Levine_ Ella_enchanted_(book_cover)At birth, Ella is cursed with the gift of obedience by a well-meaning, but foolish fairy. She is doomed to fulfil any command given to her. For the first fourteen years of her life, her mother and Mandy, the cook, manage to keep her safe from anyone who might use the curse against her. But as Ella’s fifteenth birthday approaches, her mother falls ill and dies, prompting Ella’s often-absent father to return.

Thrust into a new world of finishing schools, where anyone could stumble across her secret, Ella becomes determined to break the curse by any means.

Having heard great things about Gail Carson Levine, I’ve been meaning to read Ella Enchanted for years now. I was recently given a copy, which seemed as good an opportunity as any. The novel is probably aimed at a slightly younger age group than I usually read—early teens, rather than late teens—but it is every bit as enchanting as I had been promised.

I had doubts about a book that focuses on a girl who has to be physically obedient; after all, I’m not overfond of female characters being obedient when they don’t have to be. But, while Ella is cursed to obey, she has room for defiance and makes the most of it. Despite her affliction, she’s witty, playful, and exuberantly confident, which makes it a pleasure to be in her head.

The world Ella inhabits is a charming, magical adventure of a place. Inhabited by gnomes, elves, centaurs, and ogres, Ella’s journey is a colourful one. Based loosely on the Cinderella fairy-tale, Ella Enchanted is full of wicked step-sisters, balls, indifferent fathers, fairy godmothers, and the handsome prince— all with a little more depth than the original. Prince Char is especially well-characterised. Far from the empty trophy of the traditional Cinderella story, he is nuanced and feels real. His personality is not as vivacious as Ella’s, but he suits her. Their senses of humour match and both are able to switch between playful and serious with ease.

Despite Ella Enchanted being for a younger group, it touches on some moral themes that are complicated enough to keep older readers engaged. Sacrifice, love, and determination are all recurring threads that hold the story together.

 

Ella Enchanted – Gail Carson Levine

HarperCollins (1997)

ISBN: 9780006755487



Joelene_tnThis is a new one for me, but one that I’ll definitely be making again. Without the icing it freezes really well, so it’s a good dessert to put away for when it’s needed.

 

 

carrot cake_JoeleneCake

  • 2 (about 300g) grated carrots
  • 1/2 cup self-raising flour
  • 1/2 cup wholemeal self-raising flour
  • 1/2 cup plain flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup golden syrup
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence
  • Roughly chopped walnuts

 

Icing

  • 250g spreadable cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup icing sugar
  • 2 tsp orange or lemon juice

 

 

Preheat oven to 170°C. Sift the flours, bicarbonate of soda, walnuts and cinnamon into a large bowl.

Put the brown sugar, oil, milk, golden syrup, eggs and vanilla in a separate bowl. Mix until well combined.

Pour the oil mixture into the dry ingredients. Stir gently until just combined. Stir in the grated carrot.

Grease a cake pan lightly with oil, and line with non-stick baking paper. Pour the mixture into the pan and bake for 1 hour. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely before icing.

  

Icing

Place the cream cheese, icing sugar and orange or lemon juice in a bowl. Mix until well combined.

 



Joelene_tnJoelene Pynnonen reviews the movie version of Markus Zusak’s novel.

 

 

book thiefIn 1938, as Germany faces the Second World War, a sick young boy dies on a long train ride. When Death takes the child, it is his sister, Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nelisse), who captures his attention. Liesel has lost far more than any young girl should; her brother has died and her mother, a communist, must leave her with a German couple to keep her from harm.

Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson) Hubermann are about as different as can be in temperament. He is kind and empathetic, while she is short-tempered and sharp-tongued. In beliefs, however, they are closely matched. Neither agrees with Hitler’s views and both are willing to defy them as much as they are able, even to the extent of hiding Max, a Jewish man, in their basement. They and Rudy Steiner, the neighbour’s boy, come to be as much a family to Liesel as her own. The war is drawing closer, however, and the danger is never far away.

The Book Thief, while depicting a horrific era of cruelty, differs from many Holocaust stories. Rather than focusing on Nazis and Jews, it offers a slice of humanity. Using Liesel’s point of view gives the film scope to focus on what German families endured during the war, as well as giving insight into the barbarism of the Holocaust.

Based on the novel of the same name by Australian author Markus Zusak, The Book Thief is aimed at a young adult audience, so the horror is subdued rather than overt. A sense of fear, poverty, and hunger permeates the film, made more poignant by Hans and Rosa’s refusal to join the war effort to gain more food. Throughout, Liesel and her foster-parents struggle to balance safety with morality.

The actors’ performances here are amazing. All characters speak with a German accent, adding authenticity to the setting. Nico Liersch, the actor who plays Rudy, is German, but Sophie Nelisse is not, and the fact that she can manage such a difficult accent at her age does her credit. She has a presence on screen that makes her compellingly watchable. Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson also excel in their parts. Their characters bring a sense of gravity to the film; much of the fear is felt through them as they are old enough to understand consequences.

The Book Thief is a wonderful way to introduce children and young adults to the Holocaust. More than that, it’s a story that speaks to humanity: not choosing sides but acknowledging that everyone has the capacity for kindness, even in difficult times.



Marillier_Raven flightOnce again Neryn is facing a challenge that she is not sure that she can meet. This time, though, she is not alone. Having fallen in with the rebellion against the sadistic King Keldec at the end of the previous novel in this trilogy, Shadowfell, Neryn is now learning to defend herself.

However, as a Caller her path is a perilous one, and will take her on a long journey in search of the Guardians. There she will study with each of them. Only once her powers have reached their potential, can she hope to overthrow King Keldec’s forces.

With the warrior woman, Tali, as her guard and leaving Flint behind in his precarious role as King’s man, Neryn has everything to fight for, and more to lose.

The world first visited in Shadowfell, returns in all of its vibrant glory in Raven Flight. Neryn, while still careful, is not the lost girl that she was in the last book. She is more sure of herself and of her gift. Following her instincts and her grandmother’s lead, she is respectful of her gift, and of how she utilises it. The responsibility of a Caller to use her abilities humbly adds depth to the world.

There is nothing humble about Tali, however. As can be surmised from the little we see of her in Shadowfell, she’s a fighter. She’s confident without being conceited, but acts on impulse rather than being reflective like Neryn.

Usually, two women on an epic quest would make me all sorts of happy, and there are a few scenes in Raven Flight that reach my expectations, but there could have been more. Neryn and Tali are such different personalities but both strong in their own ways. I was looking forward to the way that they would work together – or clash together. Neither really happened for the most part. The most emotion Neryn experienced over having Tali as a guard was disappointment that it couldn’t be Flint. The friendship between the two women never quite became a reality for me.

What was explored in far more depth was King Keldec’s court. He doesn’t take up much of the novel, but the scenes that he is in seem almost tainted by his malicious presence. His depravity skirts the edge of implausible until you read up on prior tyrants and realise that it’s all too possible. These scenes bring into sharp focus the reason that Neryn and all of the rebels have for fighting.

While Raven Flight didn’t reach all of my expectations, it is a good follow up to Shadowfell and has set itself up well for the final book in the trilogy. Tali is an interesting character who will hopefully be fleshed out more fully in The Caller, and it will be good to find out how Flint and Neryn’s relationship will grow.

 Raven Flight – Juliet Marillier

 Pan Macmillan (July 9, 2013)

 ISBN: 9781742612249



Joelene_tnJoelene Pynnonen reviews Frozen

 

 

frozen-300x400Princess Elsa of Arendelle was born with the magical ability to harness winter; creating ice and snow from the air. After a childhood accident that involved her younger sister, Anna, Elsa has hidden away that part of herself even though it means cutting herself off from her sister and her emotions. For years the sisters are secluded inside their castle, but with Elsa’s coronation approaching, the castle must open to the public once more.

When an argument leads to Elsa losing control of her emotions and her powers, the kingdom becomes trapped in a frigid winter. Now it’s up to Anna and Kristoff, a guide she meets along the way, to track the runaway Elsa and convince her to return summer to Arendelle.

I have been accused of trying to hold onto childhood at any cost, but stoutly maintain that animated films are getting better and better right now. If anyone was still in doubt, Frozen proves it. While it has all the markings of a children’s film, the storyline and script has plenty of entertainment for an adult audience. The fact that the screening I went to see started at eight-thirty pm and did not have one child in the reasonably sized audience means that studios are capitalising on making movies that resonate with various age groups.

 Beautifully animated and with a wonderful cast of characters voiced by talented voice actors, it’s difficult to find a reason not to watch Frozen. This is another Disney movie that works hard at breaking the conventions that stunted the original princesses. The traditional charm is there, but the female characters in Frozen have more agency than earlier princesses. Elsa and Anna have distinctive personalities that drive the storyline forward, and the film really unwinds around them. Kristoff is a lovely addition, as is the snowman, Olaf, but their roles are to guide and support Anna’s quest, not to take it on for her.

The one thing that let the film down was the musical score. ‘Let It Go’ sung by Elsa’s voice actor, Idina Menzel, is exceptional and fits the emotional complexity of the film. The other songs aren’t bad, but they don’t suit Frozen’s atmosphere in the same way.

For a gorgeous film that has some ultimately wonderful messages about love, family and loyalty, put Disney’s Frozen on your checklist. I had high expectations going in, and it surpassed most of them effortlessly.

 



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