Tag Archives: philosophical

So You Want to Be a Wizard

Author: Diane DuaneSo you want to be a wizard

My rating: 5 of 5

Young Wizards, vol. 1

When Nita finds the book in the children’s section of the library (where she’s hiding from the bullies who find beating her up prime entertainment), she thinks it’s probably a joke. . . . But maybe not. Either way, she takes the book home, captivated by its promise of a life of magic and imagining the power that would give her over the bullies that make her life a misery. Reading the Oath aloud, Nita soon finds that becoming a wizard is no joke, but it’s not the blast of fulfilling power over the petty worries of her life either–rather, it’s so very much more. Nita befriends another young wizard, Kit, and the two embark on an adventure, a quest even, that will alter their perceptions of life, magic, and themselves in ways they can’t begin to imagine.

I knew So You Want to Be a Wizard had the reputation of being a great fantasy novel, but I had no idea it was so enjoyable, or I would have read it much sooner. It’s a children’s story–and is totally appropriate for kids–but has deep-rooted messages and a mature enough writing that older readers can enjoy it as well. I’m tempted to compare this story to Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. It has that way of looking at things, that sense of describing a reality more true than real life–and in doing so, of giving a greater weight and meaning to life. And maybe that’s just my perspective and no one else would get that impression upon reading this book. In any case, this story is a wonderful fantasy featuring the age-old struggle between light and darkness–with the fate of the world resting squarely on the shoulders of two kids, a displaced white hole, and a bedraggled animated Lotus (car). I do have to say, this is the first story in which I’ve ever had real friendly feelings for a white hole or a car, which just shows the quality of the writing. I am looking forward to reading the rest of Duane’s books, and highly recommend So You Want to Be a Wizard to any of you who enjoy a solid fantasy.

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A Girl on the Shore

Mangaka: Inio Asanoa girl on the shore

My rating: 2.5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience/18+

Koume, a middle-school girl aching from being used and abandoned by the popular Misaki. Keisuke, a middle-school boy whose parents are never home and whose brother committed suicide a while back. The two come together again and again, using each other, seeking something more, something satisfying, something bigger. And while it’s uncertain whether they’ll find what they’re looking for in each other, it’s true that their relationship will change both of them in ways they never expected, although whether that’s a good thing or not remains to be seen.

I’ve really enjoyed Inio Asano’s manga in the past, particularly the well-loved Solanin. From the back cover and the reviews I’ve seen, I guess I was expecting A Girl on the Shore to be something similar, although of course I expected it to have some more mature content, being rated 18+. I was quite disappointed to find the majority of the book is exactly that: mature content. There are all the elements of a great story present, and in other circumstances with the proper development I could have easily rated those elements a solid 4.5 of 5. Koume and Keisuke are both interesting, complex characters that tell us something about ourselves. Keisuke has all sorts of stuff going on with his parents and his deceased brother that could have been developed more. Koume not only has permissive parents and an unsatisfactory relationship with Misaki, she also has an interesting female friend in her class and an old childhood crush/friend which were all present but needed more development. The whole idea of feeling incomplete and looking for something bigger in life is something I think we all can relate to, something that could have really been developed. And may I just mention, Asano-san’s art is gorgeous and life-life in an amazing way. So why a 2.5 instead of a 4.5? The reason is that all of these amazing aspects of this manga are only sparsely developed, giving way throughout to huge sections of very explicit sexual content between these two kids. Now I realize that they’re having sex and trying to find something important in that relationship is an important part of the story development, but there are reasonable limits, even for an 18+ manga. And for me, A Girl on the Shore crossed those limits, not only because it had too much explicit sexual content but perhaps even more so because it left important story elements relatively undeveloped to make room for that content. Disappointing in the extreme, although you may find it otherwise. I’m sorry to say that I can’t really recommend this manga although I generally love this mangaka’s work.


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The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil

Author/Illustrator: Stephen CollinsThe Gigantic Beard that was Evil

My rating: 5 of 5

Dave lives on the island of Here in a neat, tidy house on a neat, tidy street. Every day he follows the same, orderly routine. In fact, he detests disorder, as do all the denizens of Here. But one day everything changes for Dave, one day all the disorder that haunts his nightmares seems to burst forth from his nearly bald body to form a beard. An enormous beard that won’t stop growing no matter how it’s trimmed and treated. A beard so disorderly and gigantic that is seems ready to devour the entirety of Here. So of course, the people of Here do what they have to do; they deem the beard “evil”.

I really enjoyed The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil much more than I expected to. It felt like a mix of Shaun Tan, Dr. Seuss, and The Stanley Parable, not that that makes any sense but it’s true nonetheless. There’s exactly that sort of combination of silliness paired with a deep, unsettling underlying tension. Because this story really is a parable about us all, not one that I could spell out the moral to but one that’s valuable to consider nevertheless. It’s a scary but important reflection on human nature. The textured, stylized art and the sporadic, sometimes-rhymed writing work remarkably well with the theme. Actually, the entire graphic novel is just fitted together in every detail in a way that just works. If you’re at all of a philosophical bent, I would definitely recommend The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil.



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The Red Shoes

the red shoes

Author: Hans Christian Andersen/Translator: Anthea Bell

Illustrator: Chihiro Iwasaki

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Ever since she was small, red shoes have been an obsession for Karen, a fascination that society frowns upon as quite improper. And yet, she can’t seem to give up her shiny new red shoes; they make her feel beautiful, make her feel like dancing. But when she chooses beauty and lightheartedness over loyalty and love, Karen finds herself cursed to dance and dance and dance her life away in those beautiful, dangerous red shoes. And the cost to escape this curse may be greater than any she could have imagined.

I know Hans Christian Andersen is something of a “classic” author, and of course I’ve heard his name all my life, but I think the extent of my actual exposure to his writing has been basically one poor retelling of The Little Match Girl and an endless string of poorly illustrated versions of The Ugly Duckling. So reading The Red Shoes was an interesting cultural experience for me, if only to gain greater exposure to this renowned author. The story is certainly classic fairy tale material: morally weighted, dark, macabre even at times. This is one of those things that always seems to get glossed over in the cheesy children’s retellings; most true fairy tales are really dark and dangerous, and plenty of them don’t end happily ever after, whatever we may wish. The Red Shoes actually does get, well, a non-tragic ending at least, although it’s awfully moralizing by the end. The whole story is really quite weighty in that regard, which I suppose is largely a reflection of the age and culture in which Andersen was writing. Still, it’s an interesting tale, and Bell’s translation is wonderful. (I actually seek out books translated by her, regardless of the original author, because I love her translation work!) And even if you don’t read this for the story itself, I would recommend browsing through the book for the pictures alone–Iwasaki’s watercolors are gorgeous in every detail. I can’t say The Red Shoes is a favorite of mine, but it certainly was worth the short time it took to read (for the story, the cultural experience, and especially for the art). Recommendation: pick it up at the library or buy used if possible.


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After Alice

Author: Gregory MaguireAfter Alice

My rating: 5 of 5

Have you ever wondered what happened back in Oxford after Alice disappeared down the rabbit hole? Perhaps her best friend Ada was coming over to visit her and happened to fall into the same (or another nearly identical) hole into Wonderland. Perhaps her older sister Lydia thought she was just being Alice, off on a lark again–or maybe she was just too distracted with the complications of being caught in the gap between girlhood and womanhood to worry about her sister. Perhaps the visit of the notorious Mr. Darwin had the household in too much of a stir to properly look for a wandering child. Perhaps there were more interconnected stories relating to Alice’s adventures than we have ever before imagined. . . .

Gregory Maguire’s treatment of the tale Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in his book After Alice is absolutely brilliant. He takes the classic and focuses on people who were barely mentioned in passing in the original, people who were side characters, and others who were never even pictured at all. And in doing so, he creates a vivid picture, not only of Wonderland, but of 1860’s Oxford as well. The imagery of his phrases is elegant and subtle such that each sentence is a delight to read–this is one of those books that makes me aware afresh how much I love language, words themselves. Moreover, his characters are a delight–conflicted, changing, sometimes morally ambiguous, but always so very human. And the way in which Maguire captures Victorian mores and opinions through his characters is not only enjoyable but educational. I will say that I would recommend this for an adult audience, not really because there’s anything inappropriate (or rather, anything inappropriate is couched in such Victorian propriety that it would go right over a child’s head) but because the story is rather complex and meant to be thought-provoking to adults, so kids might get bored–although there are probably also children who would adore this. (Okay, I would have loved this book if I had read it as a child.) In any case, After Alice comes with high recommendations, especially for those who liked the Carroll or who enjoy retellings or Victorian era literature.


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Zen Socks

Author/Illustrator: Jon J. Muthzen socks

My rating: 5 of 5

Leo and Molly have a most interesting neighbor in their new neighborhood: a giant panda named Stillwater who lives across the street. Stillwater gives their cat Moss rides on his bicycle, is fun to play with, and tells interesting stories. Even better, he always seems to know just what to say when Leo or Molly is struggling with something. They’re definitely glad to have met this unusual new friend!

Ever since I first discovered Jon J. Muth’s delightful picture books, I have regarded finding a new one with great enjoyment, and Zen Socks was no exception. What is most immediately striking about this lovely picture book is just that–the pictures. They are charming watercolors that have strong ties back to the old schools of Asian brush painting, yet they incorporate modern and adorable themes seamlessly. Very cute and beautiful both, with great composition and colors. And once you get done gaping over the gorgeous art, there’s the story itself, which is also adorable. Stillwater is a most unusual neighbor indeed, an exceedingly insightful one. This is the sort of book that teaches important life lessons like perseverance, patience, selflessness, and compassion in a way that is both striking and seemingly effortless. The concepts stick without seeming forced, at times through the use of storytelling within the story. I would recommend Zen Socks very highly to all readers, especially to those in the 4-7 age group, although really the themes are valid for all ages (and this would make a gorgeous coffee table book).

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Doctor Who, Series 4

BBCDoctor Who Series 4

Created by Sydney Newman, C. E. Webber, & Donald Wilson/Revived by Russell T. Davies/Starring David Tennant & Catherine Tate

14 Episodes + 5 Specials

My rating: 5 of 5


Alone yet again, The Doctor travels through time and space, doing what he can to help wherever he goes, although it’s difficult to say whether he follows trouble or trouble follows him. In any case, he rapidly proves that he’s relatively useless on his own. Meanwhile(?), spitfire secretarial temp Donna Noble has gone from regretting not accepting the Doctor’s offer to accompany him to actively seeking him . . . by getting herself involved in any sort of weird or sketchy endeavor she can find. And surprisingly, she actually runs into him as they both are investigating a suspicious diet pill corporation. Even more surprisingly, the two make an incredible pair, feeding off each other’s energy and ideas as they travel together through the ages and the stars. In fact, you might almost say they were fated to be together.

I was honestly prepared to hate the fourth series of Doctor Who. (I mean seriously, when Donna showed up in series 3, I absolutely abhorred her.) And I can’t honestly say whether she toned her harping or whether she just grew on me–she’s still certainly go a strong temperament, it goes with the red hair, maybe. But miraculously, I actually enjoyed the dynamic between Donna and the Doctor in this series. For one thing, it was nice to have a companion that is not a romantic interest–clearly stated so right from the start; they’re almost more like brother and sister or something. It’s nice. And they really do feed off of each other in a magnificent way. If anything, she brings out the Doctor’s impudence more than usual. Plus, there’s just some really good story writing in this series. I enjoyed that the main storyline this time is bigger and more involved than previous series. (It’s actually been hinted at as far back as series 1.) It’s nice to see a lot of old friends drawn back into the story here, too. But do be warned, I think this series–especially as it approaches the end, but really even in the first few episodes–is darker than previous series, touching on concepts like fate and inevitability in a way that could honestly be kind of depressing. You can definitely see the Doctor going through all sorts of emotional turmoil and conflict, especially in the specials following the main storyline. But I think it brings up valid considerations in a meaningful way, so I actually really appreciated the authors’ choice to make this part more serious. And really, the story as a whole is still largely just good fun; it’s not all down and depressing, truly. I would highly recommend the fourth series of Doctor Who, especially to those who have enjoyed the previous series of the story.

Note: I know the story seems wrapped up with the end of episode 14, “Journey’s End,” but there’s actually some extremely significant story in the specials following the technical end of this series. So be sure you watch these prior to starting series 5, or you’ll be really confused.

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