About Jodi

Jodi L. Milner is a writer, mandala enthusiast, and educator. Her epic fantasy novel, Stonebearer’s Betrayal, was published in November 2018 and rereleased in Jan 2020. She has been published in several anthologies. When not writing, she can be found folding children and feeding the laundry, occasionally in that order.

Book Review: The False Prince by Jennifer A Nielsen

This is a series I’d heard about off and on. So, when I saw it available at the local virtual library I thought, “what the hey, let’s give it a shot.” It’s got royalty, subterfuge, and some snarky characters, so there’s a lot of potential here.

And … it’s a genderbent Anastasia.

The Story

I’m not kidding. The story itself is a close play-by-play of the 1997 Don Bluth animated adaptation of Anastasia. You know, the one with Meg Ryan, John Cusack, and Kelsey Grammer? The one with the lovely hit song, “Journey to the Past”? Yeah, that one.

Except with boys.

Sage is a clever orphan who is constantly making trouble. He’s got a good heart though, most of the trouble he gets in helps to get food for other unfortunates like himself. He and three other boys like him are plucked from their orphanages by one of the Regents of Carthya, Sir Bevin Connor, with the goal of making them into Prince Jaron, who went missing after a pirate attack four years earlier.

We spend the majority of the book watching Sage’s antics as Connor tries to teach him how to be a prince only for Sage to outsmart him at every turn. The other boys take these teachings seriously which puts Sage into a tricky position. He suspects that Connor will kill off whoever isn’t chosen, as he already killed one boy who wanted no part of the plan after it was revealed.

Behind the scenes and out of the view of the reader, Sage is ensuring that everything is in order for him to become Prince Jaron. If you’re familiar with the Anastasia story, you know where this is going. We come to a dramatic show down where everyone gets what they deserve, somewhat.

My Review

I wanted to like this book. There were lots of elements in it that were came close to being good, but fell just shy, including the main character. It also could have been that the book is mostly written in first person, which is a point of view that I find I can’t enjoy as much because it limits what the story can show the reader.

And, I figured out the majority of the plot in the first chapter so nothing really came as a surprise or a stunning big reveal. That is probably more me than most readers (ask the hubby, I’m delightful to watch TV with. Poor plot twists never knew what hit them).

Don’t get me wrong, I was entertained by the book. There was lots of swash-swash-buckle-buckle to keep things interesting, and Sage kept getting his butt handed to him which required people to tend to his various hurts, which I always appreciate. Beyond that, the writing was solid but not breathtaking, the plot interesting but predictable, and the characters rounded but not vibrant.

Recommendations

This book is perfect for younger boys trying to find stories where they can identify themselves in the characters. There’s literally a character for each type of boy, there’s the jock, the nerd, and the clever one who all have both good and bad traits to be likable. The prose is very approachable and the plot straightforward. The recommended reading age is 8-12, which looking back on my earlier remarks makes so much sense. As such, it’s super clean with appropriate levels of anger and violence and some mentions of blood but nothing too graphic.

I give The False Prince 3/5 stars, a solid entertaining read that I really wanted to be surprised by, and wasn’t.


Thank you for joining me as I reviewed The False Prince today on the blog. If you enjoyed reading this review and would like to see more, please consider connecting with me by either following the blog here on WordPress, liking my Facebook page, or subscribing to my newsletter. As an added bonus, newsletter subscribers receive free books, stories, and special offers every week.

Book Review: Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman

How perfect is this? A book by two of my favorite authors which was later made into a TV series starring two of my favorite actors. It’s like a gift from the universe specially made for me. And even better, it’s pretty amazing.

The Story

There is a lot going in in Good Omens. We have three distinct story lines following the key players. First, there’s main story of how an angel and a demon are trying to prevent the apocalypse because frankly life in the 20th century is everything they’d ever want it to be and they would rather not see it end.

Then, there’s the story of the boy who is supposed to be the Antichrist and bring about the apocalypse.

There’s also a thread of the story as we watch the four horsemen of the apocalypse organize themselves and set things into motion.

Lastly, I’m going to lump together the characters revolving around the Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, a book of prophecies which is distinct from other books of prophecies for one reason alone – It’s 100% accurate, this includes the descendant of Agnes, Anathema Device (best name for a character, ever) Newton Pulsifer, and Witchfinder Sergent Shadwell.

We see the book in three main time periods; the events surrounding the placement of the baby Antichrist into a suitable family; the key points of the boy’s growing up when both the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley work to ensure he’s given a proper education so when the time comes for the apocalypse, he’s ready; and then the time when the apocalypse is supposed to happen.

Like I said, there’s a lot going on here.

My Review

The one thing that I always find delightful in Pratchett’s books is his use of distinct and likable characters. We see loads of this here. The cast is absolutely massive in this book and yet each character is built in such a way that they walk fully formed off of the page. Take the demon Crowley, for example. He could have been played like a stereotypical villain and not been anything more than that. Instead, we have a man who loves his vintage Bentley (even if every cassette he tries to play in it in time turns into a Queen album), raises houseplants like children (which he sacrifices regularly to threaten the others to grow better, he is a demon after all), and created the M25 just to annoy humans.

Then, we mix all these amazing characters into a story line that’s both so complicated and yet so simple which screams iconic Gaiman.

It’s a hard combination to pull off and yet, for me, was 100% successful in creating an delightful romp through something running just parallel enough to the truth that it can be enjoyed first while reading, but also again as you think about all the bits and how they fit together.

Recommendations

If you’re already a fan of Pratchett and Gaiman you’ll already know that they both love to walk on the edge of the acceptable and explore what is considered right and wrong and why. That said, if reading about the Antichrist as a very real person, and worse, a child, makes you a little squeamish, then this whole book might be a little too much for comfort.

Age recommendations – I’d stick this one to adult readers and the older teenagers they let play. Besides the playful religious overtones ranging into the questionable at times, there only a sprinkling of curse words, I think f*^# is said once, and the violence and romantic content is present but subdued. The reason I recommend older readers is that the story won’t make much sense without context and life experience.

I rate Good Omens 5/5 for its excellent characters, delightful unlikely situations, and the most unusual of friendships.


Thank you for joining me as I reviewed Good Omens today on the blog. If you enjoyed reading this review and would like to see more, please consider connecting with me by either following the blog here on WordPress, liking my Facebook page, or subscribing to my newsletter. As an added bonus, newsletter subscribers receive free books, stories, and special offers every week.

TV Review: Castlevania, Season 2

Back in February I reviewed Castlevania, season 1. It’s high time to move onto season 2. I’ll leave my warning upfront and center for anyone who’s made it this far.

Castlevania is not for kids. Don’t let the animation fool you. There is extreme gore, violence, innuendo and mature themes.

And, I still think it’s amazing. All the elements that make up my favorite stories are in here so I’m certainly going to continue watching.

Meet one of the necromancers, Hector.

The Story

At the end of season one we left Trevor Belmont and Sypha Belnades in the aftermath of a massive battle between Dracula’s forces and the people of Gresit. During the battle, the two of them fall into deep catacombs beneath the city and find Adrian Tepes, who is the half vampire son (also known as a dhampir) of Vlad Dracula Tepes and his wife Lisa.

Adrian, now known as Alucard (which is dracula spelled backwards) fights Trevor and Sypha to test them before joining them to challenge Dracula and stop him from wiping out all mankind.

Season two follows their journey and also steps back to fill in the gaps left by season one. We see details on Lisa’s arrest and subsequent execution – the reason why Dracula has become incensed and feels driven to make the world of men pay. We also see Dracula’s world and the political forces within it, including a few human necromancers who create the undead army of grotesque creatures. This is important, because not only is this a fight between Dracula’s forces and the world, but there is also plenty of tension between the vampires and the necromancers.

Meanwhile, Trevor, Alucard, and Sypha return to Trevor’s destroyed childhood home and uncover the massive secret underground library which contains the answers about how they can possibly stop Dracula’s forces, as well as several specialized monster hunting weapons.

All of this leads up to several heated conflicts and battles. Several of Dracula’s vampires have agendas of their own, and will stop at nothing to see them through. There is an attack on another city as well as a showdown at the Belmont Estate where undead creatures work to eliminate our three heroes.

We end the season with a epic vampire battle between Alucard and Dracula, the outcome of which changes everything.

We also meet Carmilla, one of the vampire queens with a massive agenda.

My Review

Where many second seasons suffer from a lack of focus and a sense that the writers never planned on continuing the story, Castlevania flourishes. All the hectic story building in season one slows down and we finally get to see things happen at a much more reasonable pace. When there needs to be a flashback, it’s satisfying and fits into the story in a way that enriches the experience instead of distracting from it.

The complexity of the plot is Castlevania’s two-edged sword. People are going to love it or hate it because of just how many storylines are running amok. This complexity comes from the massive cast of important characters, all of which have relevant backstories that need to be explored to make the decisions they are making in the present make sense. This means lots of flashbacks to build up these stories. Some might feel this slows down the story and the action too much and takes away from the good parts of the story that’s unfolding in the present.

For me, it makes the conflict all the more interesting and meaningful. No one in this story is a mindless puppet. Each one carries an emotional wound that they are desperately working to heal in often the most dramatic way possible. In a way, Game of Thrones tried to do the same thing. Each kingdom had an agenda and the viewer spent lots of time learning the motivations behind them. Where GOT fell short was not fulfilling any of those agendas even in a clever way. No one in GOT found satisfying closure to their stories, which is why everyone hated the end of season eight.

For Castlevania to be successful, each character with an agenda needs to end up with what they deserve and it needs to be a poetic twist on what they wanted.

Trevor gets a new powerful toy, an enchanted morningstar.

Recommendations

While season one seemed to delight in shocking the audience, season two made up for it by adding additional depth. There is still plenty of gore and violence, but it now feels balanced to what the story is trying to accomplish.

This one is for high school aged viewers and up. Period.

I give Castlevania, Season 2, 5/5 stars for it’s depth of story, stunning art, and complex characters.


Thank you for joining me as I reviewed Castlevania, season 2 today on the blog. If you enjoyed reading this review and would like to see more, please consider connecting with me by either following the blog here on WordPress, liking my Facebook page, or subscribing to my newsletter. As an added bonus, newsletter subscribers receive free books, stories, and special offers every week.

Book Review: Enchanter’s End Game by David Eddings

We made it all the way to the end of the five book series, The Belgariad, by David Eddings. Woot! Congratulation are in order. I’m finding myself a donut. The last book, Enchanter’s End Game brings us to the end of Garion’s story arc and ties up all the loose ends, just as it’s supposed to. I still stand by my initial feeling that the majority of this book could have very well been included into the end of Castle of Wizardry, but the publisher probably argued that it would have made that book too long.

If you want to check out my reviews on the first four books in the series, here are some handy links:

The Story

We began the Belgariad by learning that the Orb of Aldur, a magical item created by one of the pantheon of gods in this universe, had been stolen. At book three, the orb is successfully recovered. In book four, it is restored to it’s rightful place. Now, in book five, the one who was behind the plot to steal it must be confronted and receive an appropriate consequence.

And … this is where the weird starts happening. Not that what has happened earlier in the story wasn’t unique in itself, but this is a bit weirder than usual. The overarching villain of this entire saga is none other than Torak, the god of the Angarak people. Torak, being a god, knows of Garion’s destiny and wants to thwart it. Instead of just killing him, Torak tries to make a deal.

It seems one of the Mallorian Prophecies marks his Aunt Pol as Torak’s fiancé. I told you this got a little weird. Torak wants to marry Pol and have Garion accept him as a father.

Hmmm . . . where have we heard this story line before?

There is a bunch of sneaking and fighting. The party gets captured by the mini boss, Zedar who delivers them to Torak. Torak uses mind control to get Pol to do what he wants. Garion uses magic to protect her. More fighting and all the feels happen as everyone tries to make it out of this story alive.

As this is the final book in the series, there is a rather lengthy post victory sequence where everyone gets what they want.

My Review

It’s always a little bittersweet to get to the end of a story and know that every battle, fight, and conflict must lead to something final. For me, the best part of a long series is watching characters grow into themselves and realize what kind of role they need to play. The journey is more interesting than the destination.

That said, there are some really nice moments in this book where these characters who have been through so much finally get what they deserve. Hard earned happiness is the best way to send a main character off into the sunset, and our motley crew of misfits each get a nice ending.

While I personally don’t ever want an exciting story to end, this one does end and Eddings makes it a good one. The series was so successful, that Eddings went on to expand this universe and the timeline, creating another five book series, the Malloreon, as well as three stand alone books.

Recommendations

The Belgariad is a must read for fantasy enthusiasts, especially those who want to dive into the roots of modern fantasy and see where different ideas and concepts took root. Critics claim that it was the Belgariad that breathed new life into the fantasy genre when many started to turn away.

It’s clean, fun, full of adventure, and good for everyone ages 12 and up.

I rate Enchanter’s End Game 4/5 for being a solid conclusion to a great story, even though the post climax material did feel a bit long.

I rate The Belgariad 5/5 for being an awesome, well paced, fantasy.


Thank you for joining me as I reviewed Enchanter’s End Game today on the blog. If you enjoyed reading this review and would like to see more, please consider connecting with me by either following the blog here on WordPress, liking my Facebook page, or subscribing to my newsletter. As an added bonus, newsletter subscribers receive free books, stories, and special offers every week.

Book Review: Castle of Wizardry by David Eddings

We are four weeks into exploring the Belgariad and are now diving into the fourth book, Castle Wizardry by David Eddings. True to the hero’s journey, now that we’ve passed the half way mark in this five book series, the main character Garion must take charge of his destiny and start making decisions that matter.

If you want to check out my reviews on the first three books in the series, here are some handy links:

The Story

Our noble party has finally recovered the Orb at the end of the previous book, Magician’s Gambit. Yay! Their goal is to now deliver it safely back to its rightful place and ensure it remains in the right hands. Garion finally gets to lead the party, mostly because Pol and Belgarath both were incapacitated, as they work their way closer to the mythical Isle of the Winds.

Common to many long form stories, the Belgariad has a number of prophecies running about the edges that bring extra significance to events. In Castle of Wizardry, we see the culmination of a handful of these prophecies, namely, what Garion is destined to become. There was a reason he’d been brought up by a sorceress who pretended she was his aunt – he needed protecting because of his bloodline.

Also, in another twist, the same prophecy that reveals who Garion really is also spells out who he is meant to marry – someone who just happens to be traveling with them. She’s understandably enraged.

And because all good things come in threes, there is a third prophecy that Garion deciphers after the betrothal that says if he is “the special one” then he must also kill the Really Bad Guy or die himself. The story ends with Garion heading off toward his destiny to die or kill the bad guy, while his betrothed borrows a page from Tolkien and raises an army to distract the bad guy’s army and allow Garion’s safe passage.

My Review

It’s at this point in any long story where the reader can fully get behind the main character and what they are setting out to accomplish. All along the way we’d collected breadcrumbs and clues so when the prophecies started being fulfilled the resulting reveals didn’t come across as a huge surprise.

There is one super charming element I neglected to mention earlier, and that’s the character of Errand – a small boy who, through his absolute innocence, can handle the Orb of Aldur safely. Up to this point, the ensemble cast has been killing themselves to first find this Orb, then restore it to its rightful place. When they finally get it, they must take Errand as well, as none of them can handle it safely. Errand spends the entire book trying to give the Orb to anyone who will take it despite the casts efforts to tie, lock, and seal the Orb into its carrying pouch to keep him from doing it. In a story of good vs evil and light vs dark, it was nice to have this darling little boy keeping things from becoming too grim.

Where the past three books were spent exploring the nature of magic, Garion’s coming of age, as well as most of the map, it’s in Castle of Wizardry where we see a culmination of a whole lot of promises. We finally understand Garion’s role in the world and what he’s meant to do. In fact, if it were not for the fact that he had yet to beat the bad guy, it would have been a great ending to the series to finish here.

Recommendations

This is a series. Start at the beginning and work your way to this point. No, really. The weight of all the stuff that happens in this book relies on the reader understanding everything it took to get there.

For you parents out there trying to decide is this is an appropriate read – it’s clean as is the rest of the series. I’d recommend it for ages 12 and up for the complexity and the intensity of some of the fight scenes.

I rate Castle of Wizardry 4/5 for being a solid fantasy that should have probably been limited to a four book series.

Go here for the review of the last book in the series, Enchanter’s End Game.


Thank you for joining me as I reviewed Castle of Wizardry today on the blog. If you enjoyed reading this review and would like to see more, please consider connecting with me by either following the blog here on WordPress, liking my Facebook page, or subscribing to my newsletter. As an added bonus, newsletter subscribers receive free books, stories, and special offers every week.

Book Review: Magician’s Gambit by David Eddings

We’ve reached the middle of the five book series, the Belgariad and as such, one significant event must happen in the story that changes the way the main character views the overarching goal of the series.

If you’re just joining us, here are handy links to the reviews to the first two books in the series:

The Story

At the end of the Queen of Sorcery, we left Garion after he is rescued from the snake people and is reconciled with his “Aunt” Polgara, who happens to be a powerful sorceress. At this point he’s just coming into a vague understanding that he possesses the ability to do magic, through a process called the Will and the Word.

It is in Magician’s Gambit that Garion finally receives his formal magical training, as Polgara judges that if he doesn’t, he might end up killing himself or someone else by accident. The critical moment of this decision comes when Garion brings a dead foal to life, something that the sorceress didn’t believe possible.

The party, now consisting of Ce’Nedra, Polgara, Belgarath, and Garion, learn of the Orbs resting place and spend the bulk of the book traveling through strange lands to get there, including the land of Maragor, who’s vengeful god Mara drives any invader insane, the Vale of Aldur where Garion practices mastery of the Will and the Word, and then to Ulgoland where the Orb is hidden.

The dramatic ending includes lots of magical fighting between the Angarak sorcerer Ctuchik who stole the Orb and Garion’s party. There’s a nice twist in how the fighting ends, which I won’t spoil for you.

My Review

I’m partial to books with magical training and deeper dives into how the magic actually works (which is exactly why Stonebearer’s Apprentice exists – I had to have that element in my own series). In the Magician’s Gambit training sequence, there’s a hilarious bit where Garion tries to move a boulder and ends up burying himself neck deep in the ground. There’s also this idea of spending eons studying something small, such as a feather, until it becomes more than an item but a study in studying.

As with all good stories, each of the stakes are raised as the party moves into more dangerous situations among more violent people. I mentioned that there had to be a critical change in the goal because this is the middle book in the series, and that change happens in a way that doesn’t feel forced, which is always nice. The party finally recovers the Orb, and now the remaining books of the series will be spent returning it to its rightful place.

There is still a feel of a fantasy trope checklist being checked off as the story moves from land to land. A pitfall of many fantasy stories is that they get stuck in one place. Part of the wonder in any fantasy novel is the nature of the place where the characters must move closer to their goals. When there are no new elements or places to explore, the interest of the story falls solely on the shoulders of the characters and their problems, which is more challenging.

Recomendations

The story, which up to this point has plenty of adventure and some peril, takes a darker turn as we get closer to the malice of the big villain that eventually must be conqured, Torak. The monsters get uglier, the motives behind actions get more malicious, and the bad guys get stronger. That said, this is still a safe read for young teens and up.

I give Magician’s Gambit 4/5 stars for being entertaining, although there are a few slow bits.

Dive straight into the next review of the next book in the series:


Thank you for joining me as I reviewed Magician’s Gambit today on the blog. If you enjoyed reading this review and would like to see more, please consider connecting with me by either following the blog here on WordPress, liking my Facebook page, or subscribing to my newsletter. As an added bonus, newsletter subscribers receive free books, stories, and special offers every week.

Book Review: Queen of Sorcery by David Eddings

As with most multibook series, the middle few books tend to do more than their fair share of escalating the stakes as they approach a much bigger problem, without actually facing that problem head on. Queen of Sorcery is a fun romp through all the many lands that make up Garion’s world as they come closer to recovering the legendary orb. If you missed the review of book one, click here.

The Story

Garion is no longer a naive teenager. Yay. He’s now a somewhat naive young man with a lot to prove, and not a lot of experience to draw on. So, it makes total sense for him kick off the story in a duel and then go on to try to break up an assassination attempt of neighboring duchy’s king.

They go on to travel all sorts of places following more clues to find the orb, and end up in the middle of political intrigue after political intrigue. During one of these intrigues, the Princess Ce’Nedra disguises herself and joins their party.

Throughout the story, Garion is starting to learn how to use the Will and the Word, the magic system of the universe shared by Belgarath, Polgara, and the other sorcerers. Like I said before, he’s still a bit naive and when he tries to use this magic it only causes more problems.

They encounter dryads, snake people, and a man who can change into a bear.

My Review

There are certain expectations when it comes to fantasy titles, and for Queen of Sorcery, it feels like Eddings is going through a checklist to see if he can get them all. Magic, check. People who transform into animals, check. Kings and political intrigues, check. Lands and kingdoms with wholly unique qualities to themselves, check. A stolen princess in disguise, check. A large wandering party composed of people all with varying unique skills, check. Lots of tavern meetings, check. Swords, check.

That said, it’s still a very enjoyable book. The characters are entertaining, especially Ce’Nedra, who has always been a favorite of mine. There’s a whole boob armor scene somewhere in the series where she complains about her armor not being flattering enough and wanting it to show that she indeed is a woman.

Eddings doesn’t pull back from making life hard for Garion either. The poor kid really can’t catch a break.

Recommendations

These books are perfect for the young adult fantasy reader. There’s adventure, danger, humor, and magic to keep things entertaining and nothing I would consider objectionable.

I give Queen of Sorcery 4/5 for not giving us a strong villain to contend with directly.

For the review of the next books in the series, here are some handy links:


Thank you for joining me as I reviewed Queen of Sorcery today on the blog. If you enjoyed reading this review and would like to see more, please consider connecting with me by either following the blog here on WordPress, liking my Facebook page, or subscribing to my newsletter. As an added bonus, newsletter subscribers receive free books, stories, and special offers every week.

Book Review: Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings

We are going way back to my childhood and perhaps one of the first fantasy series I consumed like candy. Thankfully, there were plenty of these books to keep me occupied. Pawn of Prophecy starts a five book quintology and is followed up by another five book series, The Malloreon, which is not to be confused with the Mandalorian—like at all. There are also two standalone novels.

What’s interesting is at the time of writing David Eddings didn’t really want to write fantasy. He’d been writing adventure and thriller books when he noticed how many times the Lord of the Rings had been reprinted and decided that maybe there was something to this whole fantasy genre. And the rest is history.

The Story

Garion starts his story as many fantasy heroes do, as an orphan boy living on a farm. He’s awkward, charming, and has a strange dry voice in his head separate from his own consciousness. His Aunt Pol watches over him as he does all the typical teenage boy stuff, like getting into trouble and being shy about a girl he likes.

As with any good fantasy story, there is a traveling storyteller, nicknamed Wolf, who is not what he seems. Wolf arrives with the news that a precious object has been stolen and he must recover it, with the help of Aunt Pol, who is also not what she seems. The merry band follows a trail of clues and collects quite a few interesting characters along the way, including my personal favorite, a man named Silk or Kheldar, depending on who’s asking, who just happens to be a Drasnian prince/spy/thief.

When the group is arrested, Garion spots a mysterious individual in a green cloak who he suspects might be behind their difficulties. This figure is later exposed and in the process Garion barely escapes capture. He learns later that Aunt Pol is actually a powerful sorceress, and Wolf his grandfather who is also a wizard of sorts.

My Review

I remember these books as being a delightful adventure with plenty of interesting history and dark characters lurking around every corner. Whether or not they’d hold up to my withering scrutiny now is up for debate. I’d rather not risk it. One of the elements that I appreciate in Edding’s books, this one included, is that he doesn’t shy away from hurting the main character or give them too many good skills while everyone else just has to follow along. He also makes amazingly interesting characters with a lot of personality and heart.

As this book sets up the world, there is a rather lengthy prologue that gives some much needed context to why recovering the lost object is so important. The Belgariad is an exercise in worldbuilding, where the history of the world itself, and the creation of its gods is where the original problem starts. This adds quite a bit of complexity to the story, and I’ll admit as a young teen I couldn’t really keep the history straight. All you really need to know is that Asharak is the bad buy.

Recommendations

Again, I remember these to be excellent and I loved them as a young teen. I don’t recall there being any objectional material and the adventure and sense of peril elements come through the strongest. That said, at the time I was pretty naive myself so if there was any innuendo, I probably missed it entirely.

However, for the time period this was written, most fantasy tended to be very clean, so I’m fairly confident in recommending this to readers 10 and up.

I give Pawn of Prophecy 5/5 for making my childhood magical.

For the reviews of the next books in the series, here are some handy links:


Thank you for joining me as I reviewed Pawn of Prophecy today on the blog. If you enjoyed reading this review and would like to see more, please consider connecting with me by either following the blog here on WordPress, liking my Facebook page, or subscribing to my newsletter. As an added bonus, newsletter subscribers receive free books, stories, and special offers every week.

Movie Review: Spirited Away (2001)

As 2021 is the twentieth anniversary of Spirited Away, I thought it was a great idea to finally review the movie here on the blog. Woot. Spirited Away is quite possibly the most renowned of Director and Animator Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli’s works and as such has won plenty of notable awards, including the 2003 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature – something no other hand-drawn non-English-language film has ever done.

It’s also a surreal moralistic film about the dangers of greed and selfishness.

The Story

Spirited Away begins with Chihiro, a headstrong young girl who doesn’t like following instructions, and her parents, finding what looks like and abandoned amusement park. This park turns out to be an amusement park for gods, spirits, ghosts, and monsters where they can rest and enjoy themselves before returning to the mortal world.

Chihiro’s parents become trapped when they indulge in forbidden food and are transformed into pigs. The only way for Chihiro to free them is to work at the ornate bathhouse and earn back what they took. For someone who isn’t great at following instructions, this is a real challenge. But her love for her parents, and her growing like of a certain boy, Haku, push her to overcome her reluctance to do what is needed.

As she works, she learns that there is far more going on in this world than she imagined. Not knowing better, she invites an unfriendly spirit called No-Face inside who starts eating the workers of the bathhouse when they take his offering of gold. She also is given the worst job of the night, taking care of a stink spirit. When she does so without complaint, she’s rewarded a magic dumpling.

During the evening, Chihiro, now called Sen as part of a spell meant to lock her in the spirit world, witnesses a dragon being attacked and recognizes that the dragon is none other than Haku. Haku stole a magic golden seal from the owner of the bathhouse and is now cursed if he doesn’t return it.

Sen uses part of her magic dumpling to help Haku and retrieves the magic seal, resolving to return it to it’s rightful owner, the bathhouse owner’s twin sister. But, Sen still needs to save her parents who are lined up for slaughter with the other pigs. If she can identify them, they can go free.

Chihiro with Haku the Dragon

My Review

Spirited Away introduces the viewer to a fresh and magical world populated with the new and the unusual. As with all Studio Ghibli, half of the enjoyment of watching the film is in the artistry of the hand-drawn settings and characters. It’s a beautifully envisioned world. The other half is in the story, and Chihiro’s story is engaging. We know what she wants and why, but we also see that she has heart and is willing to put herself in danger if the need arises.

While there are quite a few very strange visuals, such as No-Face eating everything in his path, including some of the bathhouse staff and then throwing it all up again, and the boiler room operator who looks more like a spider than a man, they add to the intrigue and interest of the film.

Between the story, the music, and the artistry, Spirited Away shouldn’t be missed.

The enigmatic No-Face

Recommendations

This is a family friendly film best suited for kids eight and up due to mildly frightening images and several intense situations. That said, there is a good message and plenty of discussion that can happen after watching ranging from how different characters were affected by greed and how hard work paid off for Chihiro.

I rate Spirited Away 5/5 for its artistry and impact on the viewer.


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Book Review: The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black

Three weeks, three books in a trilogy. Mark this moment because it will probably not happen again anytime soon. That said, reading and reviewing a series from the beginning to the end is really satisfying, so I might have to try this again. We’ll see.

The Story

The Queen of Nothing brings the story of Jude Duarte to a close and thankfully its a satisfying one. We begin with Jude exiled to the mortal world where she is finding a way to support herself and her family without relying on faerie tricks, such as turning leaves into money. She would have stayed there as well, having found at least some sense of normalcy in what can only be described as a bizarre life.

But, we all know that can’t last. Intrigues at the court of Elfhame and all the layers of political scheming are still an ever present threat to her and young Oak, the heir to the throne. When Jude’s twin sister, Taryn shows up asking for a favor back in Elfhame, Jude carefully weighs her options. If she’s caught breaking her exile, it’s an offense punishable by death. On the other hand, if her sister is found guilty of the crime which she is accused, it would mean death for her.

Jude goes, not only to protect her family, but because she also craves to be back in the faerie world and learn who is pulling which strings in the court. She also is secretly thrilled to see Cardan again, although those feelings are mixed and turbulent. She can’t decide if she’s supposed to love him, or hate him. Typical YA romantic angst there.

She attends her sister’s trial, pretending to be Taryn and hoping her true identity isn’t discovered only to be rescued by her foster father, Maddox and taken deep into his camp preparing for war.

In her attempt to escape, she finds herself back with Cardan again as he shows hints of actually caring for her. This also can’t last. A dark curse is unleashed which Jude, as rightful queen, must find a way to end.

My Review

Of the three books, I think I liked this one the best. While there is still plenty of political scheming, it takes a secondary role to Jude’s story. Plus, we finally find a balance where it seems like she’s winning as much as she’s losing, which is nice. In the first two books, she went through an awful lot of punishment and loss and by the end it didn’t feel as if what she gained was big enough to justify the struggle. Here, there is a nice fat payout that makes all her pain and suffering pay off.

The writing itself is lovely and descriptive, the characters compelling and full of realistic foibles, and the conflict full of carefully orchestrated tension. There’s a reason these books are best sellers. So much good stuff inside.

Recommendations

Again, and I can’t stress this enough, this series is meant for older teens and the adults they let play. There is violence and blood shed and gore beyond what you’d typically find in a dark fantasy. Beyond that, there is also strong romantic elements, including an instance of tasteful on-page intimacy. The violence and the romance fit in with the story and don’t feel gratuitous.

I give The Queen of Nothing a rare 5/5 stars, an exciting tale and a wonderful ending to the series.


Thank you for joining me as I reviewed The Queen of Nothing today on the blog. If you enjoyed reading this review and would like to see more, please consider connecting with me by either following the blog here on WordPress, liking my Facebook page, or subscribing to my newsletter. As an added bonus, newsletter subscribers receive free books, stories, and special offers every week.