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Archive for November, 2014

Levine, author of the Newberry Honor book, Ella Enchanted, brings us a middle grade fantasy full of mystery, magic, and a few tart observations of human nature. For those of you who think she’s strictly a light-weight author, think again!

There’s a classic fairy-tale feel as Elodie, a country girl, sets off to seek her fortune. She heads to the big city, Two Castles, where her parents want her to apprentice as a weaver. Elodie has her own ideas. She wants to be a mansioner (an actress). Almost from the start, fate goes against her. Her money is stolen, and the mansioner doesn’t need any more apprentices. However, someone else has their own ideas about Elodie’s future.

That someone is Meenore, the dragon whose lair is set on the outskirts of Two Castles. Levine gives us an unique, inscrutable dragon here, yet with all the fun touches you’d expect from this author. For example, Elodie doesn’t know if her new “masteress” is a male or female dragon. This information is too personal to be bandied about, so all dragons are referred to as IT. Meenore is shrewd, exacting, fastidious, yet also generous. Relatively young and friendless, IT too has ambitions that have been denied. While Meenore spends ITs days in menial chores such as toasting cheese sandwiches and lighting blacksmith’s forges, ITs dream is to use ITs intellect and become a famous detective.

To say more would give away too much, so let me turn to the setting. Two Castles is so named, because there are two castles. One, in town, belongs to the despicable King Grenville and his daughter, Princess Renn. The other is home to an ogre, Jonty Um. Despite his fearsome reputation, Jonty Um is well mannered and his servants are devoted, while the locals barely hide their hatred for “Greedy Grenny.” Here, to me, was one of the most telling contrast, that the “normal” people in Two Castles are wary, thieving, deceptive, while the so-called monster is honorable and kind to all.

The story features a host of other interesting characters and draws on several traditional fairy tales, most notably “Puss in Boots.” Through it all, Elodie grows confident enough to choose her own path of loyalty and danger. In terms of subject matter, this book is solidly for middle grades (grades 4-6), with all violence occurring off-stage and only a hint of romance. However, I think kids up to 15 can enjoy this book with its fresh ideas and sense of humor. A Tale of Two Castles is highly recommended.

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Last weekend my husband and I watched the live-action rendition of Space Battleship Yamato. Don’t recognize the name? Hmm, how about Captain Avatar. Wave motion gun? Well, trust me. It was an important anime series created in Japan during the late 1970s under the award-winning director, Leiji Matsumoto. This was translated in America as Star Blazers during the early 1980s. For many fans, it was our first introduction to anime with long story lines and complicated characters.

So how was the movie? It’s been a good 20 years since I watched Space Battleship Yamato, but the basic scenario and characters seemed faithful. The creative team stuck with much of the original design and sound effects, which I enjoyed hearing. Funny how a particular noise can really take you back!

The major update was adding a few female characters, both in speaking roles and as extras. Particularly, the sake-swilling Dr. Sado became a woman in the live action. I know this will bother purists, but gender parity really is not optional in today’s world.

The previous character of Yuki Mora was strengthened considerably. She is now a fighter pilot rather than a nurse, and speaks her mind quite a bit where in the original Yuki mostly stood in the background worrying about her boyfriend, Kodai. There are a few unfortunate lapses near the end, though. Midway through, one of the men, Saito, is possessed by an alien entity and remains fully clothed, though levitating. When Yuki is possessed by an alien, her uniform is blown off and she then goes around in a tank top and sweat pants for quite some time. She also apparently forgets all about being a  soldier and lets Kodai drag her around by the hand instead of grabbing one of the weapons that are lying on the ground. (But, to be fair, Kodai also ignores these weapons in favor of his cute stun ray.)

But what does this have to do with Godzilla, King of the Monsters?

Well, the setup for Yamato is that aliens are bombarding the earth with “meteor bombs” that irradiate the surface, destroying all life and forcing humans to live in squalid underground cities. In real life, during the 1950s, Japan actually had endured radioactive fallout from nuclear testing in the South Pacific. The incident of Number Five Lucky Dragon and its enduring legacy made a deep impression. The opening scenes of Godzilla directly relate to nuclear testing. It appears the same experience again found expression in the setting for Space Battleship Yamato.

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Q: Why did the dragon cross the road?

A: Siri told him to.

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Look what my publisher sent me! Isn’t it amazing?

Cover to the MG fantasy novel, Masters of Air & Fire

Cover to the MG fantasy novel, Masters of Air & Fire

This is the cover to my middle-grade fantasy novel, the one I podcasted three years ago because I was so sure it would never be published. It’s also the reason I started this very blog you’re reading right now.

What’s it about? Well, DRAGONS! (You knew that, I’m sure.) Specifically, three young wyrmlings who are torn from their home and struggle to stay together in a world dominated by alien beings called “humans.” Orlik wants to avoid them. Romik wants to make friends. And Yazka has darker designs.

So far I don’t have a release date from Sky Warrior. Rest assured, I’ll announce prices and such the moment I get them. As with my previous novel there, the initial publication will be e-book only. I hope you’ll all consider it as a gift for your favorite young people this year.

Just For Fun

Q: Why did the dragon cross the road?

A: The airport was on the other side.

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I’m writing on three projects over this weekend, but I want to give a friendly roar to a few new followers: Nicola Alter, Dan Davis, Daniel Casey and Ashlee McNichol. I hope my blog will keep you interested and entertained.

Speaking of that, here’s a dragon joke for you.

Q: Why did the dragon cross the road?
A: Tasty sheep on the other side.

Have a good weekend, everyone!

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“Mysterious Creatures that May or May Not Exist,” reads the subtitle. Well, what kid could resist that??

Tales of the Cryptids is a nonfiction book that attempts to document strange and legendary creatures from all over the world. Full disclosure — the author is a good friend of mine. She has a knack for finding weird and fascinating subjects to explore. Although I’m a skeptic of some topics she’s covered, like Sasquatch and Alien Encounters, she doesn’t cheerlead for uncritical acceptance of pseudo-science. Halls, a former reporter, provides good documentation that balances those fascinating legends with possible real-world explanations. She always encourages the child reader to ask questions. That alone is remarkable and much needed in the modern world.

Part of the book is devoted to sea serpents and lake monsters. My favorites! She covers the Loch Ness Monster, but also mentions the Stronsay Beast, “Champy” of Lake Champlain fame, and similar sightings in the Altamaha River, Georgia (USA). Coverage includes interviews with scientists who are trying to rule out the most obvious possibilities. Halls presents popular theories, such as that the Stronsay Beast may have been a partly decomposed basking shark, or that Nessie is a surviving plesiosaur.

Best of all, for me, is an awesome map showing reputed water monsters all over the globe. Some I’ve heard of and some I haven’t. A great reason to to search out information on these mysterious creatures. If you have a curious youngster between about 8 and 14, I whole-heartedly recommend Tales of the Cryptids.

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Okay, Godzilla is assured of huge, monstrous enemies in every film where he appears. But of them all, one stands out: King Ghidorah.

Ghidorah is another very recognizable daikaiju, a two-tailed, three-headed, winged dragon that breathes lightning. His appearance was inspired by the Hydra of Greek legend, although Hydra breathed poison rather than lightning. He first came to Earth from outer space in the 1964 film Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster. This was the fifth in the Godzilla series. Invaders from Mars attacked Earth, with Ghidorah at the forefront. Godzilla reluctantly teamed up with Japan’s self-defense forces to stop them. Like most daikaiju, Ghidorah was driven off but not truly defeated.

This character represented a huge advance in the animation process known as “suitmation.” Where Godzilla had been simply a person in a suit, with alterations to film speed giving him his characteristic lumbering stride, Ghidora was a person in a suit with the heads, tails, and wings controlled by puppeteers. The breath weapon is animated later.

Since 1964, King Ghidorah has returned in eight of Godzilla’s films. He’s also been announced as part of the cast in Godzilla 2, with a scheduled release in 2018. Whatever the story, Ghidorah is Godzilla’s opposite number. So when Ghidorah is the villain, Godzilla plays a semi-heroic role. In a couple of films, however, Godzilla is the antagonist and then Ghidorah plays the semi-heroic role. Which it will be in 2018, we’ll just have to wait and see.

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