Review: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

04006290In the land of Ingary, where seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, Sophie Hatter attracts the unwelcome attention of the Witch of the Waste, who puts a curse on her. Determined to make the best of things, Sophie travels to the one place where she might get help – the moving castle which hovers on the nearby hills.

But the castle belongs to the dreaded Wizard Howl whose appetite, they say, is satisfied only by the hearts of young girls…

It took me far too long to pick up this book. I’ve adored the film for a long time and, shamefully, didn’t know it was based on a book until a couple of years ago.

The book is glorious. It’s a very different beast to the film (which is also glorious) and so I was pleasantly surprised by a couple of the twists and turns along the way. Both mediums have the same whimsical flavour and if you love the film, you really should give the book a go!

Howl is much more of a drama queen in the novel, which makes for some hilarious scenes, and Sophie is as wonderful as ever – so resigned is she to being an old woman that you forget she’s young underneath!

There’s not a single character that I don’t like, which is surprising for me.

It’s such a magical story, much more magical than the film (I didn’t think it possible but the novel packs in more spell-casting than Ghibli).

I love that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, the novel is ridiculous and it carries it in the best way possible. I adore whimsy in all its forms so this is the perfect story for me. I will definitely be reading it again, and looking up the sequels!

Advertisements

Review: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

practical-magic-9781471169199_lgAs children, sisters Gillian and Sally were forever outsiders in their small New England town, teased, taunted and shunned for the air of magic that seems to sparkle in the air around them. All Gillian and Sally ever wanted was to get away.

And eventually they do – one marries, the other runs as far from home as she can manage.

Years later, however, tragedy will bring the sisters back together. And they’ll find that no matter what else may happen, they’ll always have each other.

 

I finished a book! Can you believe it? I can’t. I am shocked. Shocked, I tell you. Hopefully, this spells the end of my reading slump. I’m going to try starting another book this evening and we shall see what happens.

Practical Magic is a book I’ve been wanting to read for yonks. Ever since I first saw and fell in love with the film, I’ve wanted to read the book. I am glad I saw the film first – I may not have read the book if the film stuck more closely to it (and I really liked the book so it would have been a shame to miss out on it).

I’m not one of those people who despair if a book-movie deviates from the source material. I view the two as separate entities that I can enjoy individually (the exception here is Inkheart, while I do enjoy the film and will happily watch it, I am very sad that they didn’t allow for the whole trilogy to be turned into films because the later books were incredible), and most of the time I understand why a change had to be made.

Practical Magic the film and Practical Magic the book are very, very different to one another. They share characters and the main conflict but otherwise, they’re different stories. I think it was a great choice for the directors and writers and film people (whoever makes that decision) as the film does add drama that was lacking in the book. The book is a slow burner, it really enjoys exploring the characters more than it does plot, the prose is delicious and it wanders off in directions you would not expect having read the previous paragraph.

I really adored the characters, they were all irrational and flawed and irritating and three dimensional. I love a character that I don’t automatically like. One of the major differences in the film is the age of Sally’s children, in the book they’re both teenagers and the book focusses as much on their relationship with each other as it does the relationship between Sally and Gillian. This is a book about relationships, story and magic are secondary. It’s very much a character-led book.

It weaves magic without making it too showy, there’s no wand waving (except from one of the characters who happens to be a stage magician, I liked that touch) but instead just little things, little bits of intuition and the odd bird heart.

Even though it’s not story-heavy, it left me wanting more; luckily for me, there is a prequel! (A prequel with an equally gorgeous cover design.) It’s not out in paperback until September so I will have to wait a little while but with the rate time is passing at the moment, by the time I wake up tomorrow it will probably be September already. I’ll definitely be giving the prequel a go, and will probably find myself reading Practical Magic again. Good stuff.

(‘the air of magic that seems to sparkle in the air around them’ – blurb-writer, what were you doing? That’s terrible. Ahem.)

Dealing with a Book Slump

I am suffering. I have been suffering. I am in the slumpiest of book slumps and I cannot deal.

baby.gif

It’s not that I don’t want to read – I really, really do – it’s that I can’t seem to finish anything. Even if I am really enjoying a book, for whatever reason, I can’t sit down and finish it (it is for that reason that I am currently reading about four different books). I am used to being a speedy reader, a reader who can get through a book in a day if I put my mind to it. But alas, my brain is just not letting me.

Which brings us to this blog entry, I thought I’d give some tips for dealing with book slumps, even if I am dealing with my own hilariously badly. These are the three things that I need to try to remember in my time of need and I suggest you (if you are in the same rabbit hole of reading-related guilt) do too.

Cut yourself some slack

I know it’s hard, and it sucks, and you probably want to take a leaf from Piper’s book:

original

But it’s okay. It’s okay that you’re not reading, I know you think you should be because you are a book blogger/an avid reader/the one who reads all of the things but everyone needs a break, and your brain is probably trying to tell you something.

You are not required to be that person who reads every waking moment. You have a life, you have work/school/family and each of those things is completely deserving of the time that you think you should be reading. You don’t have to feel guilty for taking that time, and you definitely should not punish yourself for it.

Try not to isolate yourself

giphy

For me, isolation means not updating my blog – because I should be posting reviews, right? That’s what I do and maybe it’s better not to post than to post anything else. It also means not reading blogs, not commenting on them and generally pretending that they, and I, do not exist.

It doesn’t achieve anything. Sure, I might think that I will update when I’m back on the reading horse properly, and then I will comment on stuff and ‘like’ things and become an active member of the community but if I don’t know when that will be all motivation to update, comment, like runs away and joins the circus. All that mentality achieves is an empty, barren blog and I definitely don’t want that.

You can still blog about books without having read anything new

This last one is a biggie and one that I did not understand for the longest time. Just because you’ve not finished a book recently does not mean that all of the other books that you have read in your lifetime cease to exist, it also does not mean you’re not a book lover and you cannot engage in bookish conversation. You can, you should, it might actually spur you back into a reading frenzy.

200

 

The Ultimate Reading Mix

This was always going to be a tough post to write: the one that came after the first weight loss post. I didn’t ever want to post all of those in one go so the question was “what the hell do I write next?”

I find that whenever I am doing something difficult or unpleasant (like washing up or cleaning the kitchen, because no one likes doing those things), music makes it that much easier. While blogging is not unpleasant, it can be difficult, especially the first post after quite a heavy one like my last entry so I thought why not make it a little easier and a little more chill with some music.

I am blessed with Spotify Premium (thank you, other half, once again you make my life fabby), so I have access to a hoard of really good music ad-free wherever I go. It’s great.

My playlists tend to be massive sprawling things (I really need to sort them out every so often) which works great for things like reading, or writing, or generally creating things. I can pop on one of my massive playlists and it will never run out of music. I can get engrossed in a book for hours at a time and never have to fiddle with my music, I get uninterrupted reading time with hours and hours of my personal perfect reading soundtrack. Bliss.

I’m one of those people who prefers scores while reading and creating so that I don’t get distracted by pesky lyrics. However, some of my scores do have wonderful choral parts because I am a sucker for them – especially if they’re in a language I don’t understand, it makes everything sound that little bit fantastical.

So without further tomfoolery, here are my top songs from my ultimate reading mix (the whole playlist will be at the end of this post if you find that it’s exactly your kind of thing!):

1. Dance of the Druids – Bear McCreary (Outlander)

This is an absolutely incredible piece of music, and the scene it’s from is one of the most beautiful things I have ever had the pleasure to watch. If you’ve no interest in watching Outlander, look up the Dance of the Druids scene and just watch that – it’s magical.

2. Prologue – James Newton Howard (Lady in the Water)

I think this song is what made me want to watch Lady in the Water in the first place. It’s another magical one (I am going to be using that word a lot in this blog, sorry). Generally, on soundtracks, if there is a track called ‘Prologue’ which happens to be playing while a narrator of some description is getting the viewer up to speed with the story, it will be my favourite. There’s just something about knowing that a story is being told and that the track is specifically composed to make that story sound incredible that really pulls me in.

3. The Woman in White Suite – Julian Lloyd Webber and Sarah Chang

This is a super long one and lasts for about half an hour. It’s an instrumental suite based on the musical The Woman in White (based on the book of the same name). It’s got tension, it’s got drama, it’s got sweetness and it makes my stomach feel a little bit funny at times. (I take that as a good thing.) The other track, Phantasia, which was on the same release, is also wonderful (it is a homage to all things Phantom of the Opera, which you may have guessed already).

4. The Half Killed – Dario Marianelli (Atonement)

For a little drama and sadness. Such a beautiful track. It builds and builds and builds. This has been one of my go-to tracks for a very long time. Even before I saw the film.

5. Statues – Alexandre Desplat (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two)

Alexandre Desplat was easily the best composer they used in the Harry Potter films. His work is phenomenal and this track has always been my favourite. (Possibly because McGonagall is my favourite too. Let’s face it, the two things are probably, almost definitely related.)

The Playlist

If you like these, you might like the whole playlist. There are over 1,500 songs on it, and I am hoping no random non-scores made their way on there but you never know. I periodically add more to it one album at a time, so I always recommend playing it on shuffle for the full effect.

To listen to the playlist click here, while I try to work out why the embed widget isn’t working. Booo.

 

The Perks of Supporting Authors on Patreon

Ah, the fabled second post. Nice to meet you, post, I’m sure we’ll get along swimmingly.

I’m incredibly vocal about the things I love, particularly the authors I love. One moreso than others. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you probably know exactly who I mean. I have her words tattooed on my bicep, I make excuses to mention her work in my posts because I love it so much, and get a little bit too excited when she responds to me on Twitter. (It’s shocking that I’ve not reviewed more of her books because I’ve certainly read enough of them! I will be fixing that oversight in due course.)

Being a book blogger, I love to support authors in whatever ways I can, from tweeting about them to buying their books and attending their events. Having worked in the publishing industry and knowing authors both indie and traditionally published alike, I know that writing books is not the most lucrative of businesses, there is a huge investment of time and not always a huge monetary return so I like to do whatever I can to ensure my favourite authors can continue creating new content for me to enjoy.

When Catherynne M. Valente announced her Patreon, I jumped at the chance to support her.

valente patreon

I am all for authors offering exciting exclusive tidbits but that’s not the only reason I decided to donate a little chunk of my money every month – it makes me feel good. I feel like I am part of something, and that’s a glorious feeling.

The wonderful thing about Valente, in particular, is that she’s not just posting the expected sneak peeks and previews into her work, she’s also sharing everything from recipes to adorable photographs of her pets. She hosts live streams and live tweets very questionable films as chosen by her patrons. She’s not just about helping herself though, she helps the budding writers in her fan base with monthly articles (endearingly known as experiments) aimed at helping us all to grow into better, more effective writers – and she makes the effort to not only read the things we come up with but give feedback too.

Cue Exhibit A, in response to an article about writing beginnings:

e68d8db6-6b2a-4bb8-8dca-bd0a7e69e644

I may have almost cried when I read that comment and I am not at all ashamed. This screenshot makes me happy and I intend to keep it forever.

It’s so rare, what with the prevalence of celebrity status now-a-days to feel a connection to your idols beyond the fact that you love them. Because of Patreon, I was able to be involved in a video chat with my favourite author on my birthday. I cannot express exactly how much that still excites me.

Patreon is such a good service and if any of your faves use it, I would highly recommend donating if you can. It’s such a fulfilling thing to do and you get to sit smugly in the knowledge that you are reading things that no one outside of the publishing industry has read yet. I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel a little bit special. If you have a little to spare, why not support someone you love and help them do something they love?

#FolkloreThursday: Four Favourite Fables

Greetings, gremlins. We are back to our Folklore Thursday schedule with a list post! I mentioned in my interlude that I wanted to write a list but didn’t know which list to write. I’m not sure how I decided on fables but decide I did and now here we are with a post. Funny how these things work out, isn’t it? (I jest.)

In my modern fiction (‘modern’ here meaning written in recent years rather than being based in recent times), I tend to shy away from moralising. There are few books that moralise in a way that doesn’t make me want to slam my head into the nearest wall (Wonder by R.J. Palacio is probably the most successful that I have read, but I do shrink back from the idea of it ‘teaching society a lesson’). That isn’t to say that I think books can’t lead towards societal change, they can, I just object to books (and authors) who make that their book’s primary goal. It always seems forced and disingenuous, I much prefer it to happen organically. If that’s the message readers take from the book, great! If it’s shoved down the reader’s throat so that they have no choice but to swallow it, that’s not even in the same hemisphere as fantastic.

Heck, I’m probably against moralising in classics too aside from the fact that I don’t really read them. Folklore, mythology, fables? Come at me. Dickens? Go away, far away. Leave now, and never come back. (There are exceptions, Wuthering Heights and anything by Lewis Carroll being the main ones.)

One of my lingering memories of my early school life is learning about fables (often paired with parables, which would explain why, for quite a while, I thought fables were religious metaphors despite the fact that they, for the most part, originated in Ancient Greece – thanks, Primary School, for that misconception). The Tortoise and the Hare was the obvious feature, there were others but I don’t remember what they were. Alongside the learning about them, we were also asked to write our own. My crude, childish ramblings would have been, I’m positive, about rabbits – if we still have my school books at my parents’ house, I might seek them out and see what moral lessons little!Elou thought needed to be learnt and spread via the medium of probably-brown bunnies.

The fables listed below are not in their original phrasing, if you would like to see them in some of the older forms (there are so many different translations that I wouldn’t know where to start to find the most accurate translation out there), I recommend a trip to Project Gutenberg, which is one of my favourite resources on the internet.

1. The Fox and the Mask

100The Fox and the Mask is one of those little fables that stick with you. Or, it sticks with me anyway and not entirely for the best reason.

The fox, when rummaging around in the belongings of an actor, finds a mask and thinks that it is very beautiful, but laments its lack of sense as this, to the wily fox, makes the beautiful mask worthless.

The overall take-home being ‘what use is beauty without brains?’

I am almost certain that this fable has been used by some male scholar somewhere to prove the hypothesis that pretty women cannot be intelligent (a view that is dangerously taken into some young adult literature, where the popular, pretty girl is painted as stupid and the super special protagonist with all of her book smarts feels superior because of it – this fable is not without its problems).

It’s not the message that appeals to me in this case but the imagery. I love the idea of a fox rooting around and being fascinated by a theatre mask.

2. The Old Man and Death

0133-old-man-deathProbably one of the more famous fables (after The Tortoise and the Hare), The Old Man and Death is a story that I didn’t actually know came from Aesop for the longest time. I love the way the title sounds, I adore literature that involves death as a character (I touched on this in the briefest sense here but I think I might write an entire post about it, or series of posts about death in popular culture… we shall see). I love the way the title sounds, it’s a very pleasant title to roll off the tongue (I prefer it to the alternative used for some translations, The Poor Man and Death).

The story goes thus: a weak old man is gathering (or carrying) a bundle of sticks, and under the weight of the burden the old man falls to the ground. He calls upon Death to come and end his woes because he is too old and too weak to deal with them anymore, but when Death arrives the old man grows frightened and decides he wants a little more time, claiming that he only called upon Death to help him shoulder his burden so that he might be free to go about his business.

The old man has been described as ‘taking liberties’ with Death and I love that, I love the idea of a character dramatically calling on Death to end their suffering on multiple occasions, each time deciding that actually dropping a pile of sticks is probably not a good enough reason to die. Very sorry, Death. Please continue your reaping elsewhere, no reaping needed here. No, sir.

3. The Travellers and the Bear

THE-TRAVELLERS-AND-THE-BEAR-1-q6812This is one of those fables which I should have paid more attention to long before I did. Most fables, I like because of the imagery but this one, I enjoy because of the hard-learned lesson it presents. (That said, I do also enjoy bears.)

Two travellers walk among a forest when suddenly a bear comes upon them. Despite having agreed to protect each other one of the travellers, thinking only of himself, scambles up a tree and out of the way, leaving the other on the ground. The second traveller lies still, pretending to be dead and lets the bear sniff him, believing the common assumption that bears will not eat dead meat.

When the bear leaves, the first traveller descends from the tree and, with a laugh, asks his companion what the bear said to him. The second traveller replies that the bear had given him good advice, and warned him not to trust those who would leave him to save their own skin.

Essentially it presents a test of true friendship where, if the first traveller were a true friend to the second, he would not have left him to die at the paws and jaws of the bear. When things get tough, friends don’t look first to protect themselves.

It’s not a perfect message, everyone is selfish, no matter how good a friend they are. In the context of someone’s life, it might not be a betrayal to abandon you to a bear, but something they have to do for any number of good reasons. (The bear metaphor is pretty thin here, I can’t think of a good reason to essentially feed someone to a bear but you get the idea.)

4. The Moon and her Mother

moon-and-motherI’ve saved the best for last. This is my favourite of all of the fables I have ever read and I can’t imagine that changing anytime soon. This is one of those rare tales where I like both the imagery and the moral.

It is a simple story, consisting only of this:

The moon once asked her mother if she might make her a gown.

“How can I?” her mother replied, “Sometimes you’re a New Moon, and other times you’re a Full Moon, and between the two you’re neither full nor new. There’s no gown I could make that would fit all of you.”

The traditional moral is that if you’re always changing, nothing will fit. No one will know who you are and neither will you. Or, if you’re always changing you will never get what you really want. Or alternatively, don’t commit to something you cannot keep to.

I take it to mean all of those things and something different (I alternate) but this is my preferred moral and the moral I will always think of first: there is no gown that is big enough for all that you are. You are so big and complex and detailed that there is no one thing that can epitomise everything about you, and yes, you will change but you will also always be the same; the moon is still the moon even when it’s in its different phases.

When I feel like my skin doesn’t quite fit, I think of The Moon and her Mother and I feel a little bit better.


So there you have it, four of my favourite fables on this very changeable Thursday. (I was going to say gloomy because it was raining but the weather seems to be having an identity crisis. We’ve had blazing sunshine, rain, wind, snow, hail, everything short of storm.)

Do you have any favourite fables? Do you take away different messages than I do? Have you ever made up your own, if so, what was it?

Happy Thursday!

Review: Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan

26804769A startling and evocative novel, harkening to both One Day and Gravity, a man and a woman revisit memories of their love affair on a utopian Earth while they are trapped in the vast void of space with only ninety minutes of oxygen left.

After the catastrophic destruction of the Middle East and the United States, Europe has become a utopia and, every three years, the European population must rotate into different multicultural communities, living as individuals responsible for their own actions. While living in this paradise, Max meets Carys and immediately feels a spark of attraction. He quickly realizes, however, that Carys is someone he might want to stay with long-term, which is impossible in this new world.

As their relationship plays out, the connections between their time on Earth and their present dilemma in space become clear. When their air ticks dangerously low, one is offered the chance of salvation—but who will take it? An original and daring exploration of the impact of first love and how the choices we make can change the fate of everyone around us, this is an unforgettable read.

Before I say anything: look at that cover, take it in. It is gorgeous. The hardback is beautifully produced, with some of the stars spot varnished it really looks like a shining space scene. I bloomin’ love well-designed books.

I will admit, this was a cover buy – well, it was a birthday present but it was a cover wishlist add. It looks beautiful and it has stars on it.

But it’s so much more than a pretty book. I really didn’t know what to expect but the whole thing was poignant and heartbreaking. I cannot recommend it enough, it’s a beautiful, beautiful book.

At its heart,  Hold Back the Stars is a love story. It follows Carys and Max. It is the last moments of their lives, and how they each got to be there. It is their journey and their tragedy and it is breathtaking. The characters are so well-written, I really felt for them which is so important for a book which is so deeply character-led.  The supporting cast was also wonderful and I really don’t have any complaints.

The world-building was excellent, it was unlike anything I’ve seen before. In fact, the whole book was unlike anything I’ve ever read. Due to the nature of the story, it was very much about the little details and the details soared in this book, every question I had about the world was answered on the page, it’s like the book was reading my mind.

I just loved it. I am so happy when a book I know little about turns into a book I love and this definitely happened with this one. It is as beautiful inside as it is out and I want everyone to read it.

Ghibli Heroines Tag

Hello, hello. I had a tiny blogging break which you may not have even noticed. The reason why will become clear in the near future (check me out being all mysterious). I think it’s great, and it is, and you will know about it soon.

I am finally getting around to doing this super cool new tag by Kate! I love a good tag, especially one that I’ve not seen around much. I feel all exclusive. I feel special. Everyone loves feeling special so this is a brilliant thing.

The Rules:

  • Please pingback, rather than link to Kate@Melting Pots and Other Calamities. She will only know if you’ve done this tag if you pingback.
  • Tag as many people as you want. Ghibli movies aren’t as popular as Disney or Pixar, so be careful that those you tag are at least somewhat familiar with Ghibli.
  • You can use examples from books, movies, TV shows, anime/manga, and webcomics.
  • As this tag celebrates heroines, please name either a piece of fiction or a female character, if you’re able.
  • Have fun!

Questions: 

Nausicaa, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind: (Even though this isn’t technically Ghibli, it’s still marketed that way). Nausicaa is a princess in a post-disaster world. She is compassionate and brave, a daring explorer who is capable and selfless.  Name a strong female leader. 

Oof. Well. Hm. I know Samantha Shannon hates the ‘strong female’ phrase (because it suggests that to be valuable, women cannot be vulnerable) but Paige from The Bone Season series applies in this case. She isn’t without vulnerability, and she makes mistakes, and she does fall and find it hard to get back up again, but she does what has to be done and she leads in a way that I’ve not really seen from a female character in fiction before.

Sheeta, Castle in the Sky: Although Sheeta may have a quieter demeanour than other Ghibli heroines, she is not a damsel in distress. She’s royalty, but doesn’t stay on the sidelines; she is involved, kind, and despite a sad past, hopeful. Name an inspiring member of royalty. 

I am British, so I absolutely cannot pass up the chance to mention the Queen. I love the Queen. I am one of those people. She’s wonderful. So to slightly cheat on this, I am going to choose Queen Elizabeth as portrayed in Netflix’s The Crown, but also Victoria (in Victoria).

Their characters as portrayed in both series (and the book in the case of Victoria) are based on real women and I think that’s why they’re so great. They exist/have existed, they have both been quite revolutionary, and as a little girl, I was obsessed.

Satsuki and Mei, My Neighbour Totoro: Before Anna and Elsa, before Lilo and Nani, there was Satsuki and Mei. Satsuki was incredibly young when their mother was hospitalised, and with their father at work, she has to take care of Mei. And Mei is only four, with a big imagination. Name a pair of siblings (or two friends who act like siblings). 

Tolya and Tamar, the twins from The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo. I am partway through Ruin and Rising (having finished Shadow and Bone, and Siege and Storm the other day – reviews to come) and I love them. They are excellent.

It troubles me that I can’t think of two female characters to list here. I am sure they exist. I am sure there are some fictional female siblings or friends that act like siblings who I adore. I might have to look into this.

Kiki, Kiki’s Delivery Service: Kiki has to go off on her own to live alone, as is the custom among witches. She goes through many things that newly independent young adults face, like money problems, finding a place to stay, job searching, and loneliness, before finding her way thanks to her special abilities. Name a female character who has supernatural gifts.

Another pick from the series I am currently reading: Alina Starkov. She is thrust into the life of a Grisha and I am loving being on the ride with her.

Gina and Fio, Porco Rosso: Gina and Fio are both heroines in this film, and they couldn’t be less alike. Gina is a young woman who is very feminine, a singer and a restaurant owner. However, she is very resourceful and capable. Fio is a teenage mechanic who is independent, goes against the flow, and isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. She may be one of the best mechanics of her time. Name two inspiring heroines; one who is unabashedly feminine, and another who is more of a tomboy. 

I feel like the age of the tomboy has passed, there’s a lot less ‘boys must do this and girls must do this’ to be rebelled against in fiction now. The stigma around being girlish, and being like other girls is lessening and authors are responding with some unapologetically girly characters (I love it). When I read the word ‘tomboy’ there is no longer a character that comes to mind, or, in fact, any particular kind of person. A girl who would have been labelled a tomboy when I was a child for liking sports and playing in the mud and not wearing dresses is no longer a tomboy, she’s just a girl who likes sports and playing in the mud and not wearing dresses.

When I read the word ‘tomboy’ there is no longer a character that comes to mind, or, in fact, any particular kind of person. A girl who would have been labelled a tomboy when I was a child for liking sports and playing in the mud and not wearing dresses is no longer a tomboy, she’s just a girl who likes sports and playing in the mud and not wearing dresses.

So the tomboy portion of this question is hard to answer, and I don’t think I want to use that label. We’re going to slide on down to the feminine character, and we’re going to go with Genya from The Grisha Trilogy. She definitely has the feminine vibe going for her.

Angel, On Your Mark: On Your Mark is a music video that Ghibli helped a music group with. It may not have much of a story, but it’s beautiful and interesting, and not may people are aware of its existence. Name an underrated heroine. 

September from Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland series. (You didn’t think I was going to get through a book-related tag without mentioning her, did you?) I don’t see a huge amount of people talking about this series, and it makes me sad. September is fantastic. She grows up through the books and she makes hard decisions, and she never fails to save the day in some manner.

Shizuku, Whisper of the Heart: Shizuku is an eighth-grade student who can’t quite focus on school as much as on her favourite books. However, through encounters with an ambitious boy who seems to have a likely chance at meeting his goals, a cat who rides trains, an antique shop owner, and a cat statue called The Baron, Shizuku is determined to meet her own goal and become a writer. Name your most relatable character. 

Oh goodness. I do not know how to answer this question. I don’t so much relate to many characters because what I read is often very much not anchored in realism and the troubles faced by the characters I read about are not really the sort of thing I can share in. That’s not to say that fantasy characters can’t be relatable – they can – I just try not to put myself into what I’m reading in that way.

That said, for the sake of answering this question, Carys from Hold Back the Stars (review to come) loves both space and learning new things, which are things I love too. So we’ll go with Carys.

San, Princess Mononoke: San has been raised by wolves her whole life. When humans begin to invade her home forest to make towns and use the resources for themselves while killing the spirits and animals within, San refuses to let it be. She takes a stand and becomes the village’s  greatest obstacle. She is such a force to be reckoned with that they even give her a name; The Princess Mononoke. Name a female character who is physically strong.

Well, obviously this spot is reserved for Buffy Summers. The slayer has a huge pool of strength to draw from. Sure, it’s powered by ancient demon essence but strength is strength.

200.gif

Chihiro, Spirited Away: At the beginning of Spirited Away, Chihiro starts off as a whiny, spoiled ten-year-old girl. However, during her time working at the spirit’s Bath House, she discovers parts of herself she didn’t know she had. The story is about her finding the strength she already had but was unaware of. Name a character who has an amazing character journey.

Lupe! She grew so much throughout her short time in The Girl of Ink and Stars that she absolutely has to be mentioned. Her character development is one of the standout things from the novel.

Haru, The Cat Returns: Haru is a typical high school girl; kind, clumsy, and a little forgetful. But she soon finds herself involved in events that are out of her control. In a way, it is because of her normalcy that she can find her way out of her situation and become stronger because of it. Name a female character who may not have any supernatural abilities herself, but is memorable anyway.

The first character that comes to mind is Tamika Flynn from Welcome to Night Vale. Sure, she has an incredibly impressive reading ability and a penchant for violence but to my knowledge, she doesn’t technically have any powers, and yet she is one of the most wonderful of Night Vale’s eclectic selection of inhabitants. 

Sophie, Howl’s Moving Castle: Sophie doesn’t think much of herself for a lot of the story. She doesn’t think she’s pretty or memorable, especially when compared to her younger sister, Lettie. It gets even worse when she’s cursed to look like an old woman. When she finds a new life that involves the mysterious wizard Howl, a fire demon, Howl’s apprentice, and many others, she is shown to be resilient and intuitive. Name an emotionally strong character.

Evie Snow from On the Other Side. She makes such difficult, selfless decisions and lives with the emotional scars to show for it. Well, the emotional scars come out of her in beautiful ways, via the medium of magical realism. She gives up everything for someone else’s happiness and that is a true sign of emotional strength, that she could function and live life through to old age is a testament to her character.

Ponyo, Ponyo: Ponyo is one of the youngest Ghibli heroines at only five years old. But she still gets a lot done, including becoming human, discovering things, finding a best friend, and saving the world. Name a hero who happens to be a child.

September again. Always September. She is my favourite child hero and she quite possibly always will be.

Arrietty, The Secret World of Arrietty: Arrietty is a Borrower; she is tiny and survives by stealing small things that humans won’t miss. Yet she’s curious about the human world, and does braver things than most humans would be incapable of doing, despite her tiny size. Name an unlikely hero.

This has to be Deeba from China Miéville’s Un Lun Dun. She is very much not the chosen one but gets on with things anyway. She’s feisty and fabulous, and she’s proof that you don’t have to be the chosen one to be the hero.

Nahoko, The Wind Rises: Nahoko has tuberculosis during World War 2. However, she doesn’t allow this to cripple her, and enjoys life to the fullest anyway, which includes painting and falling in love. Even being placed in a sanitarium doesn’t break her. Name an inspiring character with some sort of obstacle. 

Olivia Moore (of iZombie fame), if you consider being a still sentient zombie who has to eat brains to keep her wits and subsequently takes on personality traits from said brain an obstacle. I do. Being a zombie can’t be fun, even if the personality traits can be very helpful for the solving of murders and the ignoring of your own problems.

523d9fb16d94a0664bcb39298188f7f5.gif

Kaguya, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya: in a time where women were expected to follow social norms such as blackening teeth, shaving eyebrows, and being forced into arranged marriages, Kaguya refuses to play along. She would much rather be outside, dance, and play with friends. Name a female character who challenges social norms.

Hm. This one should come easily but it hasn’t… hm. I’m going to go with Evie Snow again because she does take the year to try to go it her own way instead of going the Snow way. True, she ends up going the Snow way anyway but that’s her choice for the sake of her brother, rather than something she is forced into. Her social norms may not be the social norms of the layperson but they still count!

I am also going to mention Carys again because she doesn’t idolise the Rotation in Hold Back the Stars, she likes to remember her life in the mountains of Wales, and she forms a love match when she knows she shouldn’t.

Whew! That was actually really difficult.

I want this tag to do well so I’ve found some cool anime bloggers to tag! (Hello, cool anime bloggers.) So without further ado, here they are:

Karandi from 100 Word Anime

Fujinsei

Reads, Rhythms & Ruminations

The Lily Garden

icebreaker694

Marvelously Mismatched

Nick from Anime Corps

Review: Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

24590694Night Vale is a small desert town where all the conspiracy theories you’ve ever heard are actually true. It is here that the lives of two women, with two mysteries, will converge.

Nineteen-year-old Night Vale pawn shop owner Jackie Fierro is given a paper marked ‘KING CITY’ by a mysterious man in a tan jacket. She can’t seem to get the paper to leave her hand, and no one who meets this man can remember anything about him. Jackie is determined to uncover the mystery of King City before she herself unravels.

Diane Crayton’s son, Josh, is moody and also a shape shifter. And lately Diane’s started to see her son’s father everywhere she goes, looking the same as the day he left years earlier. Josh, looking different every time Diane sees him, shows a stronger and stronger interest in his estranged father, leading to a disaster Diane can see coming, even as she is helpless to prevent it.

Diane’s search to reconnect with her son and Jackie’s search for her former routine life collide as they find themselves coming back to two words: ‘KING CITY’. It is King City that holds the key to both of their mysteries, and their futures …if they can ever find it.

We are still on the Welcome to Night Vale train here on eloucarroll.com. We regret nothing.

(We being I, me, Elou, all on my lonesome. I like to think I’m royal and thus able to pull off the royal ‘we’, do I succeed? You decide. My deciding would be nepotism, and my nepotism would say yes. Yes, I do.)

Anyway, let’s avoid any more tangents, shall we? (There I go again…)

Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel is, you guessed it, a novel based on the wildly popular Welcome to Night Vale podcast. I would recommend listening to at least some of the podcasts or picking up Mostly Void, Partially Stars and The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe (the script books for the first two years of the podcast) before you read the novel. Not only will you be more invested by that point but you will also have some idea of what to expect and some familiarity with the setting and some of the characters. The novel does mention things that have occurred previously on the podcast.

Or you could go into it blind and be in for a wild, wild ride. (No, really, you should probably familiarise yourself with Night Vale – I’m not sure it’s hugely accessible for new readers unless you already know what you’re in for.)

As you might have gathered from the blurb Welcome to Night Vale is weird. Unlike American Elsewhere, which I read and reviewed recently, the weird in Night Vale is the random sort of weird that always manages to take you by surprise. I am amazed at the imaginations of Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor but I am even more amazed at their ability to make all of the random things which make Night Vale what it is work together. I always thought that there was such a thing as too out there. Fink and Cranor continue to prove me wrong.

Interspersed with the familiar radio stylings of Cecil, the novel itself follows Diane and Jackie, two unlikely heroines who are thrown together (much to their disgruntlement) by circumstances beyond their control. Both linked by the mysterious stranger in the tan jacket and his cryptic two-word message of ‘KING CITY’. Jackie and Diane are wildly different, and it’s great that we get to experience the story through both of their perspectives, with some chapters happening parallel to one another.

However, it’s not until the last couple of chapters that the plot actually gets anywhere and I think that’s why it took me so long to read (it took me over a week, which is a long time for me at my current reading speed). The wild ride I mentioned earlier was not the wild ride of the plot – that was the wild ride of Night Vale as a thing. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the novel but it could probably have been a fair bit shorter. What works in a short podcast doesn’t necessarily work for a long-form novel. There’s lots of exposition but not enough plot to really justify it, for the podcast this would be perfect but the novel could have done without it. That said, I do love the narrative style (even if it does go every direction except forwards for a lot of the novel). It has a habit of pointing out things that we all know but never really think about, which I really enjoy. At the end of the book, there’s a sentence which spans across three pages. I didn’t notice that it was all the same sentence at first. Until I did. I’m not sure what I think about that but I think that I like how my mind just accepted it and succumbed to the power of the sentence. (I am suddenly worried that the sentence is going to leap out of the book and make a bid at world domination. If any book could convince its sentences to jump ship and take over the world, it would probably be this one.)

Welcome to Night Vale is a mixed bag and it could go either way, I enjoyed it but there are so many reviews from existing fans and Night Vale newbies alike who thought it just fell flat. I can see where they’re coming from. Personally, I like rambling, pointless stories (as long as they have a point of interest, narrative style or characters that I can engage with) but I know a lot of people don’t and if a book’s plot doesn’t really show up until the last few chapters, that’s going to be a problem.

So while I do recommend this book, I recommend it with a pinch of salt. It’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea and even though I enjoyed it, I would recommend you explore Night Vale a bit before you pick up the novel to avoid being thrown head-first into a pit of confusion.

Harry Potter re-readathon: The Deathly Hallows

9781408855959_309031We did it! We completed a series! The blog is alive! Alive with the sound of pages ruffling and words shuffling about on the spot waiting to be read. I am proud of this.

Here we are, on the last stop of our journey. The Deathly Hallows.

This book is painful. It hits you right in the gut so many times. With every grave injury or character death, I felt a crack splinter into my heart. It takes its toll – a mark of good writing.

It’s amazing to compare this to The Philiospher’s Stone, the two books are so different and yet they still feel like the same series. True, The Deathly Hallows is a much older, more experienced, and hardened brother to the sweet, innocent Philosopher’s but they are still brothers.

Speaking of brothers, I adore the Tale of the Three Brothers and I wish more folksy fairy tales were included in the body of the series. It added so much to the story and it felt like a real tale. I am a sucker for stories within stories.

Another thing I love about this book is that we get to visit the Ravenclaw common room and its wonderful riddle entry system. I identify as a Ravenclaw (if I haven’t already made that abundantly obvious) so I was so happy when the common room popped up in the books. It’s so wonderfully appropriate, I just want to curl up in there with a good book.

I am, however, still waiting for an epic Ravenclaw protagonist.

We get more helpings of McGonagall, who is just as bad-ass as I wanted her to be. It goes without saying (yet here I am saying it) that I am very much here for more McGonagall, in all of her forms. I am so glad she survives to pass her sass on to future generations of Hogwarts.

Like most Potter fans, however, I feel a great sense of exasperation towards the epilogue. I don’t think it was necessary and I think Harry needs to drastically improve his choice of names. There is no way Ginny had anything to do with that monstrosity. I refuse to believe otherwise.

I don’t quite know how to end this. I’d never thought this far. So I a just going to end it with this:

I bloody love these books. Thank you, J.K. Rowling.