Magical Science Fiction

The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong

I adore Kelley Armstrong. I think this was the first of her YA fiction that I’ve read and while I would say it was good, really good even, I guess there’s something about YA’s tropiness that makes it hard for even great writers to really shine. Having said that, I would very much recommend it and read the rest of the trilogy.

The story is about Maya, a pretty typical teenager who lives with her adopted parents in a community on an isolated park on Vancouver Island, founded entirely by a large medical company. The sudden death of her best friend, and a year later increasingly strange things happening to her sends her on a quest to understand who she really is and what this doctors who founded her town are really researching.

Like many YA titles it falls victim to a few standards – first loves, relationship drama, one ultimate mean girl, orphan with mysterious and unknown past, best friends confused with dating partners and a tension between the teens and the authority figures. Most of these are okay on their own, but as they stack up, it starts to feel a little stale.

But it’s also got some great points too. Maya is an indigenous character. Not being indigenous myself I can’t say if her close ties to the forest and the animals could be seen as reinforcing a stereotype or as a really cool, accessible magic power  or as a bit of a mix of both. It certainly adds a something to the story. Kelley Armstrong’s fast paced, narrative driven style makes it almost impossible to put down. It also deals with attempted date rape, which is also something I think we all benefit from talking about with teens. And it’s both written by a Canadian and set in Canada, so that’s just a great bonus.

I would recommend this  book for it’s intended audience – teens and do so happily! I will continue to love Kelley Armstrong.

Last movie I watched:

Infinity Wars! So good although kind of a kick in the teeth

Last TV show I watched:

The Crown. So good guys, so good!

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Oh junior novelizations of kids movies

Pokemon 3: Spell of the Unown by Tracey West

Every once in a while I try to read a book I’m not really interested in but is popular with my library patrons, aka children.

If that’s why you picked up this book, go for it! It’s as good a book as any. If you’re looking for a compelling story, I wouldn’t recommend it. I’m sure kids love it, and it’s an easy read so it’s probably a great way to get that reluctant reader into a book,  but as an adult, it has little, if anything to offer.

Last movie I watched:

Cinderella 3.

Last TV show I watched:

Sanctuary. It was a neat show.

 

Tiny Owly

Owly: Tiny Tales by Andy Runton

This is basically a baby chapter book (seriously, I watched a baby try to read it this morning). I’ve previously reviewed Owly and I don’t have a lot more to add to it. Owly is great for earlier readers because it’s basically a graphic novel but instead of text it’s got pictographs of sorts – mostly punctuation and the occasional picture image so it really helps teach early literacy skills to children with very little letter knowledge. There’s lots of opportunity for decoding, literacy skills like page orientation and narrative understanding without getting the frustration of letter knowledge and phonetics. Obviously it’s a stepping stone book, and your kid should grow out of it, but particularly for struggling readers, Owly is a great place to gain confidence and prepare for their future of prolific reading when at present, things are a little challenging.

Last movie I watched: Home I think. Very sweet although apparently no one’s favourite Pixar. I loved it though.

Last TV episode I watched:

Smallville. One of the things I love most about this show is how many women are on it (no tokenism here) and that they are friends with each other, not rivals (or even if they are, they’re still friends), not enemies but friends.

A dud. They have to happen sometimes

The Black Stallion and the Lost City by Steven Farley

I picked up this book years ago after the series was withdrawn from the library I was working in at the time. The library usually couldn’t keep serial horse fiction on the shelves they were so popular, so I was surprised this one was withdrawn. Until I read it, and then it made sense.

This book wasn’t really bad, it just wasn’t really anything. The story starts with the Black and Alex, his rider, in Greece filming a movie about Alexander the Great. Shooting is disrupted one day so the Black, Alex and a friend go out on a ride, come across a beautiful white mare and end up following her into a mythical city were people drink magical water that keeps them young and healthy for a very long time, and spoiler alert, at the end of their lives are fed to the sacred fleshing eating horses from Greek Mythology.

The story is fine I suppose but unoriginal. The writing style is flat and uninteresting. The characters are generally characterless and the mystery of the city is ruined by the flap on the cover, so as a reader it’s just a matter of time before the story unfolds. It’s not even bad enough to real blog critically about.

There is no chance of me recommending this book. I’m not sorry I read it, even though it took forever because there was no narrative drive, I’m just probably never going to think of it ever again.

Last movie I watched:

X-men Apocalypse I think? If so, it was way better than I thought it would be.

Last TV episode I watched:

The Fosters. It’s a great show. I love it. They might be getting a little extreme about creating enough drama for this to go on as long as it has, but I love it anyway.

 

 

My childhood fantasy in a series

Animal Spirits Book 6: Rise and Fall by  Eliot Schrefer

This book is the middle of the popular (and frustrating to shelf) kids series that I haven’t read the rest of. I was very impressed with it.

It’s worth mentioning maybe that since my last post I’ve gotten a job, moved, gotten a better job, got married and moved again, so it’s been a while sine I actually read this book, and it’s only getting worse. Therefore, if I’m fuzzy on the details of say, the next six posts, I’m really, really sorry.

I haven’t read the rest of the books in this series, but I’m pretty sure I’m about to spoil them. Abeke and Meilin are being held prisoner by the Conquerors. Rolland and Connor have no choice but to continue their quest alone. Together with their mentor Tarik they continue their journey to gather the talisman of Cabaro, the great lion, before the Conquerors do. As the girls struggle to learn to trust each other again and form a relationship with Shane, one of their captors, Rolland and Connor are torn between their duty and the war, and how much they want to go after their friends.

This book did a good job of creating a multi cultural cast of characters. It may have been a little token minority feeling to me but really that is way, way better then a whitewashed group of characters in a fantasy world where everyone is white except the bad guys. It was also pretty dark. I’m sometimes suspicious of the emotional impact of serial kids fiction because good writing, surprise twists and lovable characters aren’t always the point, but there were a couple really big moments for me. One was a surprise death (okay, not a complete surprise but SPOILER the mentor usually dies in the second to last book but, even though it shouldn’t have been a surprise, I was still not ready for it) and the twist at the end, involving an epic betrayal and a very clever plot  twist that I did not see coming, at all.

Also, the idea of having an animal best friend who was always with you, either hidden in a tattoo or you know, walking around with you is awesome! Ten year old me would have totally lost her mind with excitement.

A good read indeed. Higher reading level for school aged kids who like adventure, magic and a fast pace. I’d recommend it for sure.

Last Movie I watched:

Hocus Pocus. Because it was Halloween and I was moving and that’s all the festivities I had time for.

Last TV episode I watched:

America’s Funniest Home Videos. It makes me seasick. Does that happen to anyone else?

The eagles are coming! No, it’s not Tolkien

Wildwood by Colin Meloy, illustrations by Carson Ellis

Prue is babysitting her brother in the park one day when a flock of crows fly down and pick him up, carrying him out of Portland and into the Impassible Wilderness. Determined not to loose him, Prue goes after him. Curtis, a classmate who’s never really fit in anywhere is determined to help her, and together they set out. But when they run into an army of coyotes they get separated. Oddly enough, a kidnapping flock of crows and an army of coyotes aren’t even the weirdest thing either of them will experience on their adventure, as they discover an evil villain who’s plan will destroy all of Wildwood and kill Mac, Prue’s little brother.

To me, there are two really unique things about this book, in addition to it’s charming, humourous writing style and fairy tale-esque feel: the coming of age stories and the wonderful cast of supporting characters. Really, when that’s what you’re working with, you come out with a great book.

Here there be spoilers.

Curtis and Prue both have really well developed coming of age stories. Curtis, newly captured by coyotes begins his journey by joining the Dowager Governess and her armies. But when Curtis realizes she isn’t who she appears he chooses to resist her, the first real choice he makes since his arrival in Wildwood, and it is made alone. He ends up thrown in prison for his defiance and there he meets his fellow prisoners. They are all adults, but it’s Curtis who facilitates their escape, with the help of Septimus the rat. After that, Curtis falls in with the Bandit King, but he’s just enlisted into the army and marches to war. In the end he  chooses to stay in Wildwood instead of returning to his family in Portland. He’s no Harry Potter, with Dumbledore, Siris Black or Remus Lupin looking out for him – every choice he makes is his own, guided only by his sense of what’s right and wrong and his own courage.

Prue’s experience is different. First she meets a friendly postman who helps her along, but he sends her to the Governor for help. However, the Governor has no intention of helping her. Luckily Owl Rex, the Crowned Prince of the Aviary District moves to help her but he only sets her on the path to North Woods to get help from the Mystics before he is arrested for treason. Prue flees to the Aviary District with the help of a few friends, meets the General, who again offers his help, only to be killed before he can get her to North Woods. Once again alone, she is rescued by the Bandit King, who agrees to help her but is captured by the Dowager Governess. The Governess even acts as a mentor to Prue, encouraging her to simply return home and promising that she will protect Mac. Prue, in desperate need of an adult to help her, agrees. But even when she returns home she finds out that her parents knew about this risk to Mac and that they cannot offer her any comfort, so she once again heads off into the forest, where she finally finds the Mystics. There at last she finds an adult who is willing and able to help her. Despite all the helping hands Prue gets along the way, she alone is responsible for the journey she takes and she takes it alone.

For a child, it’s a pretty empowering story because adults are either very temporary, forcing the children to work things out on their own or not to be trusted, in which case they are outsmarted and everybody enjoys that, don’t they?

It also saves you from sad mentor death, because there really isn’t one.

Wildwood also has a wonderful bunch of supporting characters, from the talking animals like Septimus the Rat, Dmitri the defector Coyote and Evner the Swallow to Brandon the Bandit King and Richard the Postman all the way to the Mystics, all of whom are all wise and powerful without loosing their character. The writing is careful, beautiful with a mix of serious subject matter, like human sacrifice and sweet innocent moments, like Curtis trying to teach the bandits Mustang Sally.

It’s a thick book, good for an older strong reader or a read aloud with parents who are looking for something a little more complex and I would recommend it highly!

Last movie I watched:

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dream Coat. Feel free to judge me starting now.

Last TV show I watched:

Second last episode of Buffy EVER!! Man, those script writers were ON FIRE.

The grim and the moral: the not quite forgotten bits of fairy tales and fables

Wolves on the Beyond: Book 4: Frost Wolf by Kathryn Lasky

Fairy tales and fables are kind of old, classic things. Sure every once in a while someone retells them in a new, accessible way (which I’m totally for) but it’s not like the Brothers Grimm of Aesop is still churning those out. Which is probably okay too. Lots of people forget how grim they can actually be (Remember Cinderella’s sisters cutting parts of their feet off to fit them in the shoes? Yeah, I wish I didn’t) or how boring (the fox is one trait, that is it, that is all. He is crafty and that’s all you’ll ever need to know about him). But I feel like, just because they’re a little longer now, doesn’t mean these elements aren’t still finding their way into kid’s lives.

See Wolves of the Beyond.

As usual, I grabbed what I hoped was the first one (it wasn’t) and read that one. Therefore there are spoilers for the first three books here (I assume, since I haven’t actually read them). The Wolves of the Beyond have a complicated social structure, ancient customs and preform everything with great dignity. They also have the rather depressing practice of abandoning pups that are in any way physically imperfect. Most die, but some, like the heroes of this story, survive and join packs as the lowest members of society. When snowstorms in summer bring famine and fear to the wolves, one wolf seizes the opportunity to start a terrible cult, that ends with wolves dancing themselves to death.

First off, I would just like to say, this book terrified me. The reader had an amazing voice, and was so good at creating atmosphere that the scenes where the wolves killed themselves were truly horrifying. And that comes around to my earlier point. It’s not exactly a fairy tale, but it is dark and grim, doesn’t sugar coat death or pain or survival. I’m not sure why children need that, but it’s so prevalent that there must be something. Children love the grotesque and the horrible, I would guess because it gives them a lens to view their own realities, where gross and scary things to actually happen all the time, but really, I have no idea. I could totally be making that up.

There’s also a heavy moral component to the story. The big baddie (here there be spoilers, although really it was so predictable it hardly counts) is a wolf who inherits his role as leader of the pack, has no natural instinct for leading and quickly falls into despair. Then he abandons the dignity of his clan, his species and leads his people to their deaths. Really, the moral is obvious – don’t let go of who you are when faced the challenges. So we have a story told with a moral, using animals as the mouth piece. That’s a fable right?

I would probably read this whole series, although I expect that it would get pretty repetitive after a while. The coolest bit by far is the amazing complexity of the wolves’ world and social order. If you can get the audiobook, even better. That gentleman can read a book. And that’s about all I’ve got.

Last movie I watched:

3 Ninjas! So cute. So funny.

Last TV episode I watched:

Smallville. Oh yes, that happened.