Tag Archives: girl-power

First Test

Author: Tamora Pierce

Protector of the Small Quartet, vol. 1

My rating: 5 of 5

A decade after the kingdom of Tortall decided to accept girls to train as knights instead of just boys, ten-year-old Kel becomes the first girl to actually apply. Inspired by tales of the Lioness’s valor and already skilled through her training in the Yamani court, Kel is determined to succeed and become a knight of Tortall. But she is shocked when Lord Wyldon, the training master, puts an extra requirement on her that the boys don’t have to fulfill: her first year is a probationary period, and only if she satisfies him at the end of it will she be allowed to stay on as a knight-in-training. Hurt and frustration are barely the beginning of what Kel feels, but her time with the Yamanis has also trained her to hide her emotions and press on through unrealistic expectations, deep-seated prejudice, bullying, and social rejection until she proves herself.

First Test is such a great reminder of just why I love Tamora Pierce’s books so much. It’s this fabulous mix of fantasy and slice-of-life, encompassing bits of school story (the majority of the tale), culture and history, exciting battles, amusing relationships with various animals, and growing friendships among many other things. Plus it’s an excellent look into changing perspectives on what women are capable of and that whole dynamic. Kel is a powerhouse, incredible character–the perfect individual for this particular story. Her story is so similar to and yet so different from Alanna’s in the Song of the Lioness Quartet that it’s quite interesting to compare the two. And knowing that Kel has Alanna’s secret backing is fabulous. But seriously, I love Kel’s stubbornness and determination, the way she works so hard to get where she wants to be. And the way that she’s quiet and feminine–which is partly stubbornness in the face of opposition itself–but is also ready to get into fistfights when necessary also contributes to a richness of character. Plus her friendships with all the various animals and her  intentionality in standing up for those who are weaker and afraid. She’s just a very well-realized and fascinating character, and I love that about her. I also really love her opinionated and chatty mentor Neal as well–also a richly developed and complex character who is quite likeable. It’s been entirely too long since I’ve read these books, and I’m greatly anticipating re-reading the rest of this quartet. I would highly recommend both First Test and the rest of the quartet to . . . well, basically anybody who likes a solid fantasy. As far as appropriate age recommendations, this quartet (like the Song of the Lioness books) is difficult to place, but I would say that First Test at least is appropriate for middle-grade and up (possibly even older elementary). Just be warned that the later books in the quartet grow up as Kel grows up, so there may be some more mature content there.

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The Angel’s Kiss: A Melody Malone Mystery

Author: Justin Richardsthe angel's kiss

My rating: 3.5 of 5

*SPOILER ALERT*: This book ties in to the seventh series of Doctor Who, and there may be spoilers for those who haven’t seen this series yet. And really, a huge part of the appeal of this story will be exclusively for those who have seen the series.

Melody Malone–sole detective and owner of the Angel Detective Agency. You could say that she specializes in a certain sort of case. Not that she isn’t intrigued when Rock Railton, one of the most attractive actors around, comes by–flirting atrociously and claiming someone’s out to kill him. But Melody isn’t hooked, not until she hears the phrase “kiss of the angel”. But when she comes around to a party–at Rock’s invitation–she encounters an ancient hobo who begs her assistance and a Rock Railton who doesn’t even recognize her. Something very strange is going on. . . .

Fans of Doctor Who will likely recognize The Angel’s Kiss as a book that showed up in the show–a book written by River Song under the pen name of Melody Malone, which ended up playing a large part in the plot of an episode or two. (As a complete aside, there’s got to be a word for that, right? Books that show up in other stories but that previously didn’t exist in the outside world? Like the Simon Snow books, and Carry On in specific, since it became an actual physical book afterward in a slightly different form. It’s been bugging me, so if you know, please comment.) In any case, the text of this actual e-book isn’t the same as what you hear in the TV show. But there’s a definite River Song tone to the whole story which totally makes it. The entire book is written in first person, and you can hear her bad-girl vibe coming through strongly throughout. That and the humor, sass, and attitude with which the story is told are what bring this mystery from dime novel to dazzling, really. (And it is very funny. I caught myself laughing aloud in public several times. Oops.) The Doctor Who references are also a definite plus. As you can imagine, the story involves the Weeping Angels as a major plot device . . . so it was weird to me that their mechanics were different from what I’ve seen previously for them. But then, they’re an intelligent alien species, so I guess they can pick different ways to do things. It does work with the plot–although let’s face it, the plot is always secondary to Melody’s brilliance. Which is just the way I like it; River is a favorite of mine. I’d recommend The Angel’s Kiss for Doctor Who fans . . . I think it would probably fall a bit flat without the context, even though it doesn’t really play directly into the plot. More like, it plays way too much into the humor, so you’d miss all the parts that make it really good. But yeah, for fans, very much a recommended read.

Note: As far as I know, this is only available in e-book format (but if you find a hard copy, let me know).

 

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Emily the Strange: Stranger & Stranger

Authors: Rob Reger & Jessica GrunerStranger and Stranger

Illustrators: Rob Reger & Buzz Parker

Emily the Strange, vol. 2

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Emily and her feline companions are not thrilled to be moving yet again. Never mind that they’re a large part (okay, the whole part) of why the family has to move so frequently, what with Emily’s pranks, midnight prowls, unusual golem, and general, well, strangeness. Life in their new town of Silifordville doesn’t seem like it will be all bad though, and Emily quickly settles in to work on her most recent scientific experiment, a Duplicator. Things get very interesting when she gets a bit too reckless with said experiment and . . . duplicates herself. The possibilities are endless! But is this other Emily a new BFF and co-prankster/scientist/crazy cat-lover, or will she turn out to be a dangerous evil twin possessing a genius equal to the original?

I really, really enjoy the Emily the Strange series. They are not your average “always do the right thing, empathize with others, etc.” sort of story, for sure. What they are is quirky, funny, smart, dark, and full of self-confident girl power. Not right for everyone, I’m sure, but loads of fun in my opinion. The entire story is told in journal entries, and Emily’s unusual (extremely brainy and non-at-all socially inclined) personality shines through brilliantly throughout. This was sort of weird, but effective, in Stranger & Stranger because of some of the weirdness that occurred with the Duplicator. If you pay attention, you can definitely see differences in Emily’s personality throughout . . . very interesting indeed. I also love all the mad/brilliant science, art, rock, and feline love that permeates the story throughout. And don’t get me started on how cool all the actual art in the book is: sketches (many in red) of the most bizarre nature, diagrams, mock-photographs, etc. Plus, this particular volume has a fun band-names motif going throughout. I guess what I’m trying to say is that for those who enjoy a fun, darkly humorous, and definitely strange story with excellent art and a strong female lead (at only 13, no less!), Stranger & Stranger is definitely for you–so check it out!

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The Book of Three

Author: Lloyd Alexander

The Prydain Chronicles, vol. 1

Taran dreams of a life of heroism, convinced his real life in tiny Caer Dallben is anything but. While daring swordfights spark his imagination, he finds himself Assistant Pigkeeper to an oracular pig who, while quite nice in her own way, has never done anything exciting. Or at least, not until one fateful day when all the creatures in Caer Dallben started acting terrified and ran away . . . a day when the Horned King rode. Chasing after the pig, Hen Wen, into the forest, Taran soon finds himself dragged into an adventure as big as he could have ever hoped . . . only, heroics in truth seem a lot more like hard work, sacrifice, exhaustion, hunger, and conviction than like anything he ever expected. On the course of his journey, Taran meets numerous people who show him what true valor looks like: Prince Gwydion, the lovely Eilonwy, the creature Gurgi, travelling bard (and notorious liar) Fflewddur Fflam, to name a few. In the end, Taran’s whole view of life will change . . . and you never know, he might develop a touch of heroism himself.

I love Lloyd Alexander’s writing, and his Prydain books in particular. There’s just something about his matter-of-fact, pragmatic, yet somehow satirical voice that’s both captivating and extremely funny. His plot is exciting, but I must say, it’s the people that stand out, and the things they learn (which are almost always things we need to learn ourselves as well). Gwydion is a true hero–by which I mean he’s a servant who puts others before himself. Gurgi, with all of his crunchings and munchings is quite the enigma, someone you could easily feel sorry for but who’s actually braver and more loyal than most anyone when it comes down to it. And the princess Eilonwy . . . Alexander’s female leads are always impressive and a treat to read, and Eilonwy’s no exception. I admire her strength of character, and I think her metaphorical way of speaking adds both humor and depth to the story. Poor Fflewddur . . . you’d think he’s mostly there for comic effect, but then there are moments when he truly surprises you. It’s a delight to see the characters growing throughout their journey. I LOVE The Book of Three and would highly recommend it to anyone upper elementary to adult.

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Created by Joss Whedon

When Buffy Summers moved to the small town of Sunnydale, all she wanted was to leave slaying and destiny and vampires behind–lead a normal high-school life, you know? That might have worked better if the town she moved to weren’t built directly over a Hellmouth, a center of supernatural and paranormal activity of all sorts. As it is, before her first day of class is even over, she’s encountered the tell-tale work of vampires and met her Watcher, Rupert Giles (read “stuffed-shirt British librarian sent to tell her what to do” is what I’d like to say, but Giles is actually a pretty cool guy with some interesting surprises up his sleeve). It seems there is no running from destiny, and Buffy’s got plenty of destiny to deal with as The Slayer, the one and only girl in the world with the super-powers to fight the forces of darkness . . . whether she likes it or not. Destiny may put a crimp in her social life, but Buffy actually develops quite a delightful group of friends who join in her fight against evil–which is totally against all Slayer rules, I might add. Not that Buffy’s much for rules; she tends to meet the forces of darkness and the forces of red tape with much the same snarky attitude . . . and she usually wins.

I had honestly avoided watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer for years on the grounds that I generally hate American TV shows on principle. It was only when I realized that 1) the series has a huge cult following among the geekier types and 2) it’s created by the same guy who wrote Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog that I decided Buffy might be worth checking out–and I am so glad that I did. I really love the series. It’s a very multi-layered story. On the surface you have the story of a young girl going to school, making friends, fighting monsters–fun urban fantasy, maybe a little silly (and a little too much sex) but enjoyable nevertheless. But then underneath that you’ve got a very real, thoughtful, and sometimes vulnerable development of all sorts of real-life problems and complexities and questions–things we all struggle with, handled in a thought-provoking way. It’s neat the way the layers mingle and make each other richer. The characters are all incredible–highly developed and growing a lot over the course of the series–and the actors do an incredible job bringing the characters to life. I find the plot pacing interesting. It runs sort of like the Harry Potter books: one season per year in the characters’ lives, each season dealing with episodic issues but also culminating toward some big showdown with a “Big Bad” at the end (they actually make a joke about this in the seventh season). It’s kind of cliché, but it works. (Regarding age-appropriateness, I would generally say that it’s suited for people the age Buffy is in that season and up, so the first year is 15+, second season is 16+, etc.) Music is also a big part of Buffy, and I really enjoy the wide variety of music that is brought into the show. Plus the choreography that goes into the fights is really impressive–both intense and oddly beautiful. This is definitely a girl-power sort of show, I might add–although the guy characters are amazing too.  There’s a lot more I could say, nearly all positive as I truly enjoyed this show, but for now I’ll just say that if you enjoy funny yet thoughtful character-focused urban fantasy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is definitely a good option to check out–just be warned, it’s addictive!

Note: This TV series comprises 7 of 22 episodes each (except for the first season, which is 12 episodes). The plotline is continued in a canonical graphic novel series which I intend to review separately.

Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Anthony Stewart Head, Alyson Hannigan, Nicholas Brendon, Charisma Carpenter, David Boreanaz, Kristine Sutherland, Michelle Trachtenberg, Seth Green, Robia LaMorte, Emma Caulfield, Eliza Dushku, Juliet Landau, James Marsters, Amber Benson, Marc Blucas, Tom Lenk, Alexis Denisof, and a bunch of other cool people

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