The Martian

Goodness. Where have I been? And how in the world am I finally finding time to write in the midst of the holiday season? I don’t know. I do know I’ve missed this outlet for myself. Is it too early to be talking about New Year’s Resolutions? Well here’s mine: to start writing more. And not just here- it’s time to really work on getting the stories in my head down on paper.

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Anyways. I remember when The Martian first showed up in the library. I didn’t check it out immediately, despite how interesting it sounded, because we have a strong policy at work that staff are not ever, ever, EVER to be the first to check out new books. So I put it aside and watched despondently as the waiting list grew and grew and grew. And when the list finally started to go down, news about the movie came out. The list, naturally, then climbed up even higher than it had been. Being myself, I wanted to read the book before seeing the movie and I really wanted to see the movie. So I’m a bit ashamed to admit this, but I bought the book rather than wait for it to come to me at the library. It turned out alright though because I ended up loving it.

Mars has always had a special place in my heart. As a child, I had the most beautiful golden blonde hair and bright blue eyes (both of which, to my everlasting regret, darkened the older I got). Those aren’t unusual physical characteristics, to be sure, but when both parents and my only sister had brown hair and brown eyes, I felt out of place. And so, in my mind, I created a story where I was adopted from Mars. This solved the problem of my strange coloring for me. I loved Mars. I don’t know why; I have a feeling it’s because Mars was red (my favorite color) and that it was named after the god of war (I’ve always had a disturbingly martial side to my personality that is fortunately rarely acted on). Once I got older, that love grew with the discovery of Ray Bradbury and his sublimely beautiful stories of Martians with dark skin and golden eyes who lived in glass palaces and swam in clear blue canals.

I suppose it was a given that I would love this book then, since it combined my love of Mars with a fascinating survival tale. It was much funnier than I was expecting with science and math that mostly went far above my understanding, yet still incredibly heart-warming. And the movie was an admirable adaptation. I had some issues with changes to characters and events but it’s one thing to read about a man alone on Mars and it’s another thing to see a man, alone, on Mars. And getting to see the visual adaptation was a nice complement to the book. So yeah, you’ve probably seen or read The Martian already. But if you haven’t, I recommend it.

The Invasion of the Tearling

InvasionTearlingCoverWritten by Erika Johansen; Published 2015.

The second book in the Tearling trilogy by Johansen, I liked this one more and less than the first book, The Queen of the Tearling. It started out poorly, which I think turned me off it but I continued reading and was well rewarded.

****SPOILERS TO FOLLOW****

I had two main issues with this book. First, the book starts off with a closer look at the Church and the role of Tyler in it. Tyler is a good character- he’s a solid believer and a valuable ally and adviser for Queen Kelsea. But the Church as a whole, in which Tyler is a very small, insignificant part, is bloated, corrupt, and hypocritical. And as a Christian, I get tired of reading about how awful the Church is, especially from people (like Johansen) that I would bet have nothing to do with a church at all. The second thing that really bothered me was the change in Kelsea’s appearance. For an author who wrote an article titled “Why We Need ‘Ugly’ Heroines“, I was disappointed to read that Kelsea was slowly turning beautiful. And while it’s implied that this is the combined effect of Kelsea’s desire to be beautiful and the power of her sapphires, part of Kelsea’s appeal in the first book was that she was just a normal girl with normal looks. This is only the second book so hopefully she will return to her normal self by the end of the trilogy.

Other than those few things though, this book was really good. And strangely, for a book where not much happens, we get so much information about the story it’s hard to keep track of everything. The book starts with the Mort army at the borders of Tear territory. Some 400 pages later, they reach the Tear capital, which takes about a week (if I remember correctly). But we find out so much about the history of the Mort Queen and also about the history of the Tear people. And best of all, we finally find out about the mysterious “Crossing” through flashbacks. I really love that Johansen makes you work for information. There’s no simple paragraph or chapter telling us exactly what happened when; instead we find out about the Tear history as Kelsea does. The book is over 500 pages but it moves fast and it of course ends with a cliffhanger. Hopefully the third book will be coming soon because this trilogy has been very good so far and if the final book is as good as the first two, this series could easily become one of my favorites.

The Magician’s Land

magicianslandcoverWritten by Lev Grossman; published 2014.

The Magician’s Land is the final book in a trilogy written by Lev Grossman. I read and reviewed the first two books a few years ago (The Magicians and The Magician King) and loved them both. I was thrilled to finish up the trilogy and was even more thrilled by how well it finished.

The Magicians trilogy unashamedly rips off two of the big fantasy stories, Harry Potter and Narnia. We first meet Quentin Coldwater as a brilliant and cynical teenager who is invited to attend Brakebills, a college in upstate New York that teaches magic to the best of the best of American students. The second half of The Magicians takes place in Fillory (a Narnia-like fantasy land), as Quentin and his friends discover Fillory, save it and become its rulers. The Magician King takes place primarily in Fillory where Quentin and his old friend Julia are needed to save Fillory from the loss of magic. The end of the book finds Quentin banished from Fillory and sent back to Earth. It’s a bittersweet ending and a bit of a cliffhanger- Quentin has been obsessed with Fillory since he was a child. What is he to do now that he no longer has it?

So The Magician’s Land begins about 6 months after the end of The Magician King. Quentin is back on Earth and, after a short stint as a Brakebills professor, agrees to help steal a briefcase with ties to Fillory and the Chatwin children that first discovered the magical land. It’s a excellent book, and probably the best of the trilogy, that wraps up the story lines of all the major characters. I know that many readers found Quentin and his friends to be obnoxious, selfish, and self-absorbed, but that was actually one of my favorite things about this series. It gets a little boring when fantasy heroes tend to be either lone wolf types with a heart of gold or else they are nobodies that actually turn out to be super special and the only ones that can save the world. But here we’ve got characters that are just as messed up and fallible as, well, normal, real life people. This was the first book I’ve read in a long time that I wanted to keep reading until I finished it.

I would love to hear what other people thought of this book or the entire trilogy!

The Feminist Mad Max

I remember when I first learned there was going to be a new Mad Max movie. I was ecstatic. It was a teaser on a DVD and it was quite some time ago (I want to say a year, maybe even a year and a half?). It was a teaser in the true sense of the word: short, disconnected images flashing across the screen with little speech. It was hard to tell the plot then but with a movie like this the plot isn’t that important. Basically all I knew was that it had Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy as Max.

And now I’ve seen it. And yes, it IS as good as everyone’s saying. The action starts almost immediately and by action I mean the car chase. Because essentially the Mad Max movies are drawn out car chases- a simultaneous warning against and glorification of car culture taken to the extremes. By now, most everyone has probably seen this movie if they are going to so I don’t see a need to go through what it’s about. But if you’ve read anything about Fury Road, you know that this is a “feminist” movie. As far as I can make out, it’s considered a feminist movie because it has a main female character, Imperator Furiosa, who is not there to be a love interest, a damsel in distress, or a well shaped body for men to ogle at. She is a remarkable woman and leader who is better than the men at quite a few things- and the men even acknowledge this. She is, in fact, portrayed like a human being. I think we can all agree that Hollywood has problems with creating female characters and Mad Max: Fury Road is a step in the right direction.

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That being said, I have a problem with the idea that this is what feminism means now. Because Furiosa is being hailed as a hero because of how traditionally masculine her actions are. She fights, she shoots guns, she blows stuff up, she kills people. The only thing that really differentiates her from the other (male) characters is that she has a more delicate bone structure. And you can make the argument that there is no place for traditional femininity in a Mad Max movie (and I’ll probably agree with you on a lot of points), I’m tired of being told that the women I should admire are the ones that act like men. While part of me loves Imperator Furiosa, with her toughness and fight skills, just as large a part of me wants to see elegant ladies in beautiful dresses having tea parties, which is probably why I loved the recent Cinderella movie so much. So yes, let’s admire Furiosa and Fury Road for creating women that act like human beings but let’s also stop acting like the only admirable women are the ones that act like men.

Here’s a movie review of Fury Road that better expresses what I’m trying to say about Mad Max “Feminism”.

Dragon’s Loyalty Award!

I’m not sure what this is really; WordPress seems to have all these delightful little awards that have no purpose beyond fun and perhaps a writing prompt. And considering that I haven’t written anything here since the end of March (*cringe*), perhaps this will help me get back in the swing of posting somewhat regularly (in my defense, I’ve shifted work locations several times over the past few months to help out with serious short staffing issues in the library system I work at- things should be back to normal in a few weeks!).

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Anyways! Here are the rules:

  1. Display Award on your Blog.  (Done)
  2. Announce your win with a post and thank the Blogger who awarded you.  (This is that post, thanks to follow shortly.)
  3. Present 15 deserving Bloggers with Award. (Everyone I would have sent this too has already been awarded this so…I’m just going to skip to #5.)
  4. Link your awardees in the post and let them know of their being awarded.
  5. Write seven interesting things about you. (See below!)

Many thanks to Jubilare for the nomination. Her blog is always excellent and her thoughtful comments on my posts generally make me wish I could just delete what I wrote and paste what she said instead. Be sure to check out the post she wrote (transcribed?) when she accepted her nomination- it’s far cleverer than what I will be posting.

Without further ado, here are 7 interesting things about me:

  1. Water makes me happy. I don’t know why but if I get into a lake/ocean/pool, I will stay there until I have to get out. There is something so blissful about floating or swimming for me. And if I can’t get a large body of water, even charming trickling rills will lift my mood by a thousandfold.
  2. The first thing I wanted to be when I grew up was a farmer. Decades later, I realize that what I really want to be when I grow up is… a farmer. Don’t get me wrong- I’m a public librarian and, mostly, I love what I do. But there is something so appealing to me about the self sufficiency that farming could provide. I do realize that I have a tendency to idealize that lifestyle so I read as much as I can about it and grow what I can in my townhome.
  3. I’ve had pet cats my entire life but I’ve never wanted anything more than I want a dog. I love cats- they are affectionate and independent and absolutely crazy. But a dog! It would be a completely different experience than cats and one I hope to experience soon. Ideally, I would have an Irish Wolfhound. Their large size, strange appearance, and gentle demeanor makes them irresistible to me.
  4. I almost went to school for costume design. Two years into college, I realized I was deeply unhappy with the school I was at (the school was fine, but just wasn’t right for me). I had grown up sewing and had recently taken a costume design course that I loved. I actually chose the school I transferred to based on the fact that they offered a costume design major. Sometimes I regret that I ended up with a history major instead. (Only sometimes.)
  5. I have never been to Ikea. I’m not sure if this is a big deal. There is an Ikea in my city. I’ve never felt a strong desire to go there but when I tell friends I have never been, they seem shocked. Is it a big deal? It seems exhausting and expensive and potentially very bland. Am I wrong? Is there some specialness about Ikea and its wares that I will only discover once I visit?
  6. I love wearing skirts. In fact, I almost never wear pants, at least not outside my house. I own 2 pairs of jeans but usually an hour or 2 into wearing them I am regretting the decision. There’s something very feminine and comfortable and elegant about wearing skirts for me.
  7. I want to go to New Zealand more than anywhere else in the world. And if I could have a farm in New Zealand…heaven on earth.

Cinderella Review

I went to see the new Cinderella movie with a friend last week and absolutely loved it. It was sweet and innocent and just all around lovely. My only issue? Not enough Helena Bonham-Carter (she’s been a long time favorite of mine). But the real stand out here was the set and costume design, both of which were absolutely magnificent. It was a glorious riot of Rococo, Victoriana, and 1940’s influences that, at times, had me paying more attention to what people were wearing and where they were standing than what they were actually talking about. So rather than talking about the movie, I’ll just show you.

The young Cinderella and her mother.

The young Ella and her mother.

Cinderella's daily wear- nicer than most of my good clothes.

Cinderella’s daily wear- nicer than most of my good clothes.

Cate Blanchett as the stepmother and the two stepsisters. I liked that the stepsisters weren't physically ugly, they just had pretty ugly personalities.

Cate Blanchett as the stepmother and the two stepsisters. I liked that the stepsisters weren’t physically ugly, they just had pretty ugly personalities.

I loved the rather lurid pinks and yellows that the stepsisters were dressed in. They always matched exactly and they always wore their color. And the dresses were beautiful, just maybe not in a color I would ever wear.

I loved the rather lurid pinks and yellows that the stepsisters were dressed in. They always matched exactly and they always wore their color. And the dresses were beautiful, just maybe not in a color I would ever wear.

Prince Kit, also known as King in the North. I like him better scruffy but he makes a good, clean cut Disney Prince. Most of his costumes were military style, but they were still ornate with beautiful details like the design seen on this hunting coat.

Prince Kit, also known as King in the North. I like him better scruffy but he makes a good, clean cut Disney Prince. Most of his costumes were military style, but they still had ornate and beautiful details like the design seen on this hunting coat.

Helena Bonham-Carter looking absolutely luminous as the fairy godmother. At times I found her even prettier than Cinderella (but that could just be my own personal bias...).

Helena Bonham-Carter looking absolutely luminous as the fairy godmother. At times I found her even prettier than Cinderella (but that could just be my own personal bias…).

The step family at the ball. There was always so. much. going on with the sisters' gowns.

The step family at the ball. There was always so. much. going on with the sisters’ gowns.

Cinderella's marvel of a ball gown. I wanted to touch it so badly. All those petticoats! The shimmeriness! The tulle! The twirliness! I can't get enough of it!

Cinderella’s marvel of a ball gown. I wanted to touch it so badly. All those petticoats! The shimmeriness! The tulle! The twirliness! I can’t get enough of it!

I'm not normally a huge fan of wedding dresses but this one was pretty nice. Surprisingly subdued, but look at the embroidery on it! Lovely.

I’m not normally a huge fan of wedding dresses but this one was pretty nice. Surprisingly subdued, but look at the embroidery on it! Lovely.

Has anyone else seen this version yet? What did you think of it?

The Turnip Princess

Almost exactly three years, I wrote about the discovery of a collection of previously unknown fairy tales by Franz Xaver von Schonwerth. At the time, a small collection had been published in German but there was no word on when an English translation would become available. But I just found out a paperback collection of 72 of the tales was published this past February and it is now available to purchase! That is very exciting news. I hope to purchase a copy for myself soon and look forward to adding new fairy tales to my repertoire. The book is of course available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and probably anywhere else that sells new books.

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Here is a review from NPR: It’s All Charm and Wolves in “The Turnip Princess”

Here’s a review from the Washington Post: A newly discovered trove of unknown fairy tales: “The Turnip Princess”

And here’s a story from the collection called “Tricking the Witch” that was originally published on the Slate Book Review.

An evil witch kidnapped three princesses and would not set them free. While they were in captivity, the girls learned a few magic tricks from the witch.

One day a young prince lost his way in the woods, and the two-faced witch welcomed him warmly, but she was actually plotting to kill him that night.

Although the princesses were not allowed to speak, the youngest of the three, Reinhilda, alerted the prince to the perils facing him. She had taken a liking to him, and she whispered in his ear: “When the old woman takes you to your room, don’t step on the threshold but jump over it! When she gives you something to drink for the night, don’t touch it because it will be a sleeping potion. Don’t sleep in the bed but under it. Leave everything else to me!”

After dinner the witch took the stranger up the stairs to his bedroom, and the youngest of the three sisters lit the way with her candle. The young man jumped over the threshold, and when the witch handed him something to drink, the candle went out, as if by accident. The prince poured the brew into his boot and settled down to sleep under the bed. Later that night the princess woke the prince up and fled with him using the magic she had learned while in captivity.

The two were able to soar through the air, but just as the day was dawning, Reinhilda realized that they were being followed. And indeed the witch, as soon as she had woken up, had known exactly what had happened with the prince and the youngest of the three princesses. She had sent one of the two other princesses out to catch her and bring her back.

It looked as if the two were about to be caught, when the princess said: “I’m going to change into a rosebush, and I’ll turn you into a rose. My sister is chasing us, and she won’t be able to do a thing because she can’t stand the smell of roses.” Just when the girl was closing in on them, a fragrant rosebush sprang up right in her path with a magnificent rose in bloom. The girl had been tricked, and she had to turn back. The witch scolded her to no end. “You stupid girl,” she grumbled angrily. “If you had just plucked the rose, the bush would have followed.” And then she sent the eldest of the three to find the two fugitives.

In the meantime the couple returned to their human shapes, and they continued on their way. Reinhilda turned around at one point, and she saw that they were still being pursued. She decided to take advantage of her magic powers again, and she said to the prince: “I’m going to turn myself into a church, and you are going to climb up into the pulpit and hold a stern sermon about witches and their sinister magic.”

When the third sister caught up with the pair and was just about to overtake them, she suddenly found herself near a church, and right there in the pulpit was a preacher raging against witches and their black magic. The sister returned, and when the old woman asked her what she had seen, she said: “I could see her from a distance, but when I reached the spot where she had been, there was nothing but a church there with a preacher denouncing witches.”

“Oh, you foolish thing!” the old woman said. “If only you had just shoved the preacher out of the pulpit, the church would have come back with you. Now I have to go after them. Well, they don’t stand a chance against me.”

The princess resumed her natural form, but now the old woman was chasing the two of them, and she was hot on their trail. “My magic is not as powerful as a witch’s,” Reinhilda said to her beloved. “Give me your sword. I’m going to turn myself into a pond and you will become a duck. Just stay in the middle of the pond, no matter how much the old woman tries to lure you to come on shore. Otherwise we will be lost.”

The old woman did what she could to bring the duck on land, using terms of endearment and throwing tasty morsels on the water, all in vain. The duck stayed in the middle of the pond and would not paddle any closer. Then the old woman climbed to the top of a dam in the pond and drank every drop of water in sight. The princess was now in the belly of the witch. She turned back into a human and cut the witch open from inside with the sword the prince had given to her. The witch was now as dead as a doornail.

The loving couple were reunited and in safety. The princess gave her hand to the prince at the altar, and the two lived happily together with the sisters, who had been freed from the spell.