Book Review: Skulduggery Pleasant Dark Days- Derek Landy

****

Please don’t misinterpret the lack of the fifth star. I know that the first three books in this series got five stars from me, but this is in no way worse than the others. It simply loses a star because it cannot be read without the others. Dark Days could not be seen as a stand-alone book. It’s the turning point of the series, and in more ways than one.

Read my reviews of book one, book two and book three.

The ‘master plan’ of the series as a whole begins to come into play in this book and the story takes a turn for the darker side of the magical world. People die in this book, and just as Landy’s audience gets older, so does his content. Valkyrie isn’t a child anymore and that’s reflected in the subject matter and what actually happens to the character. I would say that parents really should heed the age ratings on these books because there are some graphic scenes, and they’re not just violent, they’re emotional aswell.

We discover a little more about all of the characters in this book, some secrets that were so deeply buried that they could hardly be remembered come to light. Landy has a talent for balancing his stories with just the right amount of light and dark, but as the title suggests, things are heading down the path of darkness. Much like Valkyrie herself as she begins lessons in necromancy with Solomon Wreath. It has a seductive amount of immediate power, and there’s also the added danger of the necromancer’s belief that she is the prophesied ‘Death Bringer’; their saviour that will dismantle the barrier between the living and the dead.

Dark Days indeed.

Have a lovely day

(Doesn’t that sound odd after that review?)

Alys.

Craven.

Samwell

It seems that the closer that I get to something that I want, the faster I run to get away from it. I am a coward. As it happens, I am on the cusp of finishing college and beginning university. That is terrifying. When you’re at school things are easy because every decision is made for you, in sixth form you get a bit more independence, but everything is still simple, because you know that if you work hard and ask for help, then things will turn out alright. And then you go to college and for the first year you get annoyed at how easy it all is, but then the second year. Ah, the second year, when you’re just that bit closer to leaving and having to make an actual decision for yourself. It’s scary because there’s just this huge chunk of your life ahead of you and you don’t know whether you’re going to be good at it, whether you’re going to succeed or fail. And really, who wants to fail?
Next week I’m going to go and look around universities and try to decide whether I want to study in the North or the South (the most expensive place in the country). Wonderful. Well, I suppose that I already know where I want to study, but I need to choose a university for my insurance choice, and that could be one of two- one in the south and one in the north. I also need to save up some money to buy my ticket to the leaving graduation thing that we’re having in a few weeks. (Bear in mind that I’m writing this in advance)

Anyway, the point of this post is that I am a coward, and I’m trying to force myself to stop running from what I want, because I know that it will be good for me when I get to it.

Does anyone else do this, or is it just me?

Have a lovely day,

Alys.

Book Review: Skulduggery Pleasant Faceless Ones- Derek Landy

*****

The third book in the series sees Valkyrie beginning to grow up, Ghastly return to the land of the living, and, of course, the world narrowly avoiding destruction.

Valkyrie is fourteen now and I love how Landy is so delicate about introducing the idea that she has grown. without being so crude as mention her chest he discusses the fact that the clothes that Ghastly made for her are getting tight. That makes me very happy, because I am, in fact, a girl, and I do, in fact, know what it’s like to go through puberty as a female of the species. I really appreciated how Landy dealt with the idea of Valkyrie beginning to look at boys and young men in terms of love interests. the story is by no means a love story, but there is an undercurrent of possibility in there. I think that’s quite important for these books because it grounds the characters in reality. that sounds like a trivial thing, but it’s not. In the world of Skulduggery and Valkyrie it could be very easy to forget that they are also in the real world, where people like Fergus and Beryl live.

It’s an interesting blend of danger and the assurance that ‘this is a children’s book, nothing really bad could possibly happen.’ But there is a feeling that things could change in that department. Valkyrie’s getting older and that suggests that Landy’s audience is too- they’re looking for something slightly different to the first two books, and they’re going to get it with this one.

I enjoy these books immensely and I know that I’ve said it before, but they really are a solid investment for years of reading pleasure.

Read my review of book one here and book two here.

Have a lovely day,

Alys.

TV Tuesdays: Terra Nova

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It’s highly irritating when you know that a programme was cancelled after the first season, and you decide to watch it anyway. I am now suffering an emotional backlash akin to somebody dying in one of my favourite books. It’s almost as if all those characters from the show have died and I will never see them again. I can now understand why people write fanfiction. Not that I’m going to do that, my grieving process just doesn’t work that way…

For those of you who are like me and missed Terra Nova when it first came out, it’s a future set in the past. How weird is that?! Basically it’s set in the year 2149 and the world is in a bit of a state. Humans are dying from the lack of oxygen in the air and everything’s a bit crappy to be totally honest. We meet the Shannon family in the very first moments of the first episode and instantly form a bond with them. I should introduce them. The father is Jim Shannon, who apparently starts the programme as a sort of policeman, but is very quickly arrested because his wife, Elizabeth, and he have a third child. 2149 has strict population laws that prohibit more than two children being born to one set of parents. Things would probably have been alright had Jim not decided to punch the guy that was investigating them, but he did, and he was sent to prison for it. A few years later Elizabeth, a doctor, visits Jim in prison to tell him that she has been picked for the tenth ‘pilgrimage’ to Terra Nova, the same Earth, but in the time of the dinosaurs. As it turns out some clever clogs in the 2149 world discovered a rift in the fabric of time and space that they could use to send people back in time to live healthy lives in a world where the air didn’t kill humans. “But what about the Butterfly Effect?!” I hear you shout, with a little clever manoeuvring an explanation was offered, and maybe I didn’t fully understand it, but I think that may have been the point. Point is that the butterfly effect doesn’t apply because the timelines are different. Or something. But anyway, back to Elizabeth and Jim. Elizabeth explains that she has been chosen to live in Terra Nova, but she can’t take the youngest child, Zoe, with her because she is the illegal third child. So Elizabeth has hatched a plan to get Jim out of prison and into ‘Hope Plaza’ where the rift is, picking up Zoe on his way there and carrying her through the rift in a backpack. Fair enough. Bit outlandish, but certainly do-able. And they succeed. Sorry if you were waiting for a cliff hanger on that one, they all get through and they all survive the journey. It’s when they get tot he other side that the story of the programme really comes into effect. I mean, which story would you be more interested in? The angst of wondering where your husband and daughter are, or the story in which they’re all together in a world that has dinosaurs?! I know which one I’d pick, and I think Spielberg agreed with me. (Why are all the best people called Steven? Steven Spielberg, Stephen King… ok, so that’s two of the best people)

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They are under the rule of Commader Taylor, who, after a little trepidation, accepts Jim as part of his police force, and acts as a sort of guide in this new world. But there is a secret the Taylor hasn’t told anyone, his son, Lukas, is alive in the world outside the settlement and he is working on something that no-one understands. The series follows the trouble that Lukas and the ‘Sixers’ (outlaws that live outside the settlement) cause for the residents of the new world and their silly skirmishes that are ultimately overshadowed by the larger threat of the people of 2149 in their quest to find something that only Terra Nova has.

And if all of that doesn’t pique your interest, then I shall tell you a little story about how I found Terra Nova. There is a man, a man called Landon, and he is an actor. He is a very attractive actor. He happens to be in Terra Nova. There you go. All the incentive that you could possibly need to go and watch the show. And then be infuriated by the fact that you will never know what happens next, because there is no next.

And on that cheery note,

Have a lovely day,

Alys.

Ode to Knitters…

Has anyone ever wondered how difficult it is to find a free pattern that you actually like? No? Well, let me tell you; it’s difficult. Even when you’re looking for something so common as ‘Women’s cardigan, aran’

You’d think it’d be easy right? Just type it into Google and up pop the results, there’s bound to be one that you like. Yeah, you’re theory is flawed my friend. I spent hours the other day trawling the internet looking for free patterns. The only solution is to pay for one. It’s much easier.

So after a few hours of searching the internet with mounting frustration, I finally gave up. And lo and behold, as soon as I did I found a lovely pattern in a magazine in my local paper shop. Wonderful! Not only do I have a lovely new cardigan pattern, I also have a pattern for some socks and some other things that all seemed rather nice and achievable. Happy Alys.

A few days after that I visited the wool shop with my mum and found another lovely pattern that I plan on making as soon as I’ve finished the one that I’m on now. Even Happier Alys.

I have no idea why I have shared this story with you, but there it is. Now you know what occupies my mind in the quiet moments between reading and not doing my work.

Have a lovely day,

Alys.

Book Review: Skulduggery Pleasant Playing with Fire- Derek Landy

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*****

The second book in the series is just as good as the first. (read our review here:) I especially liked the way that Landy revisits things that he mentioned in passing in the first book. It’s almost as if he didn’t quite have enough book to fit everything in the first time so he wrote another book just to explore some of those possibilities.

Again, I don’t want to give too many spoilers, but suffice it to say, vampires are pretty big in this book. Landy introduced us to his vampires in the first book, animal creatures that shed their skin as night falls and make no distinction between ally and enemy. Well, they’re back, and they’re definitely enemies.

Having already saved the world from the evil gods, The Faceless Ones, in the first book, Skulduggery and Valkyrie are back to do it again. (Yep, Stephanie finally picked a name for herself) This time though, they’re on their own. Tome’s betrayal of the Elders led to panic in the Sanctuary; Ireland no longer had a leader. A sorcerer named Thurid Guild steps up to the plate and kicks Skulduggery and Valkyrie out to fend for themselves. But Skul and Valkyrie can’t let their political views get in the way as Baron Vengeous has broken out of prison and is trying to resurrect the remains of the Grotesquery- a patchwork creature that can house the spirit of a Faceless One. Cue the dramatic fight scenes and the emotional roller coaster of wondering if your favourite characters are going to die.

But at heart this is a kids book, Valkyrie is only twelve and if you’re reading this as a parent trying to find a good book for your sprogs, then let me assure you that there is no death amongst the main characters. (Except for the Skul- man, but let’s leave that for the theologians to fight over.)

This book does stand on it’s own two feet, but I think that of you’re going to get it, then you should go and get the first one too. (It’s just better that way) It’s great fun and the kids will definitely get their use out of them. I got them when they first came out and I still read them at least once a year. And my mum will read them too occasionally, they’re a great investment!

Read my review of book one here.

Have a lovely day,

Alys.

JOhn green is a sadist.

I just finished reading ‘The Fault in our Stars’. Now I have a blotchy face, I want to throw a book across the room and my mother thinks I’m unstable because I was sobbing at a book.

Thanks John.

What Disney Taught Me Part Two.

As it happens, there are a LOT of Disney films out there, and I just so happen to LOVE a lot of them. I couldn’t possibly leave it at The Hunchback of Notre Dame could I?

If you’re late to the party (get a drink and settle down, we’ve already started)you can read part one here: http://alysinunderland.wordpress.com/2014/02/21/what-disney-taught-me/

And I can’t start this off without mentioning Sulev Daekazu from Deviantart who has done all of the artwork in this post! Go check him out here: http://daekazu.deviantart.com/

And now let’s crack on with the show shall we?

Hercules (1997)

Hercules is such a good film for teaching children about making mistakes. Hercules makes a lot of mistakes at the start of the film because he is unable to control his own strength, and people forgive him for it. Meg also makes mistakes, even before we meet her. She fell in love with the wrong guy, rescued him and was enslaved for her troubles. But despite the fact that they make wrong choices and make mistakes, things all turned out alright for them in the end. (It didn’t hurt that Meg had a god for a boyfriend, if he’d been a mere mortal then they wouldn’t both have survived the lake of souls in the underworld)

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But I think it’s a valuable lesson for children, that making mistakes is okay, so long as you intentions are good and you have the means to rectify the mistakes that you do make. Also, Meg is a pretty good role model for young girls because she just gets on with her life and she doesn’t rely on any man really. Yes she is enslaved to Hades, and yes she does fall in love with Hercules, but the point of it is that she is her own woman. Neither of those men OWN her.

Mulan (1998)

Mulan is another great one for teaching girls not to see themselves as objects or as being subordinate to men. (and vice versa) It’s a film of equal opportunities, even though the girl has to fight for her equality. I think that I liked this one so much because at the start of the film Mulan is trying hard to fit in and do what is expected of her, but she is the only one that can save her father when it comes to it, because she is the only one that would think to do what she does. She’s extraordinarily brave and she saves more than one man in the film.

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 I love that at the end of the film she gains the respect of the Emperor, and that it is public aswell, if it had just been in private and she’d gone back home afterwards it wouldn’t have been so good. I especially love that Shang is so nervous around her and her father at the end of the film, because it’s realistic. Or at least more realistic than him knowing exactly what to say and do and when to say and do it, like all of the other Disney guys. (With some exceptions).

Tarzan (1999)

I have to start this by saying that Tarzan is my FAVOURITE Disney film in the history and present of Disney films. I have been in love with Tarzan since I was five, and I think I’ve kind of always wanted to be Jane. Tarzan is one of the only Disney films where the soundtrack is not simply sung by the characters, and I think that’s a good thing, it would have detracted from the danger and beauty of the story if it had been like the other Disney films in that respect. It teaches us that a mother’s love is the strongest, but that it doesn’t matter who your mother is. Tarzan’s first mother his human mother, protected him as well as she could and I like to imagine that it was because of her and his father, that Tarzan survived. Kala, the mother that cared for him for his entire life fought to protect him from harm, and from her own family. And I think that is one of the most touching aspects of the film.

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One of the best bits about the film is that both Jane and Tarzan are equals, and that although they are knowledgable in different things, they are equally as intelligent and curious about the world. Jane’s father is a scientist, which affords her some more freedom than the other women in her situation in London, for example, she has the opportunity to travel to the jungle where Tarzan lives. Tarzan is also curious and they work together and they work HARD to teach each other about their worlds. I particularly like that Jane and her father stay in the jungle at the end of the film because it worked out pretty well for all concerned. Can you imagine if it had ended up like they had planned and Tarzan had gone to England? That would have been horrible. So Jane gets to spend the rest of her life with Tarzan studying the gorillas and the other animals, and her father gets to study them too. Tarzan gets to spend the rest of his life with Jane, without having to conform to the modern world of Victorian London.

I basically just love this film so much that I have never found anything about it that I don’t like. Except for Clayton, but we’re not MEANT to like him.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

This film teaches us the value of hard work, although I’m not sure whether it succeeds or not. There’re actually quite a few negatives about this film that nobody seems to have noticed. The main one that I have a problem with is that Tiana works so hard for all of her life so that she can buy the restaurant that she wants, but then she loses it to someone who has more money than her. She doesn’t give up, which is a good thing to teach children, but then what happens is all the madness of the magic and the frog and the prince and whatnot, and at the end of the film it’s never mentioned how she actually manages to buy the restaurant. It’s sort of just brushed under the carpet, but if you think about it, Naveen probably bought it for her, which doesn’t really support the moral of working hard for what you want. It sends quite a bad message really, that working hard isn’t as important as marrying a rich man and getting him to buy everything that you want. Which is not what they were trying to get across.

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But it’s not all negative, the music in this is fantastic, and I love that it’s set in New Orleans. I’m not sure why I prefer New Orleans to other settings, such as France or wherever, but it seemed more modern and vibrant than some of the other Disney princess sort of films, which I liked. It wasn’t set so far into the past that it wasn’t realistic or relate-able and I suppose that I just liked that about it. I can’t talk about The Princess and The Frog without mentioning that Tiana is black. She’s actually not that big of a deal when you consider that most of Disney’s princess aren’t actually white Caucasian, but she was still the first one and that’s a step in the right direction. I thought that the film dealt with the facts of segregation and servitude really delicately; letting children know about it without shoving it down their throats. I think this film really allowed children to make up their own minds about things, which was nice. And the fact that Tiana wasn’t one to settle for all of that flirtatious nonsense that Naveen tried out was a good thing to be teaching children. The two main characters were equals because they balanced each other out. Tiana needed to learn to relax, and Naveen needed to learn how to be more serious about certain things.

Tangled (2010)

I can’t lie, ever since this film came out I have LOVED it. There has been many a time when my friend Rosie and I have listened to the soundtrack whilst doing our coursework at college. I think one of the main messages of the film is that you can love someone, even when they aren’t good for you. Rapunzel does love Gothel, as we can see when she leaves the tower with Flynn and is besieged with doubt. I think it’s good to teach children about that time in their life when they’re going to be moving away from the influence of their parents, because it’s going to happen sooner or later and it’s important that they’re prepared for it. (Not that I’m saying that ALL parents are like Mother Gothel!)

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Again, Rapunzel is a princess that actually gets off her butt and goes and finds adventures for herself, putting her in the same boat as Jasmine and others. I respect that, but I also like that she was apprehensive about it because again, it’s realistic and we need to teach children that change can sometimes be scary, but that it pays off in the end. It doesn’t hurt that Flynn Rider (Eugene) would be ridiculously attractive if he were real! But in terms of what that teaches children Flynn teaches us that we can all change, and that we all deserve second chances. I mean, it’s not a good thing that he’s a thief and that he never actually has to suffer the consequences of that, but it teaches children that they can change if they make mistakes. I think that’s something that a lot of children actually struggle with, once they’ve made a mistake a few times, they struggle to accept it for themselves.

I’m not so keen on the end though. When she is reunited with her birth parents it’s all kind of like it’s supposed to be a happy ending. But that doesn’t make much sense. Rapunzel has NEVER known her parents, and they have never known her, so how would that hug really be how they would react to it? I don’t know, having never been in that situation I wouldn’t know what would happen. Anyway, one of the best Disney films in my books.

Brave (2012)

I know that this is technically a Pixar production in conjunction with Disney, but I’m sticking it in here anyway. For some reason this one just doesn’t grab me as much as some of the other recent Disney films. I think that it may be because there is a lack of optimistic energy that other Disney films have, but that isn’t necessarily a negative thing. I think that the influence of Pixar has made this less airy fairy and a little more realistic and down to earth, even considering the will-o-the-wisps. However, I think that is perhaps the reason that it doesn’t grab you quite as much, especially for the younger children. This film would have to compete with the likes of ‘Tangled’, and although I think that the messages of this film are much better, it is Tangled that sticks in my memory and that I can sing along to when I watch it.

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With that point made, I shall move on to what ‘Brave’ teaches us. It’s a lovely coming of age story that deals with the relationship between parents and their children. It’s great because it shows a realistic family relationship, and it teaches children not to simply obey their parents. I have always disliked that Disney films teach children to obey their parents without thinking for themselves, so YAY to Pixar for updating Disney’s ideas. That said, it does also teach us to respect our parents and listen to them, it advocates a democratic relationship where parents and children listen to each other. Which is another point, it teaches parents to LISTEN to their children. I know that in this day and age there aren’t so many queens and kings that have to deal with arranged marriages, but it can be applied to all different situations and I think it’s good that all of the parents in the film at some point are forced to actually listen to their children, because they eventually see that their children are not simply extensions of themselves.

I like that Merida has gumption, that she goes out and does the things that she wants to do; she learns how to fire a bow, she learns how to climb, she learns how to do all sorts of things. She has absolutely no reliance upon a man, other than her father, and I LOVE that there is no romantic love interest for her. The whole film is based upon her relationship with her family, mostly her mother. And that is something that no other Disney film has done. (Again, I think the credit probably goes to Pixar)

I just love this film, although I think it takes a few watches to really appreciate just how good it is, because as I said before, it isn’t as flashy and attention-grabbing as other Disney films. I’d put Merida up there with Jane and Mulan!

Frozen (2013)

And finally we come to this lovely film. Over the last few years Disney has been trying to update it’s image and how it presents female characters. This is the latest instalment in that attempt. Anna and Elsa don’t rely on men throughout the film, except for when Anna asks for Kristoff’s help. Which is okay, because she doesn’t ask for it because she ‘likes’ him, she asks because she needs help, and he knows his way around the mountains. I think that the best thing about the film is the ending, so we’ll start with that. There’s no wedding! I know that there are other Disney films without weddings at the end, but for some reason it seems more noticeable in this one. One of the first things about the film is that Anna falls in ‘love’ with Hans, and when they ask for Elsa’s blessing she delivers this beauty; “you can’t marry a man you just met.” FINALLY! I mean come on Disney, have you never even considered that before now? In this film, the true romance is between Anna and Kristoff, but that develops over time and that’s sort of a first for a Disney princess. (Well, that’s not strictly true, almost every couple in this post was like that)

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Nevertheless, I don’t think that the romantic aspects were the main point of this story, the love that it centres on is the love between the two sisters. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that Elsa and Anna are the first Disney princesses to have a sibling that is important to the storyline. This film deals with more mature subjects than some of the others because it doesn’t take place in a magical kingdom, it just takes place in a normal world, in which one girl just happens to have strange powers. Alright there are trolls and blardyblahblah, but the rest of the film takes place in the real world. It deals with themes of loneliness, for both of the sisters, firstly after the accident that causes a rift between them, and then after their parents have died. One of my favourite parts of the film is when Elsa says hello to Anna at the ball and Anna isn’t sure at first whether she is talking to her. You get to see that both of the sisters are very alike, but that they have been forced to be apart for so long that they don’t really even realise it. I like that you get a sense of how desperate each of them are to be close again, but the agonising fear that this causes Elsa. I also enjoyed the faith that Anna put in Elsa, she knew that she wouldn’t hurt her when she went into the mountains to search for her, and although that didn’t exactly work out as planned, Elsa didn’t really intend to hurt her sister, and I’m not convinced that she even realised that she had done so.

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The theme of sacrifice is also a strong one in the film. Both girls have to sacrifice something throughout the course of the film. When Elsa is still just a child, she sacrifices her relationship with Anna in order to keep her safe. Anna sacrifices her safety and standing in her own kingdom to help her sister and to stand by her. She almost sacrifices her life for Elsa. Elsa also tries to sacrifice her kingdom and life there in order to keep Anna and the people safe from her, but it doesn’t work until the end of the film. In short, the two sisters love each other so much that they are willing to sacrifice everything for each other and I think that it is a much more positive message to be sending young children, than the message that everything means nothing until you meet your one true love.

Right, I’ll stop rambling and let you enjoy the rest of your day,

Toodle Pip,

Alys.

Book Review: Skulduggery Pleasant- Derek Landy

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*****

This is an old book and I’ve had it a long time. It’s one of the best kids books that I’ve ever read, both as a child and as a adult. It’s one of the truly original ideas that I’ve probably read it once a year since I got it, and it hasn’t got tired yet.
I feel that I must mention that this is the first of a fairly long series. There’s something so very annoying about getting a book, enjoying it , and then having to get the rest. (Not that that would be bad thing, they’re ALL very good.)
It follows the story of Stephanie after her uncle Gordon dies. She meets a strange man called Skulduggery Pleasant who saves her from an attack at her late uncles house and Stephanie embarks on an adventure with the skeleton detective. Together they meet an array of colourful characters, discover the truth of Gordon’s death, and, ultimately save the world from a dastardly plan of destruction.

It’s a great book for kids because it’s not a love story, it’s a story about friendship and adventure. There’s plenty of danger thrown into the mix, and the magic really doesn’t hurt either! I think it’s one of my favourite kids books of all time, right up there with Harry Potter and anything by Darren Shan!

It’s a great alternative story if you’re looking for something for a kid that reads, something that they may not have come across before. And although it’s told from the point of view of a teenage girl, I think that boys would enjoy it too.

I think that Derek Landy is still writing more books for this series so you’ll have plenty to look forward to. (I got the most recent one for Christmas, but haven’t read it yet, so no spoilers please!)

Have a lovely day,

Alys.