Tag Archives: genre: fantasy

The Vile Village Review

ASOUE_7The Vile Village (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 7) by Lemony Snicket; illustrations by Bret Helquist

HarperCollins, 2001. 978-0064408653

Synopsis: With Mr. Poe running out of guardians, he decides to entrust the Baudelaire orphans to the V.F.D. (Village of Fowl Devotees) as part of the “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child” campaign. However, the village is not as keen to raise Violet, Klaus, and Sunny after they are accused of murdering Count Olaf (who is really Jacques Snicket) by the famous Detective Dupont (who is really Count Olaf in disguise). The children have also been finding mysterious couplets hinting that the Quagmire triplets are nearby, but with few clues to go on and the town coming after them, the orphans will have to work a miracle to find their friends and escape the village.

Why I picked it up: What’s the opposite of Schadenfreude?

Why I finished it: It becomes clear quickly that the V.F.D. has no real inkling of what the aphorism “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child” really means, making all the townspeople – with perhaps the exception of the caretaker Hector – seem brutish and impotent. Violet is quick to point out that having the village raise them does not entail that they do all of the townspeople’s chores, but this does little to deter the Council of Elders (a group of older citizens with crows decorating their hats) and make their situation any more tolerable. The villagers are also fans of the children being seen but not heard, which makes it difficult for the Baudelaires to prove they are innocent of murdering Jacques Snicket. The adults in the book are still predictably incompetent, but this again helps Violet, Klaus, and Sunny shine through with their wit and know-how. The Quagmire Triplets, although they do not make an appearance until the close of the book, are equally clever in their means of communicating their whereabouts to the Baudelaires. Snicket also takes a stab at slant journalism, though it doesn’t seem to add much depth to the story and merely serves to highlight the adult agenda. Fans of the series are sure to enjoy the continuation of this marvelously morbid series, though I am beginning to suspect that there is little hope the Baudelaire children will find any sort of respite.

Other related materials: The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Reptile Room (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 2) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Wide Window (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 3) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Miserable Mill (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 4) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Austere Academy (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 5) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Ersatz Elevator (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 6) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Hostile Hospital (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 8) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Carnivorous Carnival (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 9) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Slippery Slope (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 10) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Grim Grotto (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 11) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Penultimate Peril (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 12) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The End (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 13) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Beatrice Letters by Lemony Snicket; illustrations by Brett Helquist; Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography by Lemony Snicket; All The Wrong Questions series by Lemony Snicket; The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snicket; illustrations by Caron Ellis, music by Nathaniel Stookey; The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart, illustrated by Carson Ellis

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The Ersatz Elevator Review

ASOUE_6The Ersatz Elevator (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 6) by Lemony Snicketl illustrations by Bret Helquist

HarperCollins, 2001. 978-0064408646

Synopsis: Being sent to live with Esmé Gigi Geniveve Squalor (the city’s sixth most important financial advisor) and her husband Jerome (who doesn’t like to argue) is a mixed bag for the Baudelaire orphans. On the one hand, they get to live in the penthouse of a 66-floor apartment building in one of the city’s most fashionable districts. On the other hand, Esmé and Jerome have only taken them in because adopting orphans is a trend and don’t seem to have their best interests at heart.

Why I picked it up: Like I said, I’ve become invested….

Why I finished it: Despite their experiences becoming gloomier and gloomier by the book, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny continue to remain resourceful and resilient in the face of adversity. Their dear friends the Quagmire Triplets have been kidnapped, Esmé is as vapid as Jerome is docile, and Count Olaf is continuing to cook up dastardly schemes to get his hands on their fortune. While I do have to agree with other reviewers that the book feels more like a commentary on the fallacy of fads and the obtuse nature of adults at the expense of the plot (although I would argue that the latter has been present throughout the series (see: Mr. Poe)), readers will still be able to connect with Snicket’s ability to turn clichés on their heads and the macabre humor. The events are simultaneously delighting and unsettling, and while there is perhaps no end in sight for the Baudelaries, they continue to inspire loyalty among fans of the series and capture the hearts of new readers.

Other related materials: The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Reptile Room (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 2) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Wide Window (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 3) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Miserable Mill (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 4) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Austere Academy (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 5) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Vile Village (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 7) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Hostile Hospital (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 8) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Carnivorous Carnival (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 9) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Slippery Slope (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 10) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Grim Grotto (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 11) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Penultimate Peril (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 12) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The End (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 13) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Beatrice Letters by Lemony Snicket; illustrations by Brett Helquist; Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography by Lemony Snicket; All The Wrong Questions series by Lemony Snicket; The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snicket; illustrations by Caron Ellis, music by Nathaniel Stookey; The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart, illustrated by Carson Ellis

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The Austere Academy Review

ASOUE_5The Austere Academy (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 5) by Lemony Snicket; Illustrations by Bret Helquist

HarperCollins, 2000. 978-0064408639

Synopsis: Unable to find another guardian, Mr. Poe sends Violet, Klaus, and Sunny to the dreary Prufrock Preparatory School. At the school, they encounter such unpleasantries as a vice principal who cannot play the violin (but insists upon doing so anyway), Carmelita Spats (who is a nasty, dirty, and unpleasant little girl), and a gym teacher with a turban who makes them run laps (who is really Count Olaf in disguise. But for all their misery, the Baudelaires finally have a stroke of luck when they meet the Quagmire Triplets and begin to unravel the mystery behind Count Olaf’s dastardly schemes.

Why I picked it up: I’ve become invested in learning about the fates of the Baudeleaires.

Why I finished it: I am noticing as the series goes on, Snicket is incorporating a rather lot of interesting vocabulary into the stories. It is not to say that I didn’t notice it before – knowing the meanings of long, complicated words is one of Klaus’s interests – but the vocabulary lesson seems to be building upon itself. I also had to have a bit of a laugh at some of the historical references: the Quagmire triplets are named for a famous Spanish actress (Isadora Duncan), the vice principal is named for a former Roman emperor (Nero), and Olaf’s chosen character is Ghengis (as in, Ghengis Khan, conqueror of Asia). Interesting for me as an older reader, and perhaps an astute reader who cares to look up some of the words and names. I am also perhaps disillusioned by the hope of new friends for the Baudelaires, whose friends’ parents and brother met a similar fate as the Baudelaire parents. And maybe I am a little too hopeful that the orphans will be able to uncover the origins of the secret organization of which Count Olaf is a member. And maybe I am a little too hopeful that they will be able to get away from him once and for all, but alas, there would not be more books in the series if that was indeed the case. For all I know, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny will continue to gather more questions than answers, but I also know that the siblings will manage to make it out of things alive and together.

Other related materials: The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Reptile Room (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 2) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Wide Window (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 3) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Miserable Mill (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 4) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Ersatz Elevator (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 6) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Vile Village (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 7) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Hostile Hospital (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 8) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Carnivorous Carnival (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 9) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Slippery Slope (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 10) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Grim Grotto (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 11) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Penultimate Peril (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 12) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The End (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 13) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Beatrice Letters by Lemony Snicket; illustrations by Brett Helquist; Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography by Lemony Snicket; All The Wrong Questions series by Lemony Snicket; The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snicket; illustrations by Caron Ellis, music by Nathaniel Stookey; The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart, illustrated by Carson Ellis

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What’s On: A Series of Unfortunate Events, Season 1

series-of-unfortunate-events-to-hit-netflix-462487A Series of Unfortunate Events, Season 1 starring Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, Presley Smith, K. Todd Freeman, Usman Ally, Jacqueline Robbins, Joyce Robbins, Matty Cardaropole, and John DeSantis

Netflix, 2017.

Synopsis: After a fire kills their parents, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are sent to live with their mysterious relative Count Olaf. The children soon learn that he is after their enormous fortune and will do anything to get his hands on it, leading the children on a series of harrowing adventures that will challenge them in ways they never thought possible.

Based on the book series by Lemony Snicket, the Netflix series could be considered a more concise follow-up to the 2004 film which was based on the first three books. Season One covers books 1-4, and each book is broken down into two episodes.  The two-episode format ensures that all the material from the books is included in the episode, and it feels much more concise than the film. The adaptation focuses more on the black humor element, making Lemony Snicket an actual character that narrates while navigating through the real-time events of the episodes. The range of the actors and the guest stars help to create the world of the books, and the actors themselves seem to have fun in their roles. A few elements have changed, but it helps to keep the viewer engaged and rounds out a few of the plot points from the books. The show plays up the V.F.D. as a secret society much more, creating characters that are operatives who are invested in helping the Baudelaires. It makes for an interesting bit of character development and creates a number of interesting plot devices as well. It’s definitely binge-worthy and fun for viewers of all ages.

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Explorer: The Lost Islands Review

explorer_2Explorer: The Lost Islands (Explorer #2) edited by Kazu Kibuishi

Harry N. Abrams, 2013. 978-1-4197-0883-1

Synopsis: Take a journey out onto the ocean to visit one of seven strange, fantastic, mysterious islands created by seven amazing graphic artists. Whether you are there because it is home or because of a shipwreak, this collection is sure to inspire an island adventure of one’s own.

Why I picked it up: I wanted something short and quick to read between longer novels.

Why I finished it: The second installment in the Explorer series doesn’t fail to leave the reader in awe. Fish, rabbits, and humans alike populate the seven graphic stories that take on a wide variety of topics on the same subject of islands. My favorites were “The Mask Dance” by Chrystin Garland and “Loah” by Michael Gagné. I loved Garland’s story because it reminded me of an island festival or a Day of the Dead celebration that takes a somewhat frightening turn. Gagné’s story was both visually stunning and compelling, telling a story that is a version of “The Rainbow Fish” but where the titular fish is less selfish. This collection still has the same elements of the fantastic as the previous book and even manages to up the bar. There truly is something for everyone in these collections and I excited to read more!

Other related materials: The Lost Islands (Explorer #2) edited by Kazu Kibuishi; The Hidden Doors (Explorer #3) edited by Kazu Kibuishi; Flight Explorer edited by Kazu Kibuishi Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi; Copper by Kazu Kibuishi; The Legend of Korra graphic novels  by Michael Dante DiMartino, illustrated Irene Koh; Zita the Spacegirl series by Ben Hatke; Mighty Jack series by Ben Hatke; Missle Mouse books by Jake Parker; Bad Island by Doug TenNapel; Cardboard by Doug TenNapel; Bone series by Jeff Smith

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The Burning Maze Review

the_burning_mazeThe Burning Maze (The Trials of Apollo, Book 3) by Rick Riordan

Disney-Hyperion, 2018. 978-1484746431

Synopsis: With the help of some demigod friends, Lester managed to survive his first two trials, one at Camp Half-Blood, and one in Indianapolis, where Meg received the Dark Prophecy. The words she uttered while seated on the Throne of Memory revealed that an evil triumvirate of Roman emperors plans to attack Camp Jupiter. While Leo flies ahead on Festus to warn the Roman camp, Lester and Meg must go through the Labyrinth to find the third emperor–and an Oracle who speaks in word puzzles–somewhere in the American Southwest. There is one glimmer of hope in the gloom-filled prophecy: The cloven guide alone the way does know. They will have a satyr companion, and Meg knows just who to call upon. . . . – from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: I’ve been coming around on this series and I’m a sucker for Riordan, apparently.

Why I finished it: As annoying as Apollo has been in the first two books of the series, he seems to have developed a little bit of a change of heart by the time the beginning of the third volume of his adventures begins. This time around as a mortal, he seems to be developing a truer sense of the notion of mortality and many of the deaths from his time at the waystation in Indianapolis are still weighing on him. He is still somewhat of the opinion that he can get heroes to do some of the work for him, but he has also warmed up to the idea of working with heroes and not having them work for him. Jason Grace and Piper McLean are back to give aid to Apollo, though it appears that their help will come at the cost of one of their lives. There is a rather poignant scene in which Jason and Apollo are talking and Jason encourages him to remember the true meaning of mortality when Apollo rejoins the Olympian ranks, to consider the fragility of human lives compared to his own Godly one. It’s a point that has yet to fully hit Apollo, I think, but he’s certainly seeming to grasp the notion more and more. Everyone’s favorite satyr from the Percy Jackson books reappears as the guide through the maze, and it appears that even Grover has become older and wiser as well. Meg also gets some more backstory as the reader finds out what happened to her biological father and how she came to end up in New York. The book is full of the usual puzzles, perils, and adventures, but there again is also the continuing subtle message about how important our lives are and the need to value life. Fans of the series will likely appreciate, as I do, that Riordan is continuing to flesh out his characters and grows them in a way that helps them learn important life lessons. Well, maybe…We will likely have to wait until the next book to find out if the lessons are going to stick.

Other related materials:The Hidden Oracle (The Trials of Apollo, Book 1) by Rick Riordan; The Dark Prophecy (The Trials of Apollo, Book 2) by Rick Riordan Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan; The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan; Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods by Rick Riordan, illustrated by John Rocco; Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes by Rick Riordan, illustrated by John Rocco; Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard books by Rick Riordan; The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan; Demigods and Magicians: Percy and Annabeth Meet the Kanes by Rick Riordan; Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling; A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas; Seven Wonders books by Peter Lerangis, illustrated by Torstein Norstrand; Five Kingdoms series by Brandon Mull; The Blackwell Pages series by K.L. Armstrong and M.A. Marr; The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh; The Rose and the Dagger by Renée Ahdieh; Keeper of the Lost Cities series by Shannon Messenger; Kingdom Keepers books by Ridley Pearson; The Unwanteds series by Lisa McMann; Seven Realms novels by Cinda Williams Chima

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Feature Presentation: The Secret Life of Pets

the_secret_life_of_petsThe Secret Life of Pets starring the voices of Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper, Albert Brooks, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Moynihan, Chris Renaud, Steve Coogan, Michael Beattie, and Sandra Echeverria

Universal Entertainment/Illumination Pictures, 2016. Rated PG

Synopsis: Max has the perfect life with his owner Emily until one day she brings home Duke, a dog from the pound. When the two dogs get lost in the city and are on the run from animal control and a homicidal former magician’s rabbit named Snowball and his army of abandoned pets, they are going to have to rely on each other if they are going to get home to their owner.

Having grown up with pets (dogs, to be specific), I won’t deny there were times when I wondered what they did while I was at school or at work. I don’t think my dogs did anything nearly as epic as getting recruited by a gang of former pets dwelling in the city sewers or breaking into a sausage factory to find food. But that isn’t to say that pets don’t have adventures while their humans are away. What I liked about the film is the realistic personalities of each animal, especially the dogs. I also loved the blasé attitude of Chole the cat, who unwittingly gets dragged along on a mission to rescue Max and Duke. I was thoroughly amused by the fact that in almost every scene when she is in an apartment, she is sitting in some container – a box, a bowl, etc. I also appreciated the initial rivalry between Max and Duke, the former of whom feels threatened when Emily first brings home Duke. Max is so used to being the only dog in the house and the notion of having to share his space, his toys, and his human is absurd. But what Max learns over the course of his adventures with Duke is that the larger dog has also had his share of difficulties that have left an impression on him. The compassion the dogs eventually develop for each other and for Snowball and his gang leave the viewer with a warm fuzzy feeling that will have them wanting to give their own pets some love. It’s a fun family film that will delight pet lovers of all ages.

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