Wednesday, December 18, 2013

We've Moved! Under New Management! Grand Opening!

This will be the last post by Zooey Dahl.

I've graduated. I'm hanging up the alias and leading a new life.
Actually, I've just moved around the corner. 

Fear not ladies and gents. I'm simply moving to a new blogging platform. I will slowly make the transition of connecting this content to my new blog, but in the meantime please come follow me at:

My purpose for transitioning to a new blogging platform, WordPress, is simply to expand my expertise in online media. Also, as I've just recently graduated college, it seems appropriate to drop the alias I've been using, Zooey Dahl, and connect with my readers more professionally. I still intend to have fun with my blog. I've just introduced a new co-blogger as well (you'll have to visit my new blog to meet him). The content will remain the same: CL, YA, ML book reviews and literary discussion posts. I'm also interested in working with more authors, so if that's you, shoot me an email at kalee.lynn.stegehuis at Gmail. 

I hope to be hearing from you at my new site! 

Forever yours, 

Zooey Dahl

Monday, September 30, 2013

Book Review: The Cabinet of Wonders

The Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkoski
The Kronos Chronicles Book One
Published by Farrar Straus Giroux, Squarefish edition, 2008
257 pages

Goodreads Description:
Petra Kronos has a simple, happy life. But its never been ordinary. She has a pet tin spider named Astrophil who likes to hid in her snarled hair and give her advice. Her best friend can trap lightning inside a glass sphere. Petra also has a gather in faraway Prague who is able to move metal with his mid. He has been commissioned by the prince of Bohemia to build the world's finest astronomical clock. Petra's life is forever changed when, one day, her father returns home - blind. The prince has stolen his eyes, enchanted them, and now wears them. But why? Petra doesn't know, but she knows this: she will go to Prague, sneak into Salamander Castle, and steal her father's eyes back. Joining forces with Neel, whose fingers extend into invisible ghosts that pick locks and pockets, Petra finds that many people in the castle are not what they seem, and that her father's clock has powers capable of destroying their world.

My Review:
Marie Rutkoski deserves an award for this book! It is a beautifully written tale about a young girl on a quest, but also about the unfolding of the protagonist's coming of age. 

The characters were all well crafted and meaningful. I especially loved Petra's sidekick, Astrophil, a tin spider that hides in her hair. Petra, the hero of this tale, is admirably brave, and yet she displays a childhood ignorance, which, if I may argue, is the true obstacle she faces. Petra models the intended audience of this novel; she is young, small, yet has an enormous passion for her friends and family. She faces many disadvantages in her class, gender, age, and even her ethnicity. She has noticeable character flaws as well as admirable attributes, making her an ideal protagonist for a middle-level read. 
Her friends, Neel and Sadie, were wonderful supporting characters. Neel especially was often wrapped in mystery and readers, as well as Petra, were uncertain how useful or trustworthy he would become. Overall, I thought the characters were brilliant. They were well-rounded and unique, making them friends I wish were real. 

The novel begins slowly and picks up the pace further into the novel. It is a savory read and readers can feel the slow tension at the beginning and the wild unraveling towards the end. The story, set in Bohemia, is a liminal fantasy about adventure for adolescents. The historical accuracy makes this a highly recommended book. Readers can get a sense of the European Renaissance during the Hapsburg Empire through an entertaining read. 

Furthermore, I love the themes of this novel and how they are played out. Themes of human nature, power, bravery , and self-discovery have been written about for ages, but Rutkoski builds them up in this lovely tale. Petra, along with her family and new found friends, both create and overcome challenges. Why does Petra feel the need to retrieve her father's eyes? Because of her love for her father, yes, but also because she believes she is capable of doing so. It is this mentality that creates her first challenge - the human condition to pursue what may be impossible or dangerous. My favorite revelation was from the character John Dee; He reminds Petra that she "does not see much beyond a horizon of yellow hills and [her] petty familial problems." This is the wisdom Petra needed to hear and summarizes her real dilemma. The story engages readers in Petra's changing world. From a third voice point of view, readers understand the spiral that Petra lives in and her limited vision because of it. 

This is an excellent read for middle-level readers, but I enjoyed this as much now as I might have at age twelve. It's an entertaining read with wonderful, subtle reminders about the complexities of understanding and self-discovery. I give this a full five fantastic foxes.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Daily Dahl 9/29/13

29 September, 2013

In honor of today's subject matter -- vampires -- today's edition is at the enchanted hour of twilight. 

Today's article comes from The Guardian and discusses the nature of YA Fiction for the Millennial generation. It doesn't take more than a trip to one's local book store to see that vampires and spells are dominating today's market. Julia Ecclashare writes her essay to explore this trend.

Article Title: Is There Life Beyond Vampires for Teenage Readers?
Originally written by Julia Ecclashare
published September 23, 2013
Found in The Guardian

My Thoughts:
Ecclashare makes the point that today's young adult fiction "keys into the anxieties of teen readers today" and that there may be no point for today's teens to read the must-read books of last generation. It seems dark fantasy is what teens want as it connects with their daily preoccupations and concerns. The market wants to deliver what teens are going to read and I admit this is an agreeable cause. Reading is a fundamental for learning and personal growth, so I support what it takes to get children and young adults to read. But should I wish the dystopian and dark fantasy cycle to end? Should anyone? Young adults need stimulating reads and while Twilight and The Hunger Games are great teen reads, their not entirely rich in content. These novels satiate the desires of teens and present complex issues for readers to live out and solve emotionally, but an abundance of this genre limits varied reading. There are plenty of rich novels being published consistently, so why does it seem like the vampires are the continued crowd pleasers? Maybe I'm wrong, but trends speak. And what's more, "research in the US indicates that 55% of YA fiction is read by over 18s," writes Ecclashare. This is another interesting trend. Why do myself and other adults follow the YA trends? What makes this trend so wildly contagious? Is it the sexy vampire? The romance in spite of death? Not new trends certainly, but being manipulated and spread throughout the YA novel culture. The results of this trend are mass production of both good and bad literature in the dystopian and paranormal genres. The trick is sorting out the good literature and adding a little variety to one's reading diet. By all means, I believe teens can read and enjoy Twilight and its counterparts, but it is my opinion that a healthy reader explores the richness of other genres and sub-genres. 

Ecclashare, Julia. "Is There Life beyond Vampires for Teenage        Readers?" The Guardian. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Sept. 2013.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Picturebook Review: Komodo!

Komodo! by Peter Sis

Published by Greenwillow Books, 1993

Pen and ink watercolor paint

Goodreads Description:
They don't breathe fire or grow wings or lay siege to castles, but there are dragons on the Indonesian island of Komodo nevertheless. For a kid who loves dragons more than anything, could there be a more magical place in all the world to visit?

My Review:
Peter Sis's illustrations are, as always, filled with delight and detail. This story illustrates the vast wonder of a boy's fascination with dragons, particularly the Komodo Dragon. The images are full spreads with intricate detail; they display secret dragon images throughout the pages, especially the jungle scenes. The visual narrative alone engages young readers and invites them to explore the images for small details. From the first page, readers are prompted to scout the illustration when Sis writes, "It is always easy to find me in school pictures because of my dragon T-shirt," accompanied by an image of a very large school group. 

The boy's curiosity about dragons is stretched from the inside cover, across each page, and again on the back cover. His imagination has him trimming bushes in shapes of dragons and picturing dragons in the stars. From the immediate beginning, this book engages young readers to enter the fascination of the story's protagonist. 

The text is kept short and simple, easy for readers to understand, yet allows the illustration to carry part of the narrative. The story is fun; it's about a boy whose parents fly him to Komodo Island to see his favorite creature, where the boy has his dream encounter with a live Komodo dragon. The story was interesting, and a great way to teach about Komodo dragons without reading a book that just lists facts about the reptile. I will say I found the story a bit dull. The Komodo facts were interesting and the images were great, but it felt like the story only existed to support the images and to display facts about the Komodo. I would have liked it better if the visual and verbal narratives worked together a bit more. Also, the colors are very uniform. I think the illustrations could have used a touch of added color or perhaps a single image that stood out a bit more from the rest. 

I give this a three out of five foxes. It is a great book to read for learning as it isn't too didactic. The images are filled with detail, displaying the vast imagination of the boy who loves dragons. Komodo! is a good book to read with young ones and encourage them to use their own imaginations about something particular they love.  

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Book Review: The Tales of Beedle the Bard

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K Rowling
Published by Bloomsbury, 2008
109 pages

Goodreads Description:
The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a Wizarding classic, first came to Muggle readers' attention in the book known as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Now, thanks to Hermione Granger's new translation from the ancient runes, we present this stunning edition with an introduction, notes, and illustrations by J.K. Rowling, and extensive commentary by Albus Dumbledore. Never before have Muggles been privy to these richly imaginative tales:"The Wizard and the Hopping Pot," "The Fountain of Fair Fortune," "The Warlock's Hairy Heart," "Babbitty Rabitty and Her Cackling Stump," and of course, "The Tale of the Three Brothers." But not only are they the equal of fairy tales we know and love, reading them gives new insight into the world of Harry Potter. 

My Review:
In this addition to her own wildly popular Harry Potter series, JK Rowling satisfies fans with bonus material from within the Harry Potter Universe. This book offers more than Potter content for fans of the series. Rowling draws from an understanding of folk and fairy tales and then adds her own style and humor infused with the classic structure of this genre. 

The tales range from a reluctant wizards helping muggles to lessons in selfless love to the terrors of lovelessness. I enjoyed each of these stories. They each reflected Rowling's gift for storytelling with a purpose. The stories are great for young readers to be read aloud to or to read on their own - they are as enjoyable as the translations of Grimms tales. The notes from Dumbledore and Hermione are great for fans of Harry Potter, but not necessary to enjoy the story. The added notes are humorous and will be appreciated by Harry Potter fans. I'm not sure if this was a marketing tactic by Rowling or her publishers, but it serves a purpose to entertain Potter fans and expand on the ideas of the tales. 

Rowling has the freedom to do what she wants with these tales. They may be designed to look like folktale, but she breaks tradition where she sees fit and interprets her story with subtlety for younger readers. The stories are playful and imaginative sure to both entertain and persuade. 

I give this four out of five foxes. The tales are designed after traditional folktale and read much like them, making them great for young readers to enjoy as they would Aesop's fables or Grimm's fairy tales. Rowling does break some conventions at her convenience  which is perfectly acceptable as she adds humor and wit to each story and even offers interpretation through the third parties of Dumbledore and Hermione (who obviously are actually Rowling, but she uses their character personalities to write the analytics). These tales are smart as well as entertaining. They are ideal for those with understanding of the Harry Potter universe, but still suitable for all readers. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Book Review: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 1
by Alan Moore, Illustrated by Kevin O'Neill
published by Vertigo of DC Comics, 2000
no pagination

Goodreads Description:
London, 1898. The Victorian Era draws to a close and the twentieth century approaches. It is a time of great change and an age of stagnation, a period of chaste order and ignoble chaos. It is an era in need of champions.

In this amazingly imaginative tale, literary figures from throughout time and various bodies of work are brought together to face any and all threats to Britain. Allan Quartermain, Mina Murray, Captain Nemo, Dr. Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde and Hawley Griffin (the Invisible Man) form a remarkable legion of intellectual aptitude and physical prowess: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

My Review:

I'm quite new to graphic novels (although this one is something a bit different), I'm happy to have been assigned this book for a class. It was a mental stretch for me. To begin, Moore writes this book within the context of its era. Therefore, the blatant racial and sexist stereotypes were at first a shock to me before I caught on to what Moore was doing. 

The story draws on characters across literature to form a sort of Justice League, only much darker. Moore plays with the heroics and villainous nature of known characters and sets them in colonial London. The heroes, Quartermain, Mina Murray, Captain Nemo, Jekyll and Hyde, and the Invisible Man come from dark and unlikely places; they are impossible heroes, underdogs, but certainly not to be trusted. Quartermain is recovered from an opium den, Dr. Jekyll/Hyde is terrorizing Paris, and Griffin (the invisible man) is raping young girls at an orphanage.
The strange group is gathered under the mysterious "M" to do bidding they believe will be saving London. Throughout the story, several literary cameos appear which add more humor to the the twisting plot. 

I'm no expert on graphic novels, but I really enjoyed this one. The images were fantastic. The use of color and shadow impacted the way I read the story. Also, some pages had as many as nine frames, making the story seem to moving quickly and intensely; it really enhanced my reading experience. Also, as an English major, I really enjoyed the backgrounds to literary characters I've read before, even some of the smaller roles such as Mina Murray from Dracula. I haven't read all of the stories these characters are drawn from, and I'm sure I missed some of the cameo's. This novel is still suitable for those who haven't read the original novels the characters are pulled from. Many characters are still recognizable without having read their original settings. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are popular, somewhat romanticized characters that most will recognize. And I doubt many will miss Sherlock Holmes' appearance. 

I give this a four out of five foxes. It was a humorous tale of unlikely heroics, it pairs colonialism with anti-colonialism and exposes the lies of the era, and several cameos and bonus material add to the humorous exposition.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Daily Dahl 9/22/13

The Daily Dahl -- Sunday Edition
22 September, 2013
Banned Books Week:

Hey all, it's Banned Books Week! This is a great time to appreciate reading and understanding. This week people are encouraged to focus on the freedom of reading. Readers should be able to access all information in order to research new learning. Reading betters the reader as well as the author. Certain realities exist and should not be expelled from literature because they are difficult to grasp or expose violence and misconduct. Yet, books are consistently challenged. Much of this happens behind the scenes; publishers may choose not to pick up books with certain content, book stores may deny to shelf the books, or educators may choose not to discuss these stories with peers and pupils. Banning and challenging books takes place all over the world. This is why Banned Books Week was created and is sponsored by large associations such as 
The American Library Association and many more.
To read more about what Banned Books Week is all about, check out the ALA website here

If you want to get involved, chances are you will be able to find events taking place in your city. In my city of Mt. Pleasant, my university is hosting read-alouds and events to promote Banned Books Week. If you're living in the states, check out events that may be happening in your state here. Get involved! This is the time to encourage and promote literacy in your community and make a big difference. 

If you have a favorite book that was once challenged or banned, read it aloud to someone, share it, share why you love it. Here's a list of the top banned or challenged books in 2012. Recognize the titles? Many of these are loved by many readers who want access to this knowledge. Go on, be proud of the books you love. Personally, I can't imagine never having the pleasures of the Harry Potter series or The Catcher in the Rye

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