Top Ten Tuesdays is a meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is
Top Ten All-Time Favorite Authors
1. J. R. R. Tolkien: A lot of fantasy authors have tried to imitate him, but none has matched him.
2. C. S. Lewis: Reading Lewis is like talking to a friend.
3. William Shakespeare: Whatever you want to read, Shakespeare seems to have.
4. Dante Alighieri: His imagination and daring never cease to amaze me.
5. L. M. Montgomery: Her character descriptions, depictions of nature, lovely friendships–it’s all perfect.
6. Charles Dickens: How does he manage to mix gritty social commentary with sometimes cloying sentiment and make it work?
7. Chaim Potok: He’s best known for The Chosen, but my favorite book of his is My Name Is Asher Lev.
8. N. D. Wilson: He’s possibly my favorite living fantasy author and one whose work deserves more attention that it gets. My favorite of his works is The Dragon’s Tooth, which follows a boy and his sister as they join an ancient order of explorers.
9. Louisa May Alcott: One of my favorite authors growing up, Alcott holds a special place in my heart.
10. Jane Austen: Darcy and Elizabeth? Emma and Knightley? So many great couples!
Publication Date: April 28, 2015
Saville hates sewing. How can she not when her father, the Tailor, loves his bolts of velvet and silk far more than he’s ever loved her? Yet, when he is struck ill shortly after they arrive in the city of Reggen, Saville must don boy’s clothes in the hopes of gaining a commission from the king to keep them fed. The kingdom is soon on edge when stories spread of an army of giants led by a man who cannot be killed. But giants are just stories, and no man is immortal. And then the giants do come to the city gates, two larger-than-life scouts whom Saville cunningly tricks into leaving. The Tailor of Reggen is the hero of the kingdom, the king promises his sister’s hand in marriage, and by the time Saville reaches the palace doors, it is widely known that the Tailor single-handedly killed the giants. When her secret—that she’s a girl—is quickly discovered by Lord Galen Verras, the king’s cousin, Saville’s swept into the twists and turns of court politics. The deathless man is very real, and he will use his giant army to ensure he is given the throne freely or by force. Now, only a tailor girl with courage and cunning can see beyond the tales to discover the truth and save the kingdom again. Valiant is a rich reimaging of “The Brave Little Tailor,” artfully crafting a story of understanding, identity, and fighting to protect those you love most.
Valiant is a compelling fairy tale retelling, based on an original tale and featuring a strong female protagonist. The story follows teenage Saville as she struggles to make her way independently in a new town and as she inadvertently becomes the kingdom’s champion while trying to help a friend. Events quickly escalate as the people make further demands on her heroism and she becomes embroiled in both politics and battle.
As a take on “The Valiant Little Tailor,” Valiant stands out among YA fairy tale retelllings. It does not rely on pure novelty, however, but fully takes advantage of its source material, crafting a female protagonist who is as loyal and brave as she is clever. Many readers will doubtless fall in love with Saville as she tries her best to save her friends and the kingdom she quickly learns to call her home. A bit of vulnerability and a stubborn streak round her out and make her realistic. The entire cast of characters is drawn with equal attention to complexity.
Of course, the love interest is alluring: bull-headed himself but tempered with kindness and wisdom. He and Saville play off each other well and build true chemistry. Saville also makes a number of unlikely friends, and they all exhibit a blend of personality traits. No one in Valiant is at first what they seem—which may be entirely the point. The plot they all play out is equally entertaining.
There are several moments that are not entirely logical—times Saville chooses to spill vital information, ways she solves problems, etc.—but she gets a pass for being a teen without all the answers. Also, character mistakes make for interesting action. Only the first part of the story is heavily based on “The Valiant Little Tailor,” when the tailor tricks a group of giants. The rest is McGuire’s imagination, and it leads to wonderful places of palace intrigue and giant/human politics. A bit of kingdom history also plays a role, which McGuire manages to deftly weave into the book.
Overall, Valiant is a fantastically fun fairy tale retelling, replete with everything fans of the genre will want: a strong protagonist; a swoony love interest; a plot filled with tricks, fights, and intrigue. Valiant is beautifully crafted and a pleasure to read. Recommended.
Director: Tomm Moore
Writers: William Collins, Tomm Moore
Six years ago Ben’s mother disappeared, leaving him and his father with baby Saoirse. Ben never knew that his mother was a selkie until the day Saoirse finds her own selkie coat and embarks on a journey to save the magical beings that inhabit our world. Can Ben help his sister or will he allow his sadness and anger to stop him before he even begins?
For a long time I had difficulty beginning this review. Usually when this happens, I feel overwhelmed by the book I have just read or the film I have just watched and I struggle to find the words to express what I wish to say. In this case, I initially believed that was my problem. After all, Song of the Sea is an exquisite film, a delicately beautiful story. But in the end I had to admit to myself my real difficulty–I simply did not enjoy Song of the Sea as much as I thought I should.
Song of the Sea possesses all the elements that normally would make me love a film. It has stunning visuals steeped in Celtic tradition. A plot full of danger and magic and discovery. A winning pair of protagonists–an older brother struggling to be kind to his sometimes annoying (but ultimately endearing) sister. An emphasis on Celtic folklore. It ought to be just the thing that would leave me breathless with its beauty and sighing over its story. Instead, I found myself feeling detached.
I do not know why, but I simply never connected with the protagonists. I felt interest in their journey and wished to see the mystery of Saoirse and her voice resolved. The supporting characters were vaguely interesting as well, if sometimes drawn a bit simply (and I suppose some of them were supposed to be funny and endearing, but I didn’t find them to be particularly either one). Still, I was never truly invested in the outcome of the journey. I never ached or wept for Ben or Saoirse.
In the end, Song of the Sea was, for me, most memorable due to its visuals. The artwork is absolutely lovely and the use of light and dark particularly effective. I truly enjoyed looking at the film, even if the plot never ensnared me. I’m a bit ashamed of my inability to love a film so full of beauty, but somehow I didn’t.
When I was in middle school and high school, I finished just about every book series I started reading. Unless I was seriously bored by a first or second book, I don’t think it even often occurred to me to stop reading a series intentionally. Now, I make the choice to stop reading a lot, while for other series, I do actually intend to keep going…but just never get around to reading the other books. So what changed?
When I was a kid living at home, I had limited funds to purchase books and could only get to the library when someone was willing to drive me. That meant, when I did get to the library, I often checked out most of a series at once, so I wouldn’t have to wait weeks to finish it up if I really liked it. Now, I have the ability to buy books with my own money and the freedom to walk to the library whenever I want. I also have an e-reader and can get new books, or e-loans from the library, without leaving my house at all. I have options in reading and don’t have to stick with a series that’s just alright simply because I have nothing else around that I can read.
Sometimes, I do really like a book and am looking forward to the sequels…but they’re not out yet. Maybe a year passes until the publication of book two, but I didn’t love the first book quite enough to purchase the second in hardcover, and the library doesn’t have it. So more time passes. And I find other books I’m more excited about and read those, and suddenly I can barely remember what happened in book one and I’m just not into finishing the series anymore.
EVERYTHING Is a Series
It seems as if everything, at least in the young adult and middle grade market, is a series. I have neither the time nor the money to be reading two hundred different book series at once, so if something doesn’t hook me, I stop. Other times, I just think a book is such a great standalone that I don’t want to read the rest of the series. I don’t want the story to be ruined or unnecessarily dragged out, so I stick my head in the sand and pretend the sequels don’t actually exist.
Series I Couldn’t Put Down
- The Anne of Green Gables series
- The Books of Bayern
- The Chronicles of Narnia
- The Graceling Realm
- The Lord of the Rings
- The Lunar Chronicles
- The Mysterious Benedict Society
- The Song of the Lioness
Series I Meant to Finish But Haven’t
- The Grisha Trilogy
- The Newsoul series
- His Fair Assassin
- River of Time
Series I Gave Up On
- Artemis Fowl
- The Divergent Trilogy
- Falling Kingdoms
- The Matched Trilogy
- The Lorien Legacies
- A Wrinkle in Time
What makes you finish a series? What series have you given up on?
Goodreads: The Case of the Missing Moonstone
Series: The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency #1
Published: January 2015
Eleven-year-old Ada Lovelace is rather lonely until the day a new tutor arrives and, shortly after, a new student–fourteen-year-old Mary Godwin (the future Mary Shelley). Together Ada and Mary set up the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, a secret constabulary to apprehend clever criminals. Just when their first case gets exciting, however, everything falls apart. After all, Victorian Society doesn’t expect proper young ladies to be detectives!
Marketing decided to brand The Case of the Missing Moonstone as appealing to fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society, but I fortunately trust no comparisons made between books made on the cover of a book itself and thus was spared at least one disappointment. I was, however, looking forward to a story that promised that “history, mystery, and science collide”–that description at least seemed applicable, seeing as this book imagines an 1826 London where Mary Shelley meets Ada Lovelace (considered the first computer programmer) and the two form a secret detective agency. One would expect a lot of science and math, as well as little romance, from that sort of description. The Case of the Missing Moonstone, however, featured little science and less math; poetry and literature are relegated to passing mentions. And the mystery itself is hardly exciting. I expected so much more from an adventure featuring such remarkable young women.
The Case of the Missing Moonstone is obviously nothing like The Mysterious Benedict Society in that The Mysterious Benedict Society features puzzles readers can solve, while this book presents a more straight-forward mystery such as one might expect from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Furthermore, while The Mysterious Benedict Society expects its protagonists (and readers) to use logic and other skills in the solving of the puzzles, The Case of the Missing Moonstone asks for no outside knowledge from the reader and barely asks its own characters to use their own special skills. Science, as presented in the tale, appears only as an odd hobby of Ada’s while her interest in math is mentioned only in reference to her family machine that spits out results when one feeds it variables (notice the vagueness of the description). As for Mary Shelley, one would hardly know she will become a famous author. She has a talent for understanding people that many an author possesses, true, and she mentions liking books, but otherwise her future potential seems somewhat obscure. They solve their crime mostly by doing some straight-forward research and sleuthing, such as anyone might do.
Their case, meanwhile, is not that exciting. It features a missing heirloom, allegedly stolen from a sixteen-year-old girl. The suspects are few (there are three of them–four if you count the maid who clearly didn’t do it) and the culprit obvious from the start. The plot is only drawn out because Mary and Ada have to think of ways to sleuth, since young Victorian ladies are not to be seen sleuthing. Their efforts are, ironically, somewhat laughable–Ada, after all, is supposed to be a genius. And yet they place a public ad in the paper for clients, then meet clients in person at Ada’s house, and then visit the clients in person some more. Very secretive. No one will ever know that they are sleuthing. And their tutor will never suspect anything amiss when they repeatedly lock him in cupboards so they can sneak out. I understand the girls are young, but I expected a little more from them all the same.
Only the characters kept me reading, but I suspect that, had I actually been reading the book and not listening to the audiobook (read by Nicola Barber), I would have found Ada extremely annoying. She may be a genius, but she throws a lot of temper tantrums. Barber manages to make her seem likable all the same, but I surely would have read her as obnoxiously whiny if left to my own devices. Mary proves a more sympathetic character, eager for adventure and sensitive to the needs of others. Together, the two are interesting enough that I wanted to see how their story would end. They are not, however, so interesting as to make me want to read the sequel.
The Case of the Missing Moonstone promises an awful lot, presenting itself as a clever adventure that will invite readers into the mystery and present fun science and history at the same time. In actuality it is a rather standard middle-grade mystery, made interesting only by the addition of historical figures and a few nudging references to the literature of the time. I regret to say that a mystery powered by two leading ladies of history let me down.
This episode of Call the Midwife is one of the most intense, and one of the most potentially controversial, since the show’s inception. Tony Amos is caught by the police engaging in “indecent acts” in a public men’s restroom (i.e. attempting to have sex with another man) and suffers from the fallout both at home from his pregnant wife Marie and in public from the Poplar community.
Although the episode’s persistence in drawing parallels between the treatment of homosexuals in the community and the treatment of disease-infested rats (i.e. extermination) is a bit heavy-handed, the show does attempt to add nuance to the situation. Reactions range from Tony’s wife’s simple refusal to acknowledge anything has changed, to some local women’s outright belittling and ostracizing, to Patsy’s righteous indignation at the prejudice. Trixie equivocates more than any other character, but also raises a pertinent point: this situation is not only about sexual preferences; it is about the fact a man cheated on his wife. No one in the show addresses the fact that the “indecent act” was not actually consensual; Tony was attempting to rape someone. (As far as I can tell, the undercover cop never used any type of signal he was in the restroom to find a hook-up; he was simply jumped while reaching for a paper towel.) The storyline thus introduces more problems than it is apparently invested in addressing.
The episode ends on a somewhat hopeful note as the community begins to behave more welcomingly, at least to Marie, who was never personally “at fault.” However, there is an underlying implication that Poplar is not ready for a major change in perspective, and the issue at stake is really left open-ended. It seems as though the show is leading towards Patsy’s revealing her own relationship with Delia, so this leaves a lot of questions about how the show will handle that. Because Patsy is a recurring character, her story will not be able to be boxed into a single episode and then shipped off; the writers will have to find ways to explore it across episodes.
What are your thoughts on this episode? What did you think of the portrayal of Tony? How will Patsy change from watching everything unfold?
Goodreads: Sleeping Beauty Dreams Big
Series: Grimmtastic Girls #5
Published: January 2015
Briar Rose arrives at Grimm Academy determined to live life to the fullest before her twelfth birthday arrives and the curse laid on her at birth comes into effect. However, her first days quickly turn from exciting to heartbreaking when the students start to believe she’s really a villain. It looks like E.V.I.L. has managed to rewrite her story! Can Rose convince her new friends that she’s really against E.V.I.L. or will she fall asleep for a hundred years first?
Sleeping Beauty is my favorite fairy tale and I was excited to see that the Grimmtastic Girls series had finally retold her story. I decided quickly that I like Rose’s spunky nature (even though the idea of Sleeping Beauty cramming in life experience before her sleep is not new) and that her crush is sweet and kind and therefore a perfect match. However, their tale was overshadowed by the plot holes that began to appear in the overaching storyline. In the end, I could only think that Sleeping Beauty deserves so much more.
The story begins slowly enough, rehashing old plot points and even familiar details of the Grimm world–apparently Rose’s newness to the Academy means readers must wade through explanations of who prominent characters are and recaps of the past four books. With these details out of the way, the story finally has the freedom to move forward, but it continues to do so sluggishly, repeating every few pages Rose’s thoughts on her curse, jousting, her family, and more. The feeling of repetition never fades; Rose and her crush even seem to have a variation of the same conversation every time they meet.
Between Rose’s musings on knighthood and her curse, the series plot slowly progresses, but this time it begins to raise troubling questions about how the world of Grimmlandia really works and why essentially no adults seem concerned about the reemergence of the E.V.I.L. Society. It’s like Harry Potter, with schoolchildren repeatedly saving the world, while the adults stand by and watch–except in this case readers do not even have the certainty of knowing that Principal R. even knows what’s going on in his school. The one adult who definitely does know what’s going on typically hides herself while directing twelve-year-olds to do her work. She’s supposed to be the most powerful enchantress in Grimmlandia but she’s afraid to reveal herself? Yet she’ll risk preteens?
Of course, even though the E.V.I.L. Society knows the identity of several of their enemies (Rapunzel, for example, blithely reveals her plan to thwart them in the last book, in a strange reversal of the explanatory speech usually given by foolish villains), they do nothing about it, so maybe the enchantress believes the kids ares safe. One wonders if some sort of unwritten truce exists. The good side, after all, knows the identities of several of the E.V.I.L. members, yet allows them to continue teaching the youth of Grimmlandia. You might think that they want the villains where they can see them–yet the Academy holds the most powerful artifacts in the land and, by allowing the villains to teach there, the good side grants them easy access to all the magic they need to carry out their plots.
Or perhaps the good side can’t get rid of the villains at all since they belong in the fairy tales? But that does not explain why the plot of this book features the students at the Academy shunning Rose when they believe her to be evil. (Her story is rewritten to show her spitting up as a baby on the thirteenth fairy–truly villainous stuff there.) One can’t say that the kids avoid her because her parents are written as rude–the Queen of Hearts is rude but no one cares. And Snow White’s stepmother is an well-known witch actually named Ms. Wicked, but no one holds that against Ms. Wicked or Snow. Why are villains allowed to teach at the school–Snow White’s stepmother tries to murder her, after all!–but a girl who spat up on a fairy can’t be trusted? No one explains. In fact, it all just brings up another question–if the characters all know their fairy tales, why doesn’t Snow know that her stepmother is jealous of her and wants her dead? Why are there so many gaping plot holes?
I still enjoy the Grimmtastic Girls series, but I need some of these questions to be answered fast. I want to be able to focus on the characters and their personal journeys, rather than find myself preoccupied with attempting to wrap my head around the illogical plot elements. I hope the sixth book will illuminate these matters, but I’m doubtful it will.
Goodreads: The Girl at Midnight
Series: The Girl at Midnight #1
Publication Date: April 28, 2015
For readers of Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones and Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone, The Girl at Midnight is the story of a modern girl caught in an ancient war.
Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she’s ever known.
Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she’s fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it’s time to act.
Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, but if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it’s how to hunt down what she wants . . . and how to take it.
But some jobs aren’t as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.
The Girl at Midnight is an imaginative book that will appeal to bookworms and lovers of fantasy. Protagonist Echo lives hidden in the New York Public Library and smuggles books to her room, but she is also the adopted daughter of the Ava, one of the bird-like Avicen race, and gets to go on magical adventures of her own. The story takes readers through Echo’s journey to find herself as she races across the world to locate the mythological firebird she believes can save the future of her adopted family.
The marketing plan has been to compare The Girl at Midnight to City of Bones and Shadow and Bone. However, readers will also see echoes of Daughter of Smoke and Bone (What’s with all the “bone” books?) in the way travelling magic works and parallels to Avatar in the character of the Dragon Prince. Like Zuko, Gray’s prince has conflicting ideas about the best way to lead his people and a complicated relationship with the protagonist that has the opportunity to fall into either friendship or enmity. He also happens to have an insanely violent sister who can wield fire and is bent on fighting him for the throne. The characters are not straight transplants of Zuko and Azula, but Avatar fans will certainly call them to mind.
Echo comes across as more original in her characterization, but not in her dialogue. The majority of her speech is composed of cliché expressions, literary quotes, and literary allusions. The author’s goal was most likely to convey the sense that Echo is an avid reader. Unfortunately, however, so little of Echo’s speech is her own that it is hard to read her as either a sincere character, or as one with serious thoughts about the world. Her character often exudes the sense she is just being carried along for the ride, even when she is ostensibly making active decisions about how her life will go.
Other characters, however, nicely round out the two protagonists and add a bit of diversity to the book. The Dragon Prince has a loyal guard who is a bit more in love with him than his position allows. Echo is friends with a flamboyantly criminal Avicen. Other friends are more quiet and introverted, but not less useful to the plan to save the world.
Plot-wise, the book is well-paced and offers readers variety of schemes and locations. The Avicen can travel by magic dust, and have passed the secret on to Echo, who can romp freely about in America, Paris, or Japan, as she pleases. There are also some great museum adventures, which are sure to appeal to many readers. A sense of Grey’s love of literature, history, and learning pervade the book.
Unfortunately, the conclusion is somewhat lacking. Of course, this is partially due to the fact that this novel starts a series. The result, however, is that absolutely nothing is resolved and the big reveal is underwhelming. The role of the firebird is overstated, and though arguably it is because the characters misinterpret that role, the feeling of the novel is really that the narration itself is misdirecting readers about the firebird for the sake of interest and suspense. The Girl at Midnight would benefit from having a stronger story arc, instead of pretending it has an arc for most of the book, then suddenly pulling back at the end and saying, “Wait, actually you have to wait for the sequels for anything to happen! This is just an opening scene.” The fact that The Girl at Midnight is book one is a series does not mean it must feel quite as incomplete as it does.
Episode 2 of this season of Call the Midwife moves quickly: several characters experience a character arc that one might normally expect to play out over the course of an entire season, or at least two episodes. Trixie begins to morph into a bridezilla, wanting her and Tom to have the perfect engagement and wedding, and one begins to wonder whether she has completely forgotten Tom is a vicar on a budget. No worries, though; she has her priorities straight by the end of the hour. Similarly, new midwife Phyllis Crane opens the episode as superior and unlikable, but ends by symbolically donning the Nonnatus House uniform she had previously refused and professing her intention to belong. While it may be relieving for the audience to know they will have to deal with less of Phyllis’s attitude during the remainder of the season, her transformation does raise the question of why she gets tons of character development in one episode while Barbara gets close to none in two full episodes. Hopefully Barbara’s time to shine is yet to come.
The birth story of this episode is a mix of triumph and tragedy, a usual for the show. It is truly impressive how the show manages to cover and present thoughtfully the stories of so many different types of parents and so many types of births. Here, the Bisettes must learn how to be joyful about the birth of their son, when his twin sister has died. Their situation raises profound and moving questions, but Tom is ready to help answer them. The final scenes of the episode are not easy, but they say a lot about life, death, and dealing with grief. Once again, Call the Midwife incites tears.
What did you think of this episode? Did it move too fast? Did Phyllis grow on you, or do you need to see more of her? Which character stole the show?
Goodreads: Rapunzel Cuts Loose
Series: Grimmtastic Girls #4
When an enchantment goes wrong, Rapunzel finds herself left with a hair catastrophe. But the school fair approaches fast and the E.V.I.L. Society plans to use it as a cover for some of their dastardly deeds. Can Rapunzel defeat E.V.I.L. while dealing with the worst hair day ever?
Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams continue to make each installment of the Grimmtastic Girls feel fresh with the fourth in the series, Rapunzel Cuts Loose. Finally readers get inside the head of the mysterious goth girl, whom we find has some secrets in her past. However, the authors skillfully veer away from stereotypes and caricatures, showing Rapunzel to be a sweet and caring girl who, though she harbors worries like any preteen, does not hide behind her goth girl look but wears it because that is how she chooses to express herself. With a heroine so confident, what’s not to love about Rapunzel Cuts Loose?
The girls, of course, continue to fight E.V.I.L. in this story, but more interesting to me at this point are the characters themselves. Each protagonist faces a secret fear and manages to overcome it. Each one brings distinctive traits and talents to the group. Each one consistently demonstrates kindness, compassion, and caring. In short, each girl manages to be an excellent role model while still coming across and real and interesting. How fascinating to see a series that shows that goodness need not be dull and that girls can be feminine and strong and all sorts of things in all different ways!
I also enjoy how, even though each book so far has featured a love interest, each one has been unique. And each one has been something that young readers may encounter themselves. Rapunzel’s story is the first to feature two love interests, but it’s not the horrible love triangle you think. Instead, Rapunzel makes the mistake so many girls do–she falls hard for the handsome, tall, smooth-talking guy everyone wants-even though he’s obviously selfish and self-centered. Meanwhile, her poor friend Basil, a legitimately caring guy, falls by the wayside. But such is life and Rapunzel and her young readers are about to learn how to look past looks to see one’s true character.
I am absolutely thrilled to find a series full of so many good messages and so many characters who are worthy to emulate–all packaged in a story that is truly absorbing and never seems preachy. I can’t believe I haven’t heard more about these books from fellow readers.