Monthly Archives: December 2009

Fun Friday: Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays from The Hollow Tree!  We want to wish you a fantastic end to the year, whatever you do (or don’t!) celebrate, and hope that you have a safe, but awesome end to 2009.  We’ll come back to our regularly-scheduled posting on January 4th, see you then!

~Lisa and Isabelle

Thursday Myths & Legends 101: The Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree is a pretty iconic part of Christmas tradition nowadays… but just what exactly does a tree have to do with Christmas anyway?

Well… nothing, really.  The Christmas tree comes to us from a purely pagan tradition, that centered around the Winter Solstice, or the shortest day of the year (which was on Dec. 21st this year, just in case you were wondering).  As the days grew shorter, it was worried that the sun might disappear forever—but unlike most plant life, evergreen trees were unaffected by this, and therefore were believed to have magical powers of a sort.  Evergreen boughs were brought into the home, and trees were decorated—but certainly not chopped down.  They were decorated out in the open, with candles and metal and replicas of Bacchus—the god of wine and various other disorderly things.

Also, in ancient Europe, trees were believed to represent everlasting life, and were decorated to honor the god Woden, the key god in the Germanic traditions, and where we get “Wednesday” from.

So how did this become a Christian tradition?  Well, one story is that St. Boniface of the late seventh/early eighth century cut down an oak tree (which of course is deciduous, or loses its leaves) and that an Evergreen sprung up from the center of it—symbolizing the end of Paganism and the beginning of Christianity.  But really…. I think it simply has more to do with the strength of tradition.  People’s beliefs changed and they adapted their already-established traditions to accommodate that by putting a star or angel on top of the tree—and now that Christmas sways more and more towards the commercial, a Christmas tree is a nice, non-religiously-affiliated symbol, if you think about it.  Non-threatening, for sure.

But really, they’re just pretty to look at, aren’t they? 🙂

Book Geek Wednesday: Goddess of the Night by Lynne Ewing

Goddess of the Night is Book 1 of the Daughters of the Moon Series. Vanessa Cleveland is a pretty ordinary girl. She’s pretty, blonde and relatively popular. She has a huge crush on Michael Saratoga, one of the hottest guys in school. The way she carried on about him, I was afraid he might be her Jordan Catalano (but you know, less of a jerk, ha ha). All in all, this recipe would spell disaster in my mind. I hate these kind of characters, with their perfect lives and their perfect attributes. Lynne Ewing managed to convince me otherwise. You see, beneath the surface, Vanessa has one huge problem. She tends to become invisible when she gets really nervous, which is going to make kissing Michael Saratoga really difficult.

And just like that, the story goes from being another teen story to a great mythical series. The reason Vanessa can become invisible is because she is a mortal goddess, one of the daughters of Selene, the Greek goddess of the moon. She has been chosen to help fight the ancient darkness known as the Atrox which has been sent to devour hope and destroy the goddesses.

As a stand-alone, this book does a great job of letting us get to know Vanessa, who despite looking like she has it all together suffers from the usual teen angst compounded by her inconvenient power. As a series starter, it also beautifully sets up the world that we’ll be visiting with the subsequent books. We meet some of the other Daughters as well, who go on to star in later books, musical Serena, tough girl Jimena, and spirited Catty.

Although the book occasionally suffers from the staple of teen writing cliches, it makes up for it with its strong mythology, wide variety of likeable characters, and interesting story arc. I may be jumping the gun a bit, (I’ve read about 5 books of the series so far) but it gets REAL good. 😉

All in all, Goddess of the Night gets a B+ from me. A good, solid read and a great start to a fun series.

Lisa’s Tuesday Perspective – Lament: The Fairy Queen’s Deception by Maggie Stiefvater

It’s no secret that there’s sort of been a Faeriesplosion in the YA section of the book store.  Well, maybe a parasplosion is a bit more accurate, but admit it, there are a bunch of faerie books out there… we’ve reviewed a handful of them right here.  I’ve read a few, and poked around at several more, and I really wanted to find one to fall breathlessly,  head-over-heels in love with, but instead I kept getting frustrated.

Many books on the market are just not what I’ve been looking for, where the Faerie world has been “reinvented” as a grunge-type underworld.  Which is okay, and certainly one way to deal with the issue, but the ones I’ve read (Tithe, for example) just haven’t done it for me.  This is for multiple reasons, but the main one has always been that… well personally I always thought faeries were cool enough (not to mention threatening enough!) on their own.

And then I heard all the buzz about Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver, and basically swallowed that book whole, which caused an impending demand to read Stiefvater’s other two published books, which leads us to Lament.  I’m not going to tell you that this book grabbed me and held me in place from the very first page, because that would just be lying—it took until page six.  After that, though, I was a goner.  Goner than gone.

I am, embarrassingly, almost speechless about this book, because it is so very good.

The main storyline is this: Deidre Monaghan is a normal teenage girl.  She happens to be exceptionally talented at two things: music, and being completely invisible in high school.  Then one summer day at a music competition she’s found and entranced by the slightly older, and utterly fascinating Luke Dillon—who finds her fascinating as well.  While she knows that something is not normal about Luke, and he knows she knows it, she can’t or won’t bring herself at first to question it.  As events (or otherwise) continue to throw them together, though, strange things are happening around and within Deidre, leading her to the discovery that she’s a cloverhand, or one who can see faeries.  And really, that is just the beginning.

There is something immensely lyrical about this book, yet at the same time the language is very fresh and the wit is quick and lively.  It’s the seemingly effortless passing between the modern and the formal that is so breathtaking.  Well, that and the fact that Luke keeps calling Deidre “pretty girl,” because really, I think I gushed that much more every time he did it.  The wonderful thing about this story is that, for all its fantastical elements, the main storyline rings out true and exceptionally identifiable—the story of someone with quiet insecurities, who is suddenly recognized for being beautiful, interesting and powerful, and being recognized as such, becomes so.  Deidre seems to realize her own possibilities as they are seen by Luke, the wayward gallowglass.

Of course the more powerful Deidre becomes (and “awesome” is a fitting description, just by the by), the more danger she’s in, as the jealous Faerie Queen wants her head.  She has the protection of iron with her at all times, but with malicious, and outright homicidal faeries coming out of the woodworks all around, will it be enough?  I can’t tell you.  Well I could, but I’m not going to.  You’re just going to have to find out for yourself.  All I can say is that this is honestly the most delicious book I’ve read all year.  Good enough to read a second time immediately after finishing—though I have Ballad, the sequel, so I suppose I’ll work on that first (she says coyly, even though she’s almost 80 pages into it already).

Meanwhile, Lament has a lot of nice cameos by the PRETTY side of Faerie.  The Daoine Sidhe and a certain triplet of child-sized faeries were of particular delight.  And I may have already said too much about Luke, but let’s just say that he’s dream-worthy.  Ballad focuses on Deidre’s best friend James, who is promising quite a story himself, which I will be telling you about soonly.

Lament gets an A++ from me.  Ms. Stiefvater? You officially have a fan for life.

TV Magic Monday: Sailor Moon

Before you laugh, consider this: although the show was occassionally heavy on the slapstick and the corny, it made up for it with its fascinating mythology (taken from the Greek story of Selene and Endymion). By the end of the first season, the story really picked up and went from being just stand-alone ‘save the world’ episodes, to a truly epic, 3 episode finale arc that made me cry. I know, it’s just a cartoon, but man was it well done.

It mixed fantasy/sci-fi with the everyday life of teens. Imagine, being perfectly ordinary, dealing with slipping grades, boys, and friends, only to find out that you’re destined to fight an ancient evil and save the world. And at first, poor Serena had to do this all on her own. I was relieved when she finally had friends to share her secret with- friends who shared her powers. The Sailor Scouts- each representing their seperate planet in the Solar System and each part of the original Moon Court. That’s awesome. When they got into the past lives story, and the Moon Kingdom, they won me over.

I’d love to see a live action movie done of this. It would kick butt. And no, I’m not referring to the live action television show, that’s really hard to take seriously being its trying to be exactly like the show, which doesn’t translate well since it was, well you know, a cartoon-

But if they were to treat it as a movie, and really take it from the beginning when she first discovers her powers and then make her less aggravating with the whole being clumsy bit (I mean, we really don’t need another Bella Swan, right?), then I think it could really work and really hit the YA fantasy audience.Things got delicious and complicated with the incorporation of Reeny, who came from the future, and the Black Moon sisters were some of the most fascinating villains I’d ever met.

Although the show started going kind of downhill in later seasons, I highly recommend it, even with the bad English dubbing. I’m hoping to get the series in the original Japanese so I can really get at the meat of it. I hear it’s even better that way, which is hard to imagine, as I already love it so.

Fun Friday: Reading Habits

I just got a notice that two new books I had holds on at the library are now available for me to pick up.  I admit, this delights me to no end—even though I’m actively working my way through no less than six books at the moment.  Some people think I’m utterly insane to read this way—I’ve even had one or two people refuse to believe that I could possibly keep all those storylines straight in my head at once, but this has really never been an issue for me.  If a book isn’t memorable enough for me to remember the storyline on its own, it’ll hardly mess me up when I’m reading it alongside other books.  But I never mean to get to the point where my Currently-Reading stack gets to tottering heights—it just happens.

I think this is a holdout from my schooling days.  The fact is, I’ve always been a bit of a slow reader.  My nearly-completed goal of reading 52 books in 52 weeks has been a serious challenge for me this year, as you can probably tell by some of the embarrassing selections on that list (please don’t look too closely! haha).  In high school—and moreso by about a hundred times in college—this meant pushing and pushing and pushing myself to finish the required reading.  For a girl who liked to take 18+ credits at a time when she could, with most of them being lit. classes—that was a TON of reading.  I’ll confess here and now that I don’t think I finished three-fourths of the books I was supposed to in college.

Then when I was done, my TBR list had pretty much EXPLODED.  First there were the old classics I’d been wanting to re-read but simply hadn’t had time for, and then there were the books I’d been snapping up in bookstore sales and tucking away for the past four years, and then there was a whole other stack that was made exclusively of—yes, those books I didn’t get to finish (or read so quickly that I didn’t absorb half of) of my assigned reading.  The Russian authors alone on that list make an impressive pile of would-be-read books, and I haven’t so much as touched them yet, even though my badly water-damaged copy has been waiting eagerly for me for me since I took the class in 2004.

The ironic thing is, after I finished school I could barely stand to look at a book.  I was just burnt out.  I had to force myself through even old favorites. And by favorites, I mean ecstatic, I-could-read-this-book-forever type of favorites.  But slowly—and largely due to friendly reading challenges like the one mentioned above—I definitely got my reading groove back.  Boy did I ever.  The problem remained, though, and remains still, that I can name a couple dozen books I want to read off the top of my head at any one moment… which I guess is why I end up reading half a dozen at once.

I get very ADD about this sometimes—list the books out in my head and read one chapter as each and it as a cycle, but usually I have one book that I let myself read more of if I want to (or if I need a purse book for waiting rooms, etc!)—right now for me that book is Maggie Stiefvater’s Lament, because I just can’t put it down.  But probably other people aren’t quite as crazy about this stuff as I am.

What about you? Can you read more than one book at a time? Do you like to? Not like to? What are you reading now?

Thursday Myths and Legends 101: Ambrosia

Nectar and Ambrosia by dancingelf (deviantart)

Ambrosia: the food or drink of the gods, said to bestow ageless immortality on whoever consumed it. The word is often used interchangeably with nectar (hence the expression, nectar of the gods), though some ancient Greek works (like Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey) clearly differentiated between the two. Either way, both are considered delectable and divine, so fragrant they can even be used as perfume.

I find the entymology of both words interesting and strangely interchangeable, because although ambrosia literally means ‘not mortal’,  nectar translated from latin means ‘drink of the gods’,  pulling from the Greek word nektar, meaning overcoming death [ nek: death; -tar: overcoming].

It’s interesting to note what it says in the Handbook of Classical Mythology by William Hansen

“A key difference between gods and humans, according to the poet Homer,lies in their respective diets. Since the gods do not, like mortals, consume bread and wine, they are bloodless, producing instead a kind of immortal fluid,a thin substance called ichor. As a consequence they do not die. When they feast, they consume nectar and ambrosia, which preserve the gods in their present state, keeping them from aging” (Clay 1983, 144–148).

That quote sparks all kinds of theories! Would the gods then become mortal if they were to stop feeding on ambrosia and nectar? Is that why they deemed the theft of them so severe they would sentence the thief to Tartarus (see the story of Tantalus). Interesting things to ponder.

Though modern works (usually Greek myths retold) often reference ambrosia, it is usually being used in the most literal sense, that of a delicious, unparalleled drink, fit only for the gods. I would love to see it used in a more magical/fantasy setting, where it can literally bestow eternity upon its drinker. Can you imagine the stories that could be told?

Book Geek Wednesday: The Evolution of Young Adults

While cashiering at B&N one morning last week, a customer brought up the Faerie Queen books by Maggie Stiefvater. I was pretty thrilled, since Lisa and I have excitedly talked about them and although Lisa has beat me to reading Shiver (it’s been on my radar for quite a while) it’s definitely still high up on my reading list.

Anyway, while chatting with the customer I easily volunteered that I’d been wanting to read Lament for quite some time, even before I’d heard of Shiver. She said the reason she was picking up the Faerie series was because she’d bought Shiver for her daughter, who is 12 years old, and upon reading it herself, found that there was *SPOILER ALERT*a sex scene. Granted, we’re not talking erotica or anything. Likely it was a PG-13 movie type scene (Lisa would probably be able to better tell us, as she’s the one who read it). Of course, this disturbed the customer as a parent because although she enjoyed the book for herself, she didn’t think her twelve year old was ready to read something like that.

I found that comment interesting, since we’ve been talking about crossover fiction and its appeal. These books are clearly marketed to teens, but how young is too young for some of this material? I know around this time last year, a father brought the Gossip Girl series back into the store, wanting to return them. He’d bought them for his daughter before he had any real idea what they were about. Let’s just say he was less than thrilled with the content.

Of course, it’s important to note that kids nowadays are growing up much faster than in my day. Teen pregnancy is on the rise, so they obviously know a thing or two about sex, though they’re not well educated in protection and contraception. Does the recent acceptance of on the page sexuality (meaning no longer vaguely implied, but not necessarily graphically shown) promote sex to younger audiences or is it simply mirroring what teens already know?

And this isn’t the only book I’ve heard a few things about. I’ve heard that the House of Night Vampire series by Kristen and PC Cast is high in the sensuality/sexuality department. Older teens are definitely interested in that kind of sexual tension, but would I necessarily suggest them to an 11 year old? Especially if she were to go looking for more of PC Cast’s books only to find they’re VERY adult?

Is this the inevitable consequence of crossover fiction? Or just the reality of the evolution of young adults?

What are your thoughts?

Lisa’s Tuesday Perspective: Red is for Remembrance by Laurie Faria Stolarz

A warning, first of all. Talking about this book at all is kind of a major spoiler for the end of Silver is for Secrets, so if you haven’t read that one yet, let me sum this review up by saying that this is a very satisfying fourth installment of the series.  But since that’s really not enough to go by, so I’ll try to be… less than 100% transparent here in my review.  We’ll see.

Stacey Brown is out of high school, and after an eventful (and ultimately tragic) summer break on the coast, she’s now starting her Freshman year at prestigious Beacon University, somehow scoring a full-ride scholarship despite having no extra curriculars and less-than-admirable grades.  Despite having the support of her mother, and being able to room with bestie Amber, though… Stacey just doesn’t feel like moving on with her life anymore.  A part of her is still on the beach in front of their summer house, watching the waves, and waiting for someone to come back to her, someone everyone else is sure is dead.

Stacey doesn’t have much of a choice about getting out of bed and getting moving, though, when the president of the university wants to meet with her personally, and get help with his daughter, who’s also having nightmares—or he’ll kick her out of the school.  It takes some time and a bit of friendly intervention—not to mention a freaky dream or two of her own—but Stacey finally decides to help the president’s daughter—Porsha, a girl who reminds Stacey strongly of herself.  As they decipher the clues their dreams are revealing, though, Stacey realizes more and more that there’s no such thing as coincidence, and maybe helping Porsha is going to help her out much more than she ever imagined.

Red switches back and forth from Stacey’s POV to the story of Shell, a guy with no memory who’s found himself in a questionable commune, and who may be the boy Porsha’s dreaming about.  It was fascinating to watch the pieces fall into place from the two different perspectives, and I’m impressed by how Stolarz has saved this series from going stale by mixing up the way she tells stories in each of her books.  I have to admit, though, as this is the last book in the series—well, sort of—I was sorry to be spending so much time away from Stacey herself.  I have come to be very much attached to this girl over four books, and she’s grown and matured a lot, and in a very natural way, which has been nice to watch.

I was also a little bummed to see less of the great friend interaction in this book than in previous books, but that was also natural. The characters are in college now, and not all in the same college, even, so surprise drop-ins from the lovesick, quirky PJ, and the on-again-off-again Drea and Chad were much enjoyed.

Stacey’s journey is continued in the graphic novel Black is for Beginnings, and I admit… I’m not a graphic novel person.  I just… have never been into comic-book style art, especially of the almost-anime type that this is.  But that said, I love the characters, and so I’ll (tentatively) follow them into that genre.

For now, though, Red is for Remembrance gets an A+.

Movie Magic Monday: SyFy’s Alice

Ah, what a time to not have SyFy!  Okay, really, I hate the name change—what was wrong with Sci-Fi? You know, the name that was actually spelled like the phrase it was abbreviating?

But “Siffy” as my brother calls it, has given me one more reason to miss DirecTV, and that is Alice.  No, not Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, this is a reimagining of the story, in the same vein as (and by the same people as) Sci-Fi’s Tin Man, which I loved, by the way.  And not just because I love everything Zooey Deschanel touches—although that is indeed true.  Tin Man deserves it’s own post, but here’s a look at the four-hour miniseries that aired December 6-7.

I’ll have to find some way to watch this… and rewatch Tin Man, really.  Okay, it sort of looks like they’ve used the same exact premise as before to create this “all new” re-imagining… but what can I say? I liked the other one.  And I don’t know if you’ve caught on to this yet, but I love the Alice in Wonderland story.  Plus, who can deny Kathy Bates as the Queen of Hearts?  Big-headed Helena Bonham Carter, step aside, Kathy Bates was made to be the Queen of Hearts.

So… did any of you see it?  What did you think?

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