Tag Archives: Wales

Framed

Author: Frank Cottrell Boyce

My rating: 4.5 of 5

In a small Welsh town where it rains nearly daily and nothing every really happens, Dylan finds himself the last boy anywhere near his age. So even a soccer game is out. Left keeping the petrol log for his family’s gas station/mechanic shop and avoiding the unwelcome attentions of “Terrible” Evans, it seems like nothing will ever change . . . until one day when a whole cavalcade of vans rumbles past their station, up the mountain, to the abandoned slate quarry. Suddenly, the town is abuzz with gossip. Perhaps even moreso when it becomes known that the contents of the National Gallery have been temporarily relocated to the quarry due to flooding. And somehow, the presence and exposure to the art there begins to change Dylan and his town . . . but will the changes all be for the good, or will Dylan and his siblings be inspired to more sinister designs?

As always, Frank Cottrell Boyce delivers a home run of a story in Framed. The writing, the characters, the themes–it’s all brilliantly executed and very readable. I love the way he chooses a few motifs and uses them repeatedly to tie the story together and draw out deeper ideas in a way that’s relatable. Surprisingly, this is perhaps the most credible and realistic of his stories that I’ve read to date; most of them tend to be rather tall-tale like (or even just be absurd science fiction), but this story is something that–while improbably–could possibly actually happen. Which is actually pretty great, because this is a story of inspiration and positive change in the midst of darkness and stagnation. I love the art aspect of this story as well; in a lot of ways that aspect reminds me of E. L. Konigsburg’s books (she’s another favorite of mine!). All in all, Framed is a great middle-grade story which reaches way beyond its intended grade range–recommended for basically anyone!

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Torchwood: The Lost Files

BBC Radio 4torchwood the lost files

My rating: 4 of 5

Spinoff of Torchwood

Following the dramatic conclusion of season 2 of Torchwood, Capt. Jack Harkness, Gwen Cooper, and Ianto Jones are still on the case protecting Earth from alien threats. Whether it’s close to home or at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, Torchwood is ready to do whatever it takes–hey, most of the time they enjoy the challenge and the adventure. They’re that sort of people.

So, The Lost Files is a BBC Radio 4 audio drama set shortly after the conclusion of season 2 (mostly) of the TV series. It stars the original cast members, which is a big plus for me (I love John Barrowman and Eve Myles’ work on this show). The audio drama consists of three separate episodes of around 40-45 minutes each. Is it strange that I actually like this better than I liked the original TV series? I think the plots are fairly similar to what you’d see in the show, but the ideas are adapted to work well in a full-cast audio drama sort of setting. The actors adapt well to being off screen, too. One of the things I liked was that, while still consistent with the original TorchwoodThe Lost Files isn’t quite as sexually oriented, or even maybe quite as cynical, although it still maintains a much darker tone than, say, Doctor Who. Speaking of, there are a number of fun Doctor Who references thrown into the stories, which is always fun. And the third episode of The Lost Files, I must say, is kind of cathartic after watching Children of Earth; that was unexpected and nice. I guess mostly I would only recommend this drama to those who have already watched and seen at least the first two episodes of Torchwood, although there aren’t a ton of spoilers, so it might be OK as long as you’re familiar with the basic setting and plot. Either way, it was interesting; I wish they’d done more than three episodes.

Directed by Kate McAll/Written by Rupert Laight, Ryan Scott, & James Goss/Starring John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Gareth David-Lloyd, & Kai Owen/Based on Torchwood by Russell T. Davies

 

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Torchwood

BBCTorchwood

Created by Russell T. Davies/Starring John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Burn Gorman, Naoko Mori, Gareth David-Lloyd, Kai Owen, Mekhi Phifer, Alexa Havins, & Bill Pullman/Music by Ben Foster & Murray Gold

Spin-off of Doctor Who

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience

Police officer Gwen Cooper finds herself intrigued when she stumbles upon a small group of individuals calling themselves “Torchwood”–individuals who seems to be a special ops team above the law and who, when she first encounters them, temporarily raise the dead. Unable to let her fascination with Torchwood go, Gwen manages to get herself entangled and then recruited as their newest member. Under the leadership of Capt. Jack Harkness, she finds herself working with a brilliant but troubled team to do something she’d never imagined doing before: protect the earth from aliens! Gwen encounters impossible things and endures unimaginable challenges . . . but the hardest thing of all may be maintaining a normal relationship with her boyfriend Rhys outside of work, especially when she won’t even tell him what she’s really doing.

As much as I have enjoyed Doctor Who and the role of Capt. Jack Harkness in that story, it seemed natural to try Torchwood, Russell Davies’ spinoff series. And I did enjoy watching it, although not nearly as much as I did the original. I would say that the relationship between the two is something similar to the relationship between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. The first is more innocent, more original, while the spinoff (in both instances) creeps into the realm of the adult police series (think CSI) with a paranormal tendency. Not necessarily a bad thing in either instance; just I’m personally less drawn to police sorts of shows. Also, Torchwood is definitely more adult in content–nudity, sex, language, etc. are definitely present, but it’s more than that. There’s a darkness, an existential depression to the story that can tend to make it, well, depressing. But I must say that, while the series doesn’t offer warm happiness all the time, it does inspire a feisty, determined spirit. And the choice of actors for those sorts of roles works very well, I have to admit. (Bonus points to the series for guest starring James Marsters in a very fitting role on more than one occasion.) I guess in the end, while I wouldn’t necessarily recommend watching Torchwood, I wouldn’t say “don’t watch it” either, as long as you’re over 18 and mentally stable (if you struggle with depression, don’t do it to yourself, really!); it really just depends on the individual whether you would like it or not.

Note: This TV series has 4 seasons. The first two are full seasons with the original cast. The third season, Children of Earth, is more like a long (very depressing) movie that’s been split into parts, and the fourth season, Miracle Day, is similar only longer and with a distinct American influence (which I didn’t really like). I would probably recommend the first two seasons much more than the latter two.

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Howl’s Moving Castle

Author: Diana Wynne JonesHowl's Moving Castle

My rating: 5 of 5

Wizard Howl’s evil ways are so rampant that word of them reaches even to the back room in the hat shop where young Sophie Hatter spends her days making hats (which may or may not be magical). It is said he eats the hearts of young girls!  But when Sophie accidentally falls afoul of the determinedly evil Witch of the Waste–who turns her into an old woman who can’t tell anyone she’s under a curse–Sophie wanders into the hills where Howl’s castle magically roams. And upon encountering this magical castle, Sophie lets herself in and befriends/bullies Howl’s fire demon, Calcifer, much to the chagrin of Howl’s assistant Michael. Surprisingly, wizard Howl doesn’t oust her from the castle the moment he returns home–although he doesn’t exactly give her a warm welcome either–so Sophie sets herself up as a long-term house guest and cleaning lady. It turns out that all those rumors about Howl eating hearts are just that–rumors spread by Michael to keep townsfolk from bothering Howl. Sophie quickly finds out that Howl isn’t actually evil at all . . . just selfish and vain and noncommittal as can be. How vexing!

How could anyone not love Howl’s Moving Castle? It’s one of my absolute favorite books ever. The concepts behind it are fascinating: a castle magically powered to wander the hill country, a door that opens to different places at different times, a curse you can’t talk about. Plus the delightful way Jones weaves all the different threads of the story together so that they fit just right in the end but are an enigma throughout the story. And of course, this tale is full to bursting with strong (temperamental) characters: Sophie with her nosy, opinionated ways–and her tendency to be a bit of a bully. Howl in all his vanity and womanizing and slithering out of situations–transformed from a sick, sad character into a wondrous one by his insight, kindness, and incredible skill. (You know, Howl reminds me remarkably of the Doctor now that I think about it. Odd.) Then there’s Calcifer with his tricksy cleverness–somehow you can’t help but like him. And nearly buried under these incredible characters are any number of other excellently developed individuals that you only really notice on a second or third reading: Sophie’s creative, determined sisters; Howl’s assistant Michael, who is actually a really nice guy with a lot of character when you get around to actually noticing him; and any number of others as well. Seriously, read Howl’s Moving Castle. Then go back and read it again, because as great as it is the first time around, it might just be even better the third and fourth time.

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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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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Author: Ransom Riggs

Ever since he was little, Jacob has been regaled with his grandfather’s stories of being pursued by monsters and finding refuge on a remote Welsh island with a bird and a collection of exceedingly unusual children–he even had seemingly impossible photographs to substantiate his stories. Of course, Jacob realized as he got older that the photos had to be fakes and the stories were figurative–a way of discussing the horror of being a Jewish child pursued by the Nazis and driven to find refuge in a foreign land. Still, when his grandfather dies suspiciously, Jacob finds himself haunted by the old man’s dying words–to the extent that he is driven to journey to his grandfather’s Welsh isle in hopes of discovering the truth.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is an eerie, thrilling, eccentric story . . . something of a Twilight Zone meets Gakuen Alice meets Lovecraft meets Peter Pan, to be honest. It’s part chilling thriller, part whimsical fantasy, part WWII historical fiction, with some achingly sweet romance thrown in–a nice mix, if unusual in the extreme. The characters are well crafted and fit nicely in the plot; I found myself particularly drawn to the invisible Millard with his easygoing yet slightly OCD personality. The inclusion of numerous extraordinary old photographs–or one might say rather , the outpouring of the story from said photos–makes an already intriguing book quite outstanding. My one complaint is that it has a cliffhanger ending–you’ll have to read the following volume(s) to get any kind of satisfactory conclusion. Still, I think I’d generally recommend Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children to anyone who enjoys thrillers and who is okay with a fantasy element in the mix.

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