Krysta and I are planning an exciting, six-day celebration of Harry Potter (schedule here) for the end of July, and we’d like your help to celebrate! We’re going to have a bunch of creative posts, reflections, and quizzes, but we know a lot of you are avid Harry Potter fans, and we’d like to feature your thoughts, as well! We have three guest post options we’d love to have other bloggers or readers sign up for. You can sign up to do one, two, or all three. Depending on demand for a particular type of post, we may not be able to give everyone their first choice, but we will do our best!
- Imagine you are a current student at Hogwarts. List five reasons to join your House that you would give to an incoming student.
- Imagine you are an adult wizard, with a career, attending a career fair at Hogwarts. Write a paragraph explanation to convince students who come to your booth that they should join your career path or company. You can pretend you’re an Auror, a shopkeeper in Diagon Alley, a professor at Hogwarts, etc.
- Write a paragraph reflection about what Hogwarts means to you. This could be either from your own (real) experience, or you can imagine you are a Hogwarts alum reminiscing about your school days.
If you’re interested, please fill out the Google form below! We’re going to run the event July 26-31, so guest posts will be due around July 19. We will try to contact everyone with final details around the end of June (specific date to be determined), just in case everyone signs up to do the same guest post! We’ll also keep this list updated as we go along, in case we need to close to one type of post. Feel free to spread the word, as well, and let us know if you have any questions in the comments!
Goodreads: Silver in the Blood
Publication Date: July 7, 2015
Society girls from New York City circa 1890, Dacia and Lou never desired to know more about their lineage, instead preferring to gossip about the mysterious Romanian family that they barely knew. But upon turning seventeen, the girls must return to their homeland to meet their relatives, find proper husbands, and—most terrifyingly—learn the deep family secrets of The Claw, The Wing, and The Smoke. The Florescus, after all, are shape-shifters, and it is time for Dacia and Lou to fulfill the prophecy that demands their acceptance of this fate . . . or fight against this cruel inheritance with all their might.
With a gorgeous Romanian setting, stunning Parisian gowns, and dark brooding young men, readers will be swept up by this epic adventure of two girls in a battle for their lives.
Jessica Day George’s Silver in the Blood indisputable proves that there is something left to be said for books about werewolves and vampires. Taking a historical bent, the story follows young New York ladies Darcia and Lou as they visit their family’s home in Romania for the first time–and stumble upon a wealth of danger and secrets.
Admittedly, the suspense as to what exactly these secrets are is drawn out so long that it comes close to being boring; readers may find they just resign themselves to the fact they don’t know and may, at the rate the book is progressing, never know, instead of staying on the edge of their seats. Once the secrets are revealed, however, the pace picks up and the drama increases; the second half of the book will definitely keep readers hooked.
Until then, readers are treated with some great character studies of protagonists Darcia and Lou. The two girls are inseparable, and this literary friendship is sure to please. Their thoughts and actions are revealed to readers alternately through epistolary and narrative sections. The form is nice homage to Dracula and to a time period where epistolary novels were more in vague, yet the mix of styles also means the novel is able to feel modern.
Jessica Day George is one of my favorite fairy tale retelling authors. Her foray into folklore, vampires, and werewolves shows she has great range in writing, and that she can write young adult that is just a touch dark. A great choice for fans of Shannon Hale, Julie Kagawa, or Cameron Dokey.
Goodreads: Save Yourself
Series: Princeless #1
Sixteen-year-old Adrienne is tired of sitting in a tower and waiting for a prince to rescue her. So, aided by her guard dragon Sparky, Adrienne escapes and sets off on a quest to rescue her sisters from their various prisons. Unfortunately, the king thinks Adrienne dead and that the mysterious short knight with a dragon is the culprit. Now Adrienne is being chased across the land by the king’s guards and she can’t even find a a decent suit of armor to wear.
Though fractured fairy tales and satirical takes on the old tropes have increased in number over the years, the old tropes still hold power, making the Princeless series a welcome addition to the titles already pointing out the sexism and the lack of diversity that plagues many of our stories. Though initially I feared this series might address these topics with too heavy a hand, by the end of the first chapter I was grinning with delight and rooting for the protagonist to go forth and bring gender equality to the land. Sometimes the story tackles issues directly, maybe with the protagonist Adrienne schooling a character on what it means to be “fair”, and sometimes the commentary is more subtle, such as the depiction of Adrienne’s brother pursuing the humanities instead of warfare and gaining only derision–an acknowledgment of they ways in which gender roles can trap men as well as women. Either way, Save Yourself always balances its humor with thoughtfulness, while still presenting a gripping story full of action and adventure.
Save Yourself immediately gets down to business, opening with a telling of a traditional fairy tale, the kind where the blond and blue-eyed princess gets rescued by a handsome prince and lives happily ever after. Young Princess Adrienne, dark-skinned and spirited, points out all the plot holes in the story and forbids her mother from ever locking her up in an attempt to arrange a marriage. The message, I thought at first, could have been more subtle. But as I continued to read, I realized that this attitude of taking on tropes straight-on is one of the book’s strengths. In many ways, the story comes very close to breaking the fourth wall. In doing so, it invites readers into the story and into the joke. And thus into the conversation.
This story, in fact, gets so many things right that I could make an entire review just of bullet points and I think that would be enough to entice readers. Female friendship. (Or more?) Sisters. An extended joke on what constitutes “armor” for women. A protagonist of color. An acknowledgement of the struggles women of color face when styling their hair. A nod toward the possibility of internalized sexism. All happening while a princess convinces her guard dragon that they need to escape together to take on the system that has used them for its own profit. Add in a probably corrupt government and some fighting and chasing and you have what a story that seems as if it ought to be wildly popular. Because what’s not to love about a princess saving herself?
Director: Tomm Moore, Nora Twomey
Writers: Tomm Moore, Fabrice Ziolkowski
Brendan longs to explore the world outside the fortified outpost of Kells, but his uncle the abbot fears attacks from the invading barbarians. Then a master illuminator arrives carrying his life’s work, a book so beautiful some believe it a miracle. Can Brendan find the courage to save the book or will darkness destroy light?
The Secret of Kells is a beautiful and breath-taking work, one that is just as powerful emotionally as it is stunning visually. The artwork, however, never obscures the story, but works with it seamlessly to present a moving tale about the possibilities of the imagination and the need to face our personal darknesses with our own light.
Brendan’s story at first seems familiar. A child longs for adventure, but his fear and his domineering family keep him locked away from the world. Bright and inquisitive, he possesses the tools he needs to survive, but circumstances combine to thwart his escape attempts, as does his own self-doubt, product of his family’s scorn.
The Secret of Kells, however, is more than a typical tale of self-discovery. It is about artistic vision, about daring, about religion, about inner strength. It mixes pagan elements with Christian ones. It refuses to set the controlling abbot in direct opposition to the more adventurous master illuminator, instead suggesting that both may be right–but both can be wrong. It encourages viewers to question and explore their world, but most of all to revel in its goodness and beauty.
And the film reflects that beauty. The monks in the story speak of an illuminated book so beautiful it seems to shine with its own light. The artwork of The Secret of Kells shines with its own gemlike brilliance. It is reminiscent of the illuminations that it treats, but gives the medieval art forms life, inviting readers to fall both into the film and into the mystery and magic of the original Book of Kells.
The Secret of Kells is the kind of story that stays with you. Even if the plot details fade from memory, its beauty and its wonder will remain impressed on the heart.
Top Ten Tuesdays is a meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is:
Top Ten Books I’ve Read So Far In 2015
Goodreads: Perfect Ruin
Series: The Internment Chronicles #1
Published: March 10, 2015
ON INTERNMENT you can be anything you dream – a novelist or a singer, a florist or a factory worker… Your life is yours to embrace or to squander. There’s only one rule: you don’t approach THE EDGE. If you do, it’s already over.
I was not a huge fan of Lauren DeStefano’s Wither, due to poor world building and character development. However, I decided I was willing to give her new series a try, starting with Perfect Ruin. Unfortunately, I didn’t end up liking Perfect Ruin either, and I’m not sure this is even one of those books where I can say the premise was good but the execution was off—because there barely is a premise.
There’s a floating city where the citizens are never allowed to leave to see the earth below. So, a girl wants to get off the city. And that’s pretty much it. There isn’t a lot of motivation behind the desire either, besides her personal daydreams of seeing more of the world, which hardly seems worth risking major bodily harm or death for. Political problems and corruption are implied, but are generally saved for later in the series. I think including everything in one novel, instead of trying to stretch an already thin plot over multiple books, could have improved Perfect Ruin immensely.
As it is the pacing is simply too slow for the majority of the book, and then ultimately too fast. The story opens with the protagonist Morgan spending a couple hundred pages dreaming of getting off her floating city. Only then does action happen, but then it’s too sudden, too late, and too rushed to fit properly into the remaining pages of the book. The end result is that it seems forced and unrealistic. Add to the unremarkable plot the fact that Morgan is a rather unremarkable main character…and there isn’t much to say about the book. I do like that there are some implications that Morgan has some type of social anxiety, but the narrative doesn’t make a point of drawing attention to it. She handles herself and lives her life as best as possible, tackling difficult situations as they come.
Overall, however, I was just really bored with this book. It reads as if the idea for a great opening scene of a novel was made to stretch over hundreds of pages, and then the main part of the plot never happened. I won’t be reading the rest of the series.
Have you read Perfect Ruin? Tell me what your favorite scene is in the comments!
Series: Fairy Tale Reform School #1
After Cinderella became a princess, her stepmother Flora repented of her actions and founded the Fairy Tale Reform School to help mold the criminals of Enchantastia into productive members of society. Twelve-year-old Gilly, convicted on three counts of petty theft, thinks she can break the joint after three months. But as she settles into her new life and makes new friends, Gilly begins to realize that trouble is brewing at the school. Are the teachers there truly reformed? And if they aren’t, is Gilly willing to risk her life to save Enchantasia or is she still just a thief out for herself?
Fairy tale characters attending school together seems to be a new trend in middle-grade novels but Flunked sets itself apart from fare like the Grimmtastic Girls and the Everafter High series by downplaying the fairy tale roles of its characters. Indeed, despite the name of Gilly’s new acacemy–the Fairy Tale Reform School–the characters show no evidence of knowing they are fairy tale characters. The setting, then, is very much a straight-forward fantasy world, one that just happens to feature characters with familiar names.
One might question the point of featuring fairy tale characters divorced from their stories instead of generic fantasy villains. The device, however, allows readers to recognize the crimes (and their severity) of many of the starring villains without the necessity of providing detailed background stories. Because readers know these characters, Jen Calonita is free to tell Gilly’s tale, rather than focus on everyone else’s. But besides that, it’s just fun to imagine the Big Bad Wolf as a beloved teacher or Snow White’s Evil Queen leading group therapy sessions.
Initially I feared I would not Gilly’s story very much. She follows in the footsteps of many a literary thief, proving sarcastic and somewhat boastful, even though her thieving skills leave much to be desired. Holding extended conversations with the target and committing the crime in the shop of a man who knows you (and your reputation) seem rather foolish, as does Gilly’s proclivity for answering accusations with the first insulting or snippy thing that she thinks. She seems to mistake sarcasm and insults for strength, even though every time she opens her mouth, she only digs her hole deeper. I wondered how I would ever make it through an entire book of her extremely not-witty retorts.
Gilly, however, proves to have a very compelling character arc, transforming through the story from a sarcastic petty thief to a caring young woman intent on doing the right thing, even if it hurts her. She furthermore learns to see past her prejudices and to accept people for who they are rather than judge them based on their social standing. By the end, she is truly a heroine readers can begin to rally behind.
Flunked offers a compelling world full of sympathetic characters and just the right bit of mystery and danger. Even though I would have enjoyed this book as a standalone, it possesses a world interesting enough (mixing as it does, a little bit of politics with its fantasy), that I can be enticed back for another visit.
If You Like, Then Read is a feature where we offer reading suggestions based on books you already like, scheduled once a month. If you have more suggestions, feel free to tell us in the comments! You can check out the rest of these lists here. To read part one of this series, featuring stories based on “The Brave Little Tailor,” “Bluebeard,” “Baba Yaga,” and more, click here.
The Mirk and Midnight Hour by Jane Nickerson (“Tam Lin”)
When seventeen-year-old Mississipi girl Violet Dancey comes across a wounded Union soldier in the woods, she quickly realizes that someone else has been tending to his wounds–but not for reasons of kindness. Now Violet must confront evil in order to save the people she loves.
Cinderellis and the Glass Hill by Gail Carson Levine (“The Princess on the Glass Hill”)
When King Humphrey IV announces that anyone who can climb a glass hill to reach his daughter will win her hand in marriage, Ellis sees the perfect opportunity to test some of his new inventions on the glass, including his sticky powder. Then he realizes he’s actually in love with the princess. Can his inventions help him reach her in time or will someone else climb the hill first?
Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale (“Maid Maleen”)
After Lady Saren refuses to marry the man her father wishes, he shuts her along with her maid Dashti in a tower. For a time Dashti hopes that Saren’s true love will rescue them, but Saren will not speak to him and soon his visits cease, as do the deliveries of food. Faced with starvation, Saren and Dashti must find a way to escape the tower and begin a new life with new identities.
The Witch’s Curse by Keith McGowan (“Brother and Sister”)
The sequel to The Witch’s Guide to Cooking with Children follows siblings Sol and Connie as they enter an enchanted wood where a witch transforms children into animals to be hunted. Can they escape in time or will they join the taxidermy exhibit?
A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine (“Puss in Boots”)
Twelve-year-old Elodie leaves her home to apprentice herself to an actor in the city of Two Castles, but instead finds herself the assistant to a detective dragon named Meenore. When an ogre commissions them to find his lost dog, Meenore suspects the case involves more than a missing pet and that someone intends to harm their new client. Elodie must enter the ogre’s castle to keep him safe, but she does not know whom she can trust.
Princess of the Wild Swans by Diane Zahler (“Six Swans”)
Princess Meriell’s new stepmother has turned her six brothers into swans. Now she must complete an impossible task before winter falls and her brothers migrate south–or die in the attempt.
Matilda Wormwood is a genius. Still in kindergarten, she can multiply any number and has read most of the books in the library, even the adult ones. Unfortunately, her parents have yet to notice. Every day they yell at her for being stupid and tell her to watch the television rather than read. And school is even worse. There the dreaded headmistress, a one-time hammer-throwing champion, keeps in practice by tossing children. But Matilda knows she has the brains to get her revenge.
Matilda has always held a special place in my heart, not only because it features a protagonist who escapes through literature but also because it recognizes the struggle many children have to be heard. Matilda lives with parents who neglect her, belittle her, and yell at her simply for existing. And Matilda, in her limited way, fights back–and her refusal to succumb to victimization is never something she is blamed or shamed for. This is a powerful book, with a powerful message, even if it presents itself craftily as just another quirky adventure from Roald Dahl.
Matilda, quite simply, does a lot of things right. It portrays the abusive Wormwoods for what they are–abusers. It recognizes that Matilda really has no means of escape by virtue of her being a child–adults, after all, usually only listen to other adults. It shows other adults, such as the librarian, as being sympathetic but unwilling to interfere. In other words, it never victim blames a five-year-old for being victimized but instead illustrates the many reasons why Matilda is where she is.
But the book goes further. It suggests that being a good person does not mean lying down and taking abuse. Matilda, we are told, is a sweet, gentle, soul. She is kind and sympathetic as well as brilliant. But she knows her parents are not treating her well and she attempts to teach them so through the methods of a five-year-old–putting superglue on her father’s hat, for example. Now, revenge may not be the best policy, but we have to keep in mind, once again, that Matilda is five and she’s doing what she can to subdue her parents. After one of her pranks, they typically yell at her less for a few weeks. Can you really blame her? I think it’s wonderful that an abused character can be portrayed as being kind without that meaning she has to pretend that what is happening to her is all right.
Finally, Matilda gets out. The story does not make her stay with her family because the power of love will one day transform them or because she’s a child and they’re her biological parents and they must care for her really, really deep down. Instead, she sees an opportunity to be in a real loving home and she takes it without hesitation and she receives her happy ending. And once again, she is not shamed for making that choice.
Matilda may seem like a quirky kind of book on the surface, but it deals with a lot of serious issues. It merely uses humor to make the presentation seem less threatening. This is an important book and it deserves a lot of respect for its willingness to reach out and tell the victimized that what they are suffering is not their fault.
Summer officially began on Sunday, so it’s time to think about summer reads! Personally, I tend to read all the super long books and weighty classics I don’t have as much time for in the school year while it’s summer vacation, but I know a lot of readers associate warm weather with fun beach reads like contemporary romances. This is the third post of a three-part series in which I recommend books for all three types of readers. See the first post on YA beach reads here and the second on the long haul here.
The Classics Kick
Villette by Charlotte Bronte
Lucy Snowe goes to teach at an all-girls boarding school after a family tragedy. There she encounters romance from unexpected quarters and a mysterious ghostly nun. Enjoy all the elements of love, Gothic influence, and psychology you found in Jane Eyre, in what is argued by many critics to be Brontë’s best work. (And if you like Villette, you can always go on to read The Professor, which features a male protagonist in similar circumstances!)
Silas Marner by George Eliot
Silas Marner addresses what is important in life. Two main characters, Silas and Godfrey Cass, play the primary roles in revealing the secret. One is poor, and one is rich. One is older and unmarried; one is young and in love. Together they show that what Eliot is trying to convey is something everyone needs to hear, regardless of his or her personal characters. Godfrey and Silas both find redemption. They both reconcile with what they have done in the past. They both learn that relationships are far more important than money.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The story of how attorney Atticus Finch tries to help a black man unfairly accused of a crime, and the story of how Atticus’s young children learn a lot about life and each other while the town is in an uproar over the case, To Kill a Mockingbird is one of those rare classics that nearly everyone seems to love–even those readers who “don’t like classics.” With the release of the sequel Go Set a Watchman set for July, this is the perfect summer to revisit Harper Lee’s first novel.
My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
Chaim Potok is a visionary author whose gift lies in telling compelling stories that touch the heart of what it means to be human. In My Name Is Asher Lev, the main conflict is often described as being between a boy’s devotion to art and his devotion to faith, but the question is not as simple as whether he should paint or whether he should pray. Asher believes it is possible to do both, but he is almost alone in his opinion, and a number of tensions grow up between him and his family, him and his teacher, and him and the Jewish community.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is arguably one of Shakespeare’s “simpler” works. It’s short, and it’s a comedy, so it doesn’t deal with a lot of the weighty issues of death, madness, authority, and the meaning of life that come up in plays like Hamlet and King Lear. And while there are two main plot lines that run parallel to each other, neither is particularly convoluted and they don’t extensively interact (in terms of character overlap; they do interact thematically). It’s the perfect tale of madness and love run amok to enjoy on a summer’s day.
Director: Pete Docter
Writers: Pete Docter, Michael Arndt, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley
Inside Out is Pixar at its best: quirky, imaginative, moving, and as relevant to adults as it is to children. The movie takes viewers on a journey through the mind of eleven-year-old Riley, where five emotions—Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust—help make Riley, well, Riley. Despite their differences, these emotions know how to work as a team to keep Riley safe, happy, and whole. So even though Joy is ostensibly the protagonist here, the real lesson is that Riley wouldn’t the same without all of her emotions.
The movie is pretty strongly character driven, with Joy and Sadness at the helm, but a lot of wonder can also be found in the world-building. The writers imagine Riley’s mind as a place of whimsy, color, and the occasional darkness. After leaving Headquarters to save some of Riley’s “core memories,” the ones that really have an impact on her personality, Joy and Sadness go on a breathtaking adventure through the rest of Riley’s brain, going everywhere from Imagination Land to Long-term Memory to the Subconscious. Viewers will marvel at the attention to detail and just how fitting everything is. Prime example: when Joy accidentally mixes up the contents of some boxes of facts and opinions. No worries, she is told, it happens all the time.
The audience at my showing were very vocal with their reactions, gasping, laughing, and occasionally crying. Like all good Pixar movies, there are moments in Inside Out that are necessary, but really quite sad. And there are moments when it is possible to believe, children’s movie or no, that people are truly in danger here, and everyone might not turn out to have a happily ever after. Suspense and poignancy play as strong roles here as do amusement and joy.
The movie’s one downside may be Riley herself. Though obviously the idea is that Riley’s emotions, and thoughts, and memories all make her who she is—make us all who we are—there is something uncomfortable about the idea that “other” people are controlling Riley’s thoughts and experiences of the world. Despite the fact that Pixar is shining a brilliant light on the inner workings of Riley’s personality, it can be tempting to view her as having no personality at all. The movie follows her and her parents as they move from Minnesota to San Francisco, exploring the stages of adjustment, but their value as characters undeniably pales in comparison to Riley’s emotions.
The movie also gives occasional glimpses into other characters’ minds—and these scenes were audience favorites. Interestingly, everyone else’s emotions seem a bit more uniform than Riley’s, and I wonder whether this has something to do with having hit puberty, or whether the creators just wanted everyone’s minds to seem distinct in the brief peeks that viewers get. Either way, most of them were both fitting and funny, and it’s worth noting there are few extra of these scenes at the beginning of the credits.
Inside Out is inventive, but also very real. Like Toy Story 3, which bore a special nostalgia for viewers who grew up with Toy Story, I think Inside Out will undoubtedly appeal to children, but it will also speak to adults who want or need to remember what it was like to be a child, when emotions and imagination both ran wild.