COMIC REVIEW: PRINCESS PRINCESS EVER AFTER- by Katie O’Neill

So, it’s fair to say that I am a little bit old to be the target audience of Princess Princess Ever After, but after spotting it in an article on The Mary Sue  I thought I’d give it a look. I love anything to do with fairytale worlds with strong women women in it, and sometimes you just feel like reading something  colorful and feel good. Honestly, it’s just a cute, fun story that I’d recommend to any kid- and not just because its progressive, but because its got a good sense of humor and adventure, with characters that are surprisingly nuanced for such a short book.

The most obvious thing about Princess Princess Ever After is that yes, it is a  fairy tale with a same sex couple aimed at children. And that’s a big thing. Although things have generally gotten better with LGBT people in media aimed at adults and even a YA audience, even liberals are often uncomfortable with the idea of a same sex couple in a kid’s book or tv series (see Korrasami). This is because while they see opposite sex romance as fully encompassing romance, companionship, and innocent first love, they see same sex as equaling gay sex.

This book shows that this doesn’t have to be the case. The tone is perfect for children: sweet, innocent and with a good sense of fun. The story is far more about two very different young women bonding and going on adventure together (with a prince in tow) than it is about romance- although their relationship is adorable.

The characters are all likable and surprisingly fleshed out for such a short story. Its two main heroines are Princess Amira, the tomboyish knight, and Princess Sadie, the cute girly girl.

Princess Amira is a great character. Strong and brave, who ran away from home to avoid conventional gender roles. In a genre which overwhelmingly glorifies delicate white (usually blond) women, it’s great to see a black Princess who’s not the usual ‘white woman painted brown’, but has a hair that looks like a style that a black woman is more likely to have and comes from an African culture (my guess would be North Africa, judging by the desert). Though an aside… does something about Sadie and Amira remind you of anyone?

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Princess Sadie is the more conventionally feminine one,and my God, is she adorable. She’s sweet and cries a lot, but possesses a kind heart that makes her a good leader. They do have a traditional butch/ femme dynamic, though this is clearly done to show that there’s more than one way to be a girl rather than out of a belief there has to be a ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ in every relationship. This book does try and mix it up a bit and show that feminine does not equal inferior and Princess Sadie is just as useful as Amira. It’s a lot like Ruby and Sapphire from Steven Universe or Haruka and Michuru from Sailor Moon, or Utena and Anthy from RGU. As a woman who’s been in the army and seen that the tomboys really don’t perform better than the femmes, I’d totally love to see a story where the girly girl is a kick ass fighter and rescues her butch girlfriend, but hey, Sadie does get some rescuing in too..

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The villain is one that shows that sometimes it’s the ones closest to you that can hurt you the most. The only downside is that the main villain was defeated in a very quick and convenient way once the emotional confrontation was over. This seems to happen a lot (especially in stories aimed at girls), but the book was never about the final showdown and packs so much in that it doesn’t really matter.

The drawings are also really cute and make it a joy to flick through. They’re full of bright, round designs with lots of cute fairytale creatures like dragons and unicorns.

Verdict: This is a brilliant comic and one I’d recommend to any kid- especially little girls, who can probably find a bit of themselves in both our heroines.

Rating: 5 tomboy and girly girl animated couples out of 5

REVIEW: APOLLO (Olympians 8)- by George O’connor

Mighty Apollo is known by all as the god of the sun, but there’s more to this Olympian than a bright smile and a shining chariot. In the latest volume of Olympians, “New York Times” bestselling author George O’Connor continues to turn his extensive knowledge of the original Greek myths into rip-roaring graphic novel storytelling.

It’s interesting to see how the stories of Greek myth play out when O’Connor depicts them in his modern day graphic novels. In Hera, he managed yet to turn the arch-villain of Greek mythology into a harsh but admirable character; he portrayed the adulterous, vengeful, tyrannical Zeus as a flawed but lovable chess-master; even Aphrodite, the woman ultimately responsible for the Trojan war and the tragedy of Dido, was given new depths. It says a lot that even O’connor wasn’t able to find anything remotely likeable in Apollo, one of the most recognized and exulted Gods of the Greek pantheon. And he didn’t even touch on the Cassandra myth. Continue reading REVIEW: APOLLO (Olympians 8)- by George O’connor

FEBRUARY: BOOK OF THE MONTH

It’s already been a month and I’ve reviewed  a lot of different books. Below are just a few of the novels and short stories I’ve looked at. Most of them have been of such an excellent quality , and filled with so many great characters, that choosing my favorites was difficult. However, there were some stories that absolutely blazed while the others merely glittered, so without further ado, here’s my pick for the best stories of the month.

Continue reading FEBRUARY: BOOK OF THE MONTH

REVIEW: HERA- THE GODDESS AND HER GLORY (OLYMPIANS BOOK 3)- By George O’connor

The story of Hera, Queen of the Gods, and the heroes who won her favor.

Volume 3 of Olympians, Hera: The Goddess and Her Glory, introduces readers to the Queen of the Gods and Goddesses in the Pantheon. This volume tells the tales of the many heroes who sought and won Hera’s patronage, most notably Hercules.

In Olympians, O’Connor draws from primary documents to reconstruct and retell classic Greek myths. But these stories aren’t sedate, scholarly works. They’re action-packed, fast-paced, high-drama adventures with monsters, romance, and not a few huge explosions.

O’Connor’s vibrant, kinetic art brings ancient tales to undeniable life, in a perfect fusion of super-hero aesthetics and ancient Greek mythology.

Before there was the Jeremy Kyle show, there was these two: Zeus and Hera, the world’s original high-drama power couple. Zeus and Hera are well known for destroying everyone around them in their explosive marital fights; in what began as a playful debate over which gender gets more pleasure out of sex, Hera ended up blinding Tiresias for taking Zeus’ side- while Zeus in turn gave him ‘special disability powers’ to see into the future. And then there was Hera’s penchant for driving everyone mad. Continue reading REVIEW: HERA- THE GODDESS AND HER GLORY (OLYMPIANS BOOK 3)- By George O’connor

BOOK REVIEW: ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND- by Lewis Carrol illustrated by Camille Garcia Rose

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through The Looking Glass are every animator and artist’s dream. The worlds and creatures are so surreal, insane, distinct and imaginative that there’s endless possibility in the ways they can be brought to life. Continue reading BOOK REVIEW: ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND- by Lewis Carrol illustrated by Camille Garcia Rose

TOP 11 HARRY POTTER CHARACTERS

Every generation has a fantasy series that really resonates with them. In mum’s case, it was the Chronicles of Narnia. In my case, it’s Harry Potter, which genuinely made me feel nervous each year I got older because it meant that I would be even further behind when my Hogwarts letter finally came (I’m in my 20s and  it’s still coming damnit!)

Harry Potter may not be the best fantasy series ever written; His Dark Materials and the Discworld series have far superior world building. But still, It has a good sense of humour, a quirky imagination, a well-structured and gripping mystery and of course, a warm and likeable cast.

We all know Dumbledore’s awesome, Hermione’s genius is incredible and Snape (especially when played by Alan Rickman) is badass, tragic and looks cool in a cape. But they’re not the only great characters. In fact, it’s not just the leads, but the dozens of fun supporting characters that make Harry Potter what it is.

In this list, I’m going to leave out the leads (Harry, Hermione, Ron, Dumbledore, Hagrid and Snape) and look at my top 11 supporting characters.

11) Angelina Johnson

Angelina Johnson

Angelina Johnson may only be a back ground character, but her presence was a breathe of fresh air in this series. I’m not going to rant about the problems I have with the way women were written in this series, but I will say that until Luna came along and Ginny became a tough character, most of the female students were portrayed as silly, less able to keep their head in a tough situation and/ or over emotional.

Johnson however felt like a well needed exception. Sporty, fun, brave and a great Quidditch player, she was one of the ‘cool kids’ and put herself forward to be the Quidditch captain and a contender for the Tri Wizard tournament. She was bold and active, the kind of girl I wanted to imagine myself as being when I was reading the books.

10) Professor Lupin

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The calming element of James’ friendship circle and a man whose lessons were always brilliant, Remus Lupin is the teacher we all wish we had. Plus, even though his curse literally turns him into a savage, he’s kind, mild mannered and one of the least aggressive and domineering werewolves in fantasy fiction.

9) Horace Slughorn

Horace Slughorn

Horace Slughorn was a much needed addition to the world of Harry Potter. The concept of Slytherin was that it was meant to be the ‘ambition house’ (or the ‘pure blood’ house), but it never seemed to be the case; the majority of the house didn’t really show that much drive, and they  were so cartoonishly nasty that it seemed like the only requirement was being a massive dick.

Slughorn helped to fix some of that. He wasn’t evil and unpleasant, he was ambitious and affable. He also went to great lengths to escape Voldemort, showing that you can be ambitious and opportunistic without being genocidal, something that helped give the morality of the Harry Potter world a more adult and well rounded feel.

8) Dobby!

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I had a room-mate once who said I reminded her of Dobby; I’m still not  sure how to feel about that

What can I say? everything about Dobby was adorable. Starting out as an abused servant who made a mess of things even as he tried to help, we saw him escape his vicious owners and strike out for himself and become his own , um, elf. Weird, sweet, unrelentingly loyal and not afraid to live his life how he wants to, Dobby is a truly memorable character.

7) Mad- Eyed Moody

The man looks like he just rolled off the set of Fury Road. Badass to the bone
The man looks like he just rolled off the set of Fury Road. Badass to the bone

A tough- no nonsense veteran badass who doesn’t mince words and knows how to take command, Mad Eye Moody is truly one of the cooler characters in the Potterverse.

6) Arthur Weasley

Arthur Weasley was just such a likeable character. A down trodden dad and one of life’s underdogs, Arthur was also a very loving father. Unlike his wife, who felt more like a caricature of well meaning but over protective motherhood than a real woman, Arthur was a well-rounded guy; his obsession with the Muggle world was adorable, and in spite of his goofy nature he could be capable, thoughtful and switched on when the situation needed it.

D'aww, only Arthur could ask such a question
D’aww, only Arthur could ask such a question

5) Sirius Black

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Of course Sirius was going to be on here. As Harry’s godfather, he was another parental figure that Harry needed in his life. The injustice that he had to deal with made him sympathetic, and how bravely he bore those events for the sake of Harry was deeply moving.

He was also a fun trickster who was clearly flawed (as shown by his attitude to Kreacher and Snape), which only made him all the more real. Tragic and mischievous, Sirius was the first Harry Potter character to truly break our hearts.

4) Neville Longbottom

Puberty is a wonderful thing
Puberty is a wonderful thing

Increasing the prominence of Neville Longbottom was a smart move on Rowling’s part. While Harry Potter was clearly meant to be a relatable every man hero, after he suddenly became the chosen one, the youngest Quiddich player in over a century, the school hero, he could clearly no longer fulfil that role.

Neville Longbottom resonates more with the experience us geekier ones had in adolescence than Harry or Hermione; he was awkward, chubby, and inept at everything and felt like he was a disappointment to his parents. But he was never just a loser; right from the beginning he was chosen to be in Gryffindor, and always showed potential in small understated ways, whether through his prowess in Herbology or his willingness to stand up for what he thought was right.

In the final book, it was heartwarming to see how strong Neville becomes to the point where even Voldemort can’t help but acknowledge how impressive he is. Plus, Matthew Lewis taught us that there’s hope for the ugly duckling. What more can you want from a character?

3)Luna Lovegood

EVANNA LYNCH as Luna Lovegood in Warner Bros. Pictures' fantasy
Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood

Luna Lovegood is an 11th hour character whose charm needs no explanation. She was funny, weird, unique, and sweet and the advice she offered Harry in his darkest hour was one of the more touching scenes in the series. Luna is definitely my favorite female character in the series.

2) Dolores Umbridge

Clearly this is the office of the devil
Clearly this is the office of the devil

Dolores is such a great villain that even Stephen King, creator of a legion of monsters who have haunted the dreams of millions, had to acknowledge how brilliantly evil she is.

Voldemort was an impersonal big bad, but Dolores was our own personal Hitler. Petty, beaurocratic and manipulative, she was able to control every aspect of Harry’s life and make it hell. We’ve all had someone like that in our lives at one point, so add in an annoying personal tick (ahem) and we have a recipe for one of the foulest most horrifying monstrosities In the history of literature.

Her habits were so enraging, and her rule of Hogwarts was so tyrannical, that seeing her lose control in the most cathartic, glorious, epic way possible was one of the most emotionally satisfying moments I have ever experienced when reading. And because of that, Dolores Umbridge has to be one of JK Rowling’s most brilliant creations.

1) Fred and George

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These two stole the series for me. I read with bated breath and a massive grin on my face, waiting to see what creative trouble they would cause. They were the characters with the most charisma in the series and stole every scene they were in. To top it off, in The Order Of The Phoenix they orchestrated one of the best, most cathartic and anarchic exits I have ever come across in fiction. This is why Fred and George will remain my two of my favourite characters of the series.

BOOK REVIEW: Japanese Children’s Favorite Stories, Book 2 by Sakade, Florence, Hayashi, Yoshio (2004) Hardcover

This is the second book in the ‘Japanese Children’s Favourite Stories’ series, a compendium of traditional Japanese fairy tales shortened and simplified to the bare basics (and stripped of their more violent aspects) in order to make them accessible to children. This is the second book in the series, and though it repeats a couple of stories from the first book, the stories here are just as good as, if not better , than those of book one.

What appeals to me about fairy tales is the sense of magic and mystery they create. You don’t read  Grimm’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’ for its interesting characters; you read them for their brilliant atmosphere- to feel like you’re walking through the castle frozen in time.

In this book, the environments are unique and fascinating; we visit underwater kingdoms (‘Urashimo Taro’), magical princesses (‘The Princess and the Herdboy’ and ‘Urashimo Taro’), what’s translated as ‘elves’ and ‘goblins’ (‘The Sandal Seller’ and ‘Why the Red Elf Cried’), and of course, benevolent dragons (‘The Dragon’s Tears’). These are very bare bones versions of the original tales, so not a lot of time is spent dwelling on atmosphere, but the strange worlds and devices that inhabit this book are engaging in and of themselves.

The sense of wonder is brilliant, and the feel and morality of the stories are different. We have the traditional trickster story of ‘How To Fool A Cat’; the stories where kindness is rewarded in various supernatural ways (‘The Dragon’s Tears’, ‘The Rolling Rice Cakes’ and ‘The Fairy Crane’); and we have  the ‘Princess and the herdboy’, which is the mythological story that inspired the Japanese Tanabata (star festival).

However, the crown jewels in this collection are definitely ‘The Singing Turtle’, ‘Why the Red Elf Cried’ and ‘Urashima Taro’. ‘Urashima Taro’ is the story of the man who visits the underworld Kingdom of the Dragon King (Japan’s answer to the world of ‘The Little Mermaid’ or Arabian Night’s ‘Gulnare of the Sea’). It has a great feel of magic and mystery, and its ending is deeply tragic without being inappropriate for kids.

There was also something quite funny about the titular sea creature in ‘The Singing Turtle’, while ‘Why the Red Elf Cried’ is a surprisingly moving tale of friendship.

Each of the stories are illustrated with a few simple watercolour images, which though aren’t stunning, are cute and lend this book a real Japanese feel and will help keep kids engaged.

This compendium of stories is a decent introduction to Japanese fairy tales for older readers, and presents a fun alternative to the usual Grimm’s fairy tales for younger readers. However, one thing that should be noted is that although the style is simple and engaging, the writing style can be a bit complex for especially young readers.  This is probably a book that is more suited to being read out to younger readers rather than being one that they read by themselves.

RATING: 3.5 magical moon bunnies making mochi on a mystical mortar/ out of 5

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BOOK REVIEW : THE CRANE LADY by Warabe Wakabayashi

crane ladyThis kindle exclusive is a simple version of a popular Japanese fairy tale aimed at young children. The original fairy tale itself is popular in Japan for good reason, as it has all the storytelling ingredients we expect from a good fairy tale; we have the protagonist rewarded for an act of kindness; the mystery and magic; the hero being warned never to do something, which you know they will do in the end, and the tension throughout the story of waiting for the inevitable to happen.

As far as this retelling goes, however, the writing quality is extremely uneven. It is sadly apparent that English is not the writer’s first language, and in spite of the simplicity of the sentence structures, it did feel like I was reading subtitles, littered with awkward phrasing throughout like:

The old man went to the town to sell the woods.”

or

“He helped Crane from the trap.”

If you want a book for your kids to read to improve their reading ability, this is not one you should give them. But this book was never about the writing quality; the writing’s just a framework to allow Wakabayashi to tell the story through the art.

Warabe Wakabayashi is a Japanese manga artist and she is clearly very talented. You can see from the front cover what the quality of the artwork is like and it’s consistently good throughout the story. The Crane lady herself is breath taking in every picture she appears in, with the vivid colours and textures on the fabrics masterfully drawn. Its unique, beautiful, and wonderful to look at.

The artwork is worth the price of admission and overlooking the awkward phrasing. The beautiful pictures of the magnificent crane lady, and all the vivid patterns and colours that bring to life her beautiful outfits, is definitely something that will appeal to young girls.

RATING:

2.5 warnings to ‘never look in there’ out of 5

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