of darkness. They work hard to conceal their luminous glow, superhuman powers, and, most dangerous of all, their wings, all the while avoiding all human attachments.

Then Bethany meets Xavier Woods, and neither of them is able to resist the attraction between them. Gabriel and Ivy do everything in their power to intervene, but the bond between Xavier and Bethany seems too strong.

The angel’s mission is urgent, and dark forces are threatening. Will love ruin Bethany or save her?

Amazon | GoodReads | The Book Depository

There was a time in my life when I was super impressed with authors like Christopher Paolini got published at a young age. Of course, I didn’t know anything about his publishing connections, but reading Eragon for the first time when I was 13 made me wonder if I actually could start writing and also get a book out there. I wrote all sorts of tawdry crap, and looking back on it now is absolutely painful. I only had a vague understanding of how to build worlds and create characters, I over-utilised my thesaurus and any attempts at emotive writing were really maudlin affairs that just seemed completely telegraphed with no sense of build-up. I insisted I was a serious writer, though, and although I never plucked up the courage to submit my writing to a publisher, I did put writing on the back-burner for several years while I sorted out what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I’m glad that I did. I would be seriously embarrassed, not as an author but as a human being, if I ever wrote and believed in the same crap espoused in Halo.

Halo does not give you a thrilling story with loveable characters and deep emotional connections. Halo is a depiction of romance written by an immature sixteen year old following a Twilight binge. It throbs with purple prose and is devoutly conservative and preachy. Girls who are in any way sexually active are demonised, love is presented as co-dependency and idolisation rather than a sweet, romantic relationship, there are plot holes that one could drive the Knight Bus through, as well as several elements of Twilight that the book apes almost wholesale. (One such example: going to a town called Port ____ to go shopping for formalwear. Seriously.)

The book sets us up with rather grand stakes, in that God has deemed this one little town in the US to be in need of the counsel of an archangel, a seraph and a regular angel named Bethany. There’s demonic activity brewing in the area, and it’s up to our angels to stop it…!

But, psh, who cares about that when there’s a hot boy called Xavier for Bethany to swoon over and question her angelic status? Our angelic trio (well, Gabriel and Bethany – Ivy the seraph is stuck at home) decide to attend school to make people get back in touch with their spirituality. Supposedly, the mere act of an angel being nice or organising a social awareness programme turns even the most ardent atheist into a ‘good church-goer’. Rather than do the logical thing, which would be to throw themselves into investigating the demonic activity, or doing volunteering in the town, so they can see the trouble firsthand, they just shrug their shoulders and stay indoors watching movies to learn how to acclimatise to human life, and give humans the cold shoulder. While living in a huge Georgian-style mansion with a baby grand in the living room, mohair blankets and cashmere throws.

Ivy, despite outranking Gabriel several times over in angel lore, is reduced to playing second fiddle. It’s always Gabriel who has the right solution to a problem, or who convinces people into making the right choice. Gabriel, the archangel who revealed the birth of Christ and watched Sodom and Gomorrah burn, now teaches music at school and surfs. I’m quite sure that’s sacrilegious in Catholic doctrine, to anthropomorphise an angel like this, but who cares about that when Bethany can talk at length about his bronzed skin and perfectly sculpted body?

I don’t quite know how a book this preachy was brought out by a major publisher, when it firmly belongs in some Christian publishing house’s slush pile, and not marketed as the latest hot teen romance novel. As well as preachiness about religion, you’ll be forced to swallow down preachiness about conservatism and the vegan lifestyle, as well as the behaviour and musings of an immature, pathetic main character who does everything but focus on the mission for over 200 pages. Once Xavier and Bethany become an item, the plot flails weakly for anything that could provide something of interest, before the demonic villain Jake Thorn finally comes into the picture. In the last 120 pages or so. I was reading an e-book version with no page listings, but believe me, the middle of this book dragged out so much that when the villain finally showed up, I was cheering and whooping and hoping for him to actual kick the plot up its backside.

Which he does. In a rather ridiculous manner. I’m sorry, you’re telling me that an angel who regularly attends church service, reads the Bible and prays daily wouldn’t have the slightest suspicion when a guy with a snake tattoo, dark clothing and drops more than a few obvious hints about his otherworldliness? Like his reluctance to attend church?

Speaking of this, the book has several research fails — for somebody who claims to be interested in theology, the author thinks that an angel would have no idea what alcohol is, and continue to sip at an alcoholic drink even though it’s making her feel funny (um, what about Eucharist…?), and has only a rudimentary grasp on angelic lore. There’s references to Lucifer and God’s covenant of archangels, and also this implication that archangels are the most important in the hierarchy of angels, compared to a frigging seraph who has little to do except hand out fair trade leaflets and bake cookies for the church bake sale.

Xavier and Bethany’s relationship isn’t a cute little romance. At times, it’s even got these creepy daddy/daughter tones. Xavier treats Bethany as if she’s made out of glass, pushes her into eating when she’s not hungry as if he implicitly knows what’s best for her, and I lost count of how many times Bethany states throughout the narrative that she needs Xavier and without him her world shatters. Or something to that effect.

There’s a way to do romance, and this is not it. Bethany and Xavier don’t have a magnetic attraction, we’re TOLD over and over that they do, rather than shown the extent of their relationship. One or two shocking moments along the way pale in comparison to all the times we have to sit through every single cheesy moment where they talk about how they love cuddling and kissing along the jawline or dribbling over each other. (Theological scholars – isn’t that idolatry? Bethany’s devoting herself to Xavier more than she is to God, right? Answers on a postcard, please.)

I fail to see what the problems are in Venus Cove that would require a visit from an archangel and a seraph. I mean, there have apparently been car crashes and mysterious epidemics, but… the decision to set this book in Georgia is kind of glaringly faulty. Georgia is a state where a large portion of the population are Christian – Southern Baptists, to be precise. There’s some overlap with Baptist and Catholic practices, so I guess I’ll let the obvious Catholic overtones slide, but let’s take a look at Venus Cove. It’s a town of 3,000 people on the Georgia coastline. (Speaking of which, the exact location is not mentioned in my copy – I had to read Hades to find out if we were in the United States or just some beach town in Australia.) There are beaches, a 1950s-style pavilion and promenade, and nearly every character we meet lives in a large house and attends a respectable Christian private school. What on earth could be plaguing people who are so, so rich and privileged to be able to live in a picturesque coastal town and living in a gigantic house?

The book could have had this subplot about how wealth doesn’t make you happy. How the people in Venus Cove have no sense of community, because all everybody does is try to out-compete one another, there are family feuds over inheritances, and there are people who have scaled the mountain of success and promptly discovered that that being on top of the world has not given them the happiness they thought it would. That would make for a premise that our angels could perhaps help with. People have lost faith and need it to be restored. Shame that this version of Venus Cove was never written. One could cut out a few scenes of purple prose describing the furniture in rooms or how nice love feels or whatever, and actually draw blood from this boring plot-stone, but it never happens.

Bethany outright states at one point that she is secretly glad that she wasn’t dispatched to somewhere in the world that was seriously needy, because the mere news images of these events is enough to make her want to cry. Aside from this disgusting attitude towards the seriously disadvantaged in the world (hint: if you think that you getting upset at the sight of misery is more important than helping the people out of that situation, you’re a terrible person), she causes so much trouble in this book and her internal monologues often read like those of a spoiled four year old. We’re supposed to sympathise with her. Any time it is pointed out that Bethany is doing something wrong, she immediately shifts the blame elsewhere, whining about how she deserves happiness and everybody is ganging up on her, and it’s not faaiiiir.

The gender normativity in these books is stifling. I mean, of course, boys don’t like make-up but they do like engines, and girls must only ever want to talk about make-up or emotions. Girls are presented as irrational and men as rational. We’re supposed to like Xavier for his ‘black and white’ view on the world, or the fact that he thinks Bethany is too weak to carry her own damn school books. Xavier’s sister has an interesting personality, but she’s instantly drowned out and seen as this overly-bitter and flighty little madam. A girl named Taylah cannot walk ‘demurely’ because she is promiscuous, and Bethany uses every opportunity to shame the girls around her for being interested in their appearance. All the gender equality and feminist rhetoric that has been accomplished in the past century seems really distant from this book. You have an angel with supernatural powers as the main heroine, and you just make her into a weak little thing who can barely take two steps without needing to be supported by her man!

I could go on. This book is one of the absolute worst I have ever read, and I was foolish enough to thrown myself down on this blade again. One can only hope that the author has matured over the years and looks back on this book knowing there are major improvements she could have made if only she was emotionally mature enough to consider that internalised misogyny is not the way to make your female character look sympathetic, and nor is co-dependency a desirable romantic relationship.

1/5.

Relevant Links

Katya’s excellent review.
The Sparkle Project Review
Adornetto’s 2010 article on ‘Why Teenage Boys Suck More Than Vampires’.
Adornetto’s article on safeguarding one’s virginity.

Nessa Dissects: Halo by Alexandra Adornetto – Epilogue

You know, Halo could have ended nicely on its final chapter. This epilogue is loaded with complete waffle followed by a sequel grab. It could have been an ambiguous ending where the reader believes that Bethany really has been spirited back up to Heaven after praying that Xavier would have a blissful life, and then taking up a job as his guardian angel. It would be much more satisfying than this poorly thought-out sequel grab.

In fact, it’s pretty much rehashing the fact that Ivy and Gabriel have been spending weeks healing Venus Cove of its wounds, mostly by modifying the memories of anybody who could have been involved, except for Xavier.

Bethany walks to school with Xavier, and sees a familiar face.

“Bethie!” Molly ran to catch up with us as we reached the gates of the school. “What do you think of my new look?” She twirled around, and I saw that she had undergone a complete transformation. She had dropped the length of her skirt to below the knee, buttoned her blouse up to her chin, and fastened her tie neatly. Her hair was pulled back in a severe braid, and she had discarded all of her jewellery. She was even wearing the regulation school socks.

(Gif warning. Also thanks to Goose for this amazing gif.)

So Molly is a ‘better’ person now that she has subscribed to the draconian rules of gender normativity espoused throughout this book. Thankfully, she’s only doing it to impress Gabriel. After Xavier suggests to her that she could try being herself and/or get with another guy to pique Gabriel’s interest, Molly returns to her old self.

She yanked her hair loose, tore open her buttons, and ran off, probably in search of some poor boy to use as her prop in the master plan to win Gabriel’s heart.

Oh yeah, Molly is somehow bad for doing something that Xavier suggested she do. And she’s ‘using’ boys. Oh fuck this.

But guess what Bethany finds when she opens her locker? …Well, my e-reader isn’t displaying any images, but from memory it’s something like: “The lake of fire awaits, milady.”

Yes, the book ends with Jake tipping his fedora to Bethany with a little note.

In the acknowledgements, Adornetto credits somebody called ‘Moo-Moo’, for his invaluable insight into the male psyche. I’m going to be sighing with my head in my hands for a good hour or so.

Feel free to join me, and thank you very much for reading, if you’ve been following these posts since I first started doing them in May. (Well, technically October 2013, but that was just a Halloween thing.) I won’t be doing another Adornetto book, thank you. I might look into Ghost House, seeing as it’s written a good four years after Halo and hopefully the author has matured and become a decent writer in that time.

*reads reviews*

Aw hell no.