Boo(ish)!: Some Good, Not So Scary Halloween Movies

All Hallows Eve is nearly upon us, readers, and while we’ll be putting some scary stories out there for you to think about on Halloween proper, this week we have a selection of some good Halloween movies. But maybe not the too scary kind. After all, we can’t all be scary movie junkies like Kate is, as not all of us like being scared. But there are plenty of non scary movies that are perfectly appropriate for the Halloween season. And we thought we’d share some of our favorites with you. Whether they have Halloween settings or spooky themes, these movies are milder, but just as fun to watch during the season of the witch.

mv5bmty4mjq2mzu1ov5bml5banbnxkftztgwntm2mjc3ode-_v1_Film: “The Craft”

Premiere Date: May 3rd, 1996

What do you do when you infuse a 90s movie with a healthy dose of witchcraft and teen angst? Why, you get “The Craft”, aka the movie that almost every Goth girl in the late 90s and early 2000s took as a how to guide (including Kate). It’s a story of four teenage girls, Sarah, Nancy, Bonnie, and Rochelle, who find out that when they are together they have magical powers. Though they hope to use magic to make their lives better, it becomes all to clear that sometimes magic is too hard to control and has unintended consequences. All four of the actresses do a good job, but the stand outs are Robin Tunney’s Sarah, who plays reluctance and strength with subtle edges, and Fairuza Balk’s Nancy, whose desperation makes her both tragic and terrifying. It’s “Mean Girls” meets “Macbeth”‘s Weird Sisters, and it drips 90s girl power like few other films from that time do.

mv5bmweznmuxztmtzjy0my00ognmlwiyndctodm2yzzjm2ywzwewxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtqxnzmzndi-_v1_sy1000_cr006831000_al_Film: “The Lost Boys”

Premiere Date: July 31st, 1987

Joel Schumacher may be remembered these days for his campy and much reviled Batman films (“Batman and Robin” in particular). But the camp and schlock he is good at really added a certain something to the 80s cheese o-rama that was “The Lost Boys”. When brothers Sam and Michael (Corey Haim and Jason Patric) move to a small seaside town in California, they run afoul a group of vampires led by Kiefer Sutherland’s David. They enlist the help of two teen vampire hunters (one of whom is Corey Feldman) and hope to save themselves from the danger they’ve found themselves in. “The Lost Boys” may have some tense moments, but it’s so overwrought with earnest campiness that it isn’t terribly upsetting, just a lot of fun.

mv5bodq5ndq0mjkwmf5bml5banbnxkftztcwndg1otu4nq-_v1_sy1000_cr006731000_al_Film: “Tucker and Dale vs Evil”

Premiere Date: December 9th, 2010

There are many classic tropes in horror movies, and two of the most overused are backwoods hillbillies, and remote cabins in the woods. “Tucker and Dale vs Evil” takes both of those tropes and makes a movie with a lot of laughs and a whole lot of heart. Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are two guys who are excited to renovate Tucker’s new vacation home, a cabin in the middle of the woods. But when a group of college kids arrives and makes assumptions about who they are based on their ‘hillbilly’ appearance, a comedy of errors (with some grisly deaths) ensues. Though this is kind of a gory movie, both Tucker and Dale are so hapless and bemused by their situation there are many laughs to be had.

mv5bmtuwode3mde0mv5bml5banbnxkftztgwntk1mji4mze-_v1_sy1000_cr006751000_al_Film: “Beetlejuice”

Premiere Date: March 30th, 1988

Maybe this is an obvious one, but “Beetlejuice” is a classic haunted house tale that is far more funny than it is scary. When the Maitlands (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) die in a tragic accident, their house is bought by New York yuppies with no taste. They enlist the help of an obnoxious demon named Betelguese (portrayed famously and perfectly by Michael Keaton), but then have second thoughts when the goth and morose teenage daughter of the house Lydia (Winona Ryder) is far sweeter than they anticipated. Filled with lots of Tim Burton staples and dark humor, “Beetlejuice” is an enduring classic that stands the test of time. And will never make you look at “Day-oh” the same way again.

mv5bmmqyymy5ztmtm2jkni00nmm2lwe3zmetywyzzmrkzdm0ztdlxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtqxnzmzndi-_v1_Film: “Hocus Pocus”

Premiere Date: July 16, 1993

I mean, of course. “Hocus Pocus” is quite possibly the Grand Queen of non-scary Halloween movies. The story of the Sanderson Sisters, three Salem Witches awakened in 1993 to the (then) modern world, is a cult classic. The witches may be fish out of water, but that doesn’t stop them from trying to take the souls of Salem’s children to grant themselves eternal life. But three kids and a talking cat named Binx are out to stop them. Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy bring the hilarious, and sometimes genuinely creepy, Sanderson Sisters to life with unforgettable performances. We would be remiss to leave them off our list, because it is not officially Halloween until “Hocus Pocus” has been watched.

What about you guys? What are your favorite non scary (or scary!) movies to watch during the Halloween season? Let us know in the comments!!

“We Are The Walking Dead”: Readalikes for “The Walking Dead”

Hey readers! Given that it’s October, we thought that it would be fun to tackle something strange and spooky, and since “The Walking Dead” television show is coming back after a pretty obnoxious cliffhanger, we thought it could be fun to give you some readalikes. That way, if you’re so tormented and angry with the reveal of who Negan killed, and if you need to get your fix some other way for awhile you can look here (swear to God, if Daryl dies we’ll hate it as much as he hates salad). “The Walking Dead” isn’t just about zombies, though. It covers themes of power, the human condition, and just what lengths humans will go to in order to survive… sometimes with brutal results. So if you like that grab bag of existential crises, do we have some books for you! (Note: We aren’t including the comics on here just because that’s obvious. That said, they’re pretty good too, and you should check them out if you’re into crying deeply into the void because everything is hopeless!)

149267Book: “The Stand” by Stephen King

Publishing Info: Doubleday, 1978

Though there aren’t any zombies in this one, “The Stand” is definitely about the end of the world. When a man made biological weapon called Captain Tripps is accidentally released from a government facility, most of the world’s population dies. The one percent of the population left, immune to the disease, has to survive in a world after a man made apocalypse. But it isn’t just violent nomads, the elements, and decay that threatens these survivors. In Las Vegas, King’s greatest villain, Randall Flagg, is conspiring to end humanity once and for all. “The Stand” examines how humans cope with the world after it ends, and tells a chilling tale where a charismatic demon isn’t the scariest part. The scariest part about “The Stand” is that the whole ‘man made plague’ thing? It’s incredibly plausible.

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Book: “World War Z” by Max Brooks

Publishing Info: Crown, September 2006

Max Brooks followed up his tongue in cheek “The Zombie Survival Guide” with a gritty and in depth oral history of the Zombie Wars. True, the Zombie Wars haven’t really happened, but “World War Z” is so complex and intriguing that you would think that they had. Compiling interviews, documents, and primary sources, Brooks creates a story that shows not only how society crumbled during a zombie apocalypse, but also postulates just how humanity would react to it, document it, and sort of come back from it. At times very dark and at other times very funny, “World War Z” is a must read for any zombie fan out there.

20170404Book: “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel

Publishing Info: Knopf, September 2014

The same night that famed but troubled actor Arthur Leander dies on stage playing King Lear, a flu virus takes hold and begins to wipe out the world’s population. Twenty years later, a band of survivors travels the Great Lakes region, putting on Shakespearean shows for colonies and settlements in hopes of holding on to the arts and cultures of the past. But when they stumble into a strange commune with a charismatic and violence leader, they are reminded all too well of the darkness that still plagues humanity after it has ended. Haunting, wondrous, and written with a literary flourish, “Station Eleven” connects all of it’s characters while telling a beautifully tragic tale of how we as a species cope and move on in the face of a catastrophe of global proportions.

Book: “The Passage” by Justin Cronin66907981

Publishing Info: Ballantine Books, June 2010

The U.S. Government has been experimenting on death row prisoners hoping that they can create a drug to greatly extend human life. They got their base ingredient from a bat virus in South America. When it turns the prisoners into blood thirsty monsters they try it on Amy, a little girl abandoned by her parents. But then the original twelve prisoners escape, and a plague is released upon the world. Nearly 100 years later a colony of survivors is trying to survive against the ‘flyers’, who are out for blood. And Amy is still a young girl, mostly unchanged. The end of the world is not zombies but vampires in this horror novel, and Cronin’s epic is nightmarish and incredibly original in many ways. It’s also the first in a trilogy, so if you want more after you’re done, you can certainly find it.

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Book: “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy

Publishing Info: Knopf, September 2006

Another book not featuring zombies, but most definitely highlighting the brutality of human nature when pushed to its extremes. A father and son traverse a destroyed and grim landscape, making their way for the coast, their last hope for creating a future in this dark, post-apocalyptic world. This book gave me chills. The subject matter is challenging to get through, and yet, through what seems to be a hopeless existence, McCarthy’s narrative is almost poetic in its lyrical depictions. This is the opposite of a beach read, but also a “must” if you’re looking for a story of humanity surviving in an inhumane world.

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Book: “The Forest of Hands and Teeth” by Carrie Ryan

Publishing Info: Gollancz, July 2009

We have to end with a zombie book, and since the rest of this list has been made up of “adult” literature, I thought I’d feature a young adult zombie tale. This story follows Mary, a teen girl living in a fenced in compound surrounded by a forest full of the “unconsecrated” (read: zombies). But as she learns more about her own society, she begins to question everything she thought she knew and dream of venturing out into the strange and dangerous outer world. This book is a young adult mash-up of “The Walking Dead” and “The Village.”

What about you guys? Do you have any books that you think would make good readalikes for “The Walking Dead”? Let us know in the comments!

Rebel Rebel, You Read That Book: Banned Books Week 2016

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Chesterfield County is the latest to take issue with “Eleanor and Park.”

Happy Banned Books Week, everyone!!! Banned Books Week is that very special time of year where libraries and librarians everywhere celebrate the books that offended and shocked people, so much so that they were challenged or removed from shelves or burned in effigy. This time of year is a fun one because you can probably find a library in your area that displays and celebrates banned books, and encourages you to check them out and read them. Why just this month three books were challenged in the Chesterfield County School system in Richmond, Virginia (“Eleanor and Park” by Rainbow Rowell, “Tyrell” by Coe Booth, and “Dope Sick” by Walter Dean Myers) for being ‘pornographic’ and violent. The school district superintendent decided to keep the books on the shelves. We think that book banning is madness and oppressive, so of course we’re going to come at you with our favorite books that have caused some controversy, along with why they were considered so scandalous.

Kate’s Favorite Banned Books

584460Book: The “Scary Stories” Series by Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Scholastic, Inc, 1981, 1984, and 1991.

Why It’s Been Banned: Violence, scary content, disturbing illustrations. It has been one of the most frequently challenged books in schools in the United States, according to the ALA, and though has been out for 25+ years it stills manages to break the top ten list every once in awhile.

Why I Love It: Look, it’s no secret that the versions with the Stephen Gammell illustrations are straight up nightmare fuel for kids. I read these books for the first time in fifth grade and they messed me up for weeks. But, that said, I loved every bit of them and managed to get my hands on a copy of the treasury before the re-release with tamer, and lamer, illustrations. These books are great because not only are they scary, they also have extensive source notes about the origins of the stories, along with information about American folklore. I still dig these books as a woman in her early thirties, and I STILL don’t like scarecrows. Thanks, Harold.

227463Book: “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess

Publishing Info: W.W. Norton and Company, December 1962

Why It’s Been Banned: Violence, violence, VIOLENCE. Also portrayal of authority. In 1973 a man in Utah was arrested for selling this book (all charges were dropped but he was run out of town on a rail).

Why I Love It: When I was fourteen I asked my Mom if I could see the movie version. She told me a solid ‘hell no’ but then said that if I could find her old copy of the book in the attic, it was mine. I proceeded to bring it to school (specifically detention) and read it in front of the proctor, who demanded if my parents knew I was reading this book. I still love “A Clockwork Orange” because of it’s musings on authority, the idea of choice vs coercion, and the commentary on how society deals with its criminals. The story of the violent criminal Alex has endured the test of time and many controversies, from the depictions of violence to it’s original ‘nadsat’ slang structure. It is incredibly violent and at times hard to read, but it remains a scathing critique of societal power structures.

693208Book: “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie

Publishing Info: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2007

Why It’s Been Banned: Sexual contents, racial themes, profanity. In 2013 it was removed from a reading list in a town in Idaho. When a local teen took it upon herself to hand out free copies of the book at a local park, a pearl clutching parent called the police on her.

Why I Love It: “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” is my favorite modern YA book because of it’s warmth, it’s humor, it’s tragedy, and it’s honesty. Sherman Alexie is one of our best authors writing today, and his personal and wonderful book about Junior Spirit is so real and so powerful that it left me on an airplane flipping between laughing and sobbing. Junior’s story addresses the shameful way that indigenous peoples are treated in this country along with the pains of growing up while feeling like an outsider no matter where you go, as Junior Spirit lives on a reservation but goes to school outside of it. This book is a very relatable book for many teens, however, as Junior also deals with crushes, friendship strife, and puberty. I love this book.

Serena’s Favorite Banned Books

3636Book: “The Giver” by Lois Lowry

Publishing Info: Houghton Mifflin, April 1993

Why It’s Been Banned: Violence and sexuality. Jonas goes through puberty in this book and the story discusses ways that this dystopian society suppresses sexuality and sexual urges. And many of Jonas’s flashback involve war and violence. Apparently, in 1995 a Kansas woman attempted to have it banned because it “degraded the idea of motherhood.” Sigh.

Why I love It: Let it not be said that there isn’t a strong sense of irony in the books that people attempt to have banned. Like “Fahrenheit 451,” another oft-banned book, “The Giver” features a dystopian world where creative thought and, in many ways, storytelling, are banned to society. So…yeah. I read “The Giver” repeatedly throughout middle school and highschool. Not only is the society that Lowry creates terrifying, but Jonas’s sense of confusion and bewilderment while approaching the mysteries of adulthood rang very true for my teenage self. This a beautifully written novel which opens the reader’s eyes to the beauty to be found in the world, even alongside the horror, and how we can often lose sight of what is important in life if we’re too busy policing *ahem* the world around us.

18131Book: “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle

Publishing Info: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, January 1963

Why It’s Been Banned: Fantasy elements, specifically the belief that it promotes witchcraft, crystal balls, and demons. Undermines religious beliefs and complaints regarding the inclusion of Jesus Christ alongside famous artists/philosophers/scientists/etc who fight off evil.

Why I Love It: This is a classic, young adult fantasy novel and one that I feel people are often surprised to find out is on the banned books list. Not only is it on the list, but it has been ever since being published and still routinely comes under fire, even though it is now recognized by many as a classic and has many awards to its name. I loved it as a teen myself just as a staple example of “science fantasy.” This is kind of strange term, but it perfectly illustrates the blending of fantastical elements with themes and ideas more typically found in “science-y” science fiction that is presented in this story. The complaints against it are very bizarre (does writing about magical elements somehow convince people that they might somehow be real??), especially given the resolution of the story with Meg’s love for her brother as the key to everything.

19543Book: “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak

Publishing Info: Harper & Row, April 1963

Why It’s Been Banned: More fantasy elements, aghast! Also, dark themes, promoting rebellion in children, and, worst of all, potential psychological damage regarding children’s fear of being sent to bed without dinner by their parents.

Why I Love It: I thought I would change things up and include a picture book on this list, not only because I truly love reading pictures books still as an adult, but also to highlight the fact that picture books make up a good portion of the titles that regularly come under fire by book banners. This is another example of an award-winning novel and a darling of many of our childhoods that is still regularly challenged. Though, again, its true message of the balance between adventure and the love of home that the story presents seems to be lost on some readers. Like Kate’s example above, it’s also thought to be too scary for children, though as a young reader myself, that was part of the reason I, and I suspect many other children, love it! The tension is what made it exciting! A quote from an article regarding the banning of this story: “Boys and girls may have to shield their parents from this book. Parents are very easily scared.” (source)

What banned books are favorites of yours or have you read this year? Let us know in the comments below!

Go For The Gold!: Sports Books for The Olympics

The 2016 Summer Games are occurring right now in Rio de Janeiro, and the world has come together to compete in a number of summer sports! From gymnastics to swimming to soccer to basketball, multiple athletes are trying to get the gold! So with the Olympics underway, we thought it would be fun to examine some books that have sports themes in them, particularly sports that are played during the Summer Games!

26795703Book: “Tumbling” by Caela Carter

Publishing Info: Viking Books for Young Readers, June 2016

“Tumbling” centers around a number of American teenage girls who are vying for a spot on the Women’s Gymnastics Olympic Team. Given how amazing U.S.A.’s Final Five have been during these games, and given how popular Women’s Gymnastics is every year, it seems only fair that this book make the list.  Not only does it showcase the glory and excitement of trying to make the Olympics, it also shows the struggle and the stress that comes with it. Following a few different girls, “Tumbling” is the perfect companion book for these summer games!

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Book: “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown

Publishing Info: Viking, June 2013

Following the a true story of Olympic dreams, “The Boys in the Boat” is about the American Rowing Team during the 1936 Olympics, and everything that they had to do to make it to the top of the medal’s podium. This non fiction book has been fairly popular for awhile, and given that it’s an Olympic year the interest is sure to spike once more. While rowing may not have the same interest as swimming or gymnastics does these days, it was very popular in the 1930s, so this race was huge. And who doesn’t want to root against Nazi Germany?

4264Book: “Fever Pitch” by Nick Hornby

Publication Info: Riverhead Books, 1992

Hornby’s memoir and ode to his love of football (soccer to all of us Yanks!) is one that only brings to light the high intensity world of sports fandom, but also shines a bright light on a world-wide obsession. This is listed as an autobiography/comedy/analytical piece, which is a lot of hats to wear. But, as any sports-lover knows, one’s team can becomes one’s life, if you’re not careful! While some of the references may be dated, “Fever Pitch” still makes most all lists of best soccer-related books.

10340846Book: “The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse That Inspired a Nation” by Elizabeth Letts

Publication Info: Ballantine Books, January 2011

 The true story of “Snowman,” a regular old plow horse who was rescued from the back of a truck that was on its way to the slaughterhouse and went on to become a national sensation in show jumping. Horse stories are a personal favorite of mine, but it is rare to find a true story that is about horses competing and succeeding in anything other than track racing. With comparisons to “Seabiscuit,” a personal favorite, this sounds like the perfect book for any equestrian sports lovers out there!

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Book: “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand

Publishing Info: Random House, November 2010

Speaking of “Seabiscuit”…by the same author, Laura Hillenbrand, comes another World War II true story. This might feel like a bit of a repeat, as the Berlin games are also the focus of our second suggestion, but with a major motion picture recently released, and an amazing story of resilience and survival, we couldn’t leave “Unbroken” off this list. Louis Zamperini‘s story is extremely powerful, speaking to the inner strength that athletes draw upon in their sports (in his case, track and field as a runner) and that, in his case, translated to endurance as a prisoner of war.

The Play’s The Thing!: Books Turned Into Theater

With “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” taking the world by storm, we thought that it could be fun to focus our Monday post on the stage! Though “Cursed Child” is a play that has been released as a novel, we are going to focus on the other way around: books that have been turned into successful and famous plays.

Book/Play: “The Phantom of the Opera” by Gaston Leroux (play by Andrew Lloyd Webber)

Publication/Premiere Information: September 1909; 1986

“The Phantom of the Opera” is a classic tale of beauty and the beast, obsessive and tragic love, and the power of music. The play is a personal favorite of both of us, the music and the story and the tragedy of Erik the Phantom overtaking us every time. And before you start to say “oh gross, how could you like a story about an obsessive and murderous stalker,” we have to say to you:

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(source)

We know. It’s fine. Whatever. We still love it. Leroux’s novel is about Christine, an opera singer who rises to stardom thanks to lessons from her “Angel of Music.” The opera house that she sings at is also the home to an “Opera Ghost” who terrorizes those who don’t bend to his will. The Angel and the Ghost are one and the same, a disfigured man named Erik who is obsessed with Christine and wants her to marry him. But Christine is in love with Raoul, a nobleman who wants to whisk her away. This displeases Erik, and carnage and violence ensues. In spite of his creepy demeanor and stalker persona, there is just something incredibly tragic about the Phantom that makes him very, very sympathetic, and Michael Crawford’s depiction of him on the stage is a performance that is timeless. The music is very operatic and dramatic, which is perfect for a book that is basically a soap opera. “The Phantom of the Opera” has been running on Broadway since 1988, with no signs of stopping. And if you want a surefire way to make both of us sob, just play the entire finale track from the show.

Book/Play: “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo (play by Claude Michel-Schonberg and Jean Marc Natel, English lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer)

Publication/Premiere Information: 1862; 1980

Known affectionately as “The Brick” by its fandom, the novel “Les Miserables” tackles and disseminates the French political and judicial systems of the time period. It focuses on many characters from many walks of life, but perhaps the most famous is Jean Valjean, a thief turned do gooder. Hugo’s book is considered to be one of the best of French Literature, and the play is one of the most beloved musicals of all time. The show gives many voices to many characters, especially giving voice to Eponine, a somewhat side character in the book. In the play she is arguably the second most important female role, as she is portrayed as very three dimensional and complex. The play has been translated into more than twenty languages, and has been the longest running play in London’s West End. You would be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t at least heard of “Les Miserables,” book or play, and its enduring legacy is still going strong among classics lovers and theater kids alike.

Book/Play: “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley (play by Nick Dear)

Publication/Premiere Info: 1818; February 2011

So this one is kind of a fun anomaly that we both wanted to talk about. The book “Frankenstein” is quite possibly one of the first examples of science fiction in literature, as a young Mary Shelley told the story of science and electricity raising the dead. This story has had MANY adaptations, from Boris Karloff as the Monster to a parody written by Mel Brooks. But this play is kind of interesting. First of all, it was directed by “28 Days Later”‘s Danny Boyle, which is pretty neat. The second, and far more relevant thing to us, is that it starred Johnny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch. Miller and Cumberbatch played both Dr. Frankenstein, and his monster, swapping roles for different performances. The play takes some licenses with the original text, but both Miller and Cumberbatch won awards for their performances as Frankenstein and The Monster.

Book/Play: “Wicked” by Gregory Maguire (play by Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman)

Publication/Premiere Info: 1995; 2003

This is kind of a no-brainer for us, as “Wicked” is another of our favorite musicals. The book is more of a examination of political propaganda, social commentary, and ethics, with Elphaba Thropp, the Wicked Witch, leading a revolution and being vilified for it. The play certainly has this theme, but it gives far more play and time to the theme of friendship, specifically that between Elphaba and Glinda the Good Witch. Schwarz’s musical also makes Elphaba and Glinda more layers of complexity, as while they are complex in the novel, their complicated and fierce friendship makes both of these witches not only stronger, but more vulnerable.

Book/Play: “Peter Pan” by J.M. Barrie (musical directed by Jerome Robbins)

Publication/Premiere Information: 1911, 1954

And, of course, no list of famous book/play/musical adaptations would be complete without mentioning “Peter Pan.” Technically this is a tricky one as as Barrie originally wrote “Peter Pan” as a play that debuted in 1904 and then later adapted it into a novel. And then in 1954, it was re-adapted as the musical, lead by Mary Martin as the title character, that we are all most familiar with today. While both have challenging aspects to modern viewers/ readers, Barrie’s timeless story of childhood and the perils of growing up is one that continues to spark imagination. Sadly, that imagination does not always translate into great things…

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(source)

So that’s it from us! What are some of your favorite book-to-stage adaptations?

Reader’s Advisory for “The Raven Cycle”

Thank you for reading our joint series review for “The Raven Cycle” by Maggie Stiefvater. As promised, here is our longer, in-depth Reader’s Advisory post for the entire series now that we have completed it. On to the picks!

Serena’s Picks:

Series: “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” series by Laini Taylor

This book is right up there as one of my newer favorite young adult fantasy series. If you liked the combination of fantasy and horror that you got with the “Raven Cycle,” this series is right up your alley. Also, if you liked anything about Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”…don’t want to give it away, but yikes! Taylor also introduces a strong cast of characters, and while the romance is probably a stronger element in this series than it was in the “Raven Cycle,” it never overpowers what is otherwise an incredibly creative and unpredictable fantasy story.

518848Book: “Sabriel” by Garth Nix

This is one of my all time favorite fantasy novels. I wasn’t as aware of it as a teenager reading the story, but man is it dark as well! I guess there are necromancers in it, so I should have been aware as a kid, but for some reason, as an adult reader who regularly revisits this book, I’ve come to appreciate how well Nix handles the dark fantasy elements in this book. It also features a kickass heroine in Sabriel herself, a slow-burn romance that doesn’t overtake the story, and snarky cat. So, it’s pretty much the perfect book. It can also be read as a standlone, but Nix has written several sequels in the years since it was first published. I still prefer this one above all and so am only highlighting it here, but if you do read it and enjoy it, I did enjoy the others, too.

10626594Book: “The Scorpio Races” by Maggie Stiefvater

Maybe this is a cheaty answer, but I don’t care! Obviously, if you like Stiefvater’s writing for this series, you are likely to enjoy her writing in this book. Mythology in the modern day, this book is simply a beautiful imagining of an only slightly alternate world where horses can come from the sea and are as beautiful as they are dangerous. The writing is exquisite, the two main characters are sympathetic and strong, and, it’s a stand alone that leaves the reader fully satisfied. Regardless of anything else, if you love horses or books about horses, this story is perfect for you.

Kate’s Picks:

Series: “Locke and Key” by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

A dark fantasy comic about family, magic, friendship, and demons, “Locke and Key” by Joe Hill (one of my favorite authors writing today) and Gabriel Rodriguez (Illustrator) is a dark and fantastical story. It follows the Locke Family, who has moved back to the childhood home of the recently murdered patriarch. Inside the house the three children, Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode, find many magical things, such as magical keys, a door that once you cross you can leave your body, and a magical crown. But there is also a demon inside the well on the property that wants the keys. The tone is both frightening and coming of age, and it is a wonderful adventure filled with action, metaphors, and heart.

22535489Book: “Bone Gap” by Laura Ruby

The town of Bone Gap has an entertaining set of citizens, including a man who treats his chickens like they are people, a hippie lady who makes honey and honey based products, and the O’Sullivan brothers, Sean and Finn, who took in a mysterious woman named Roza. But then Roza disappeared, and Finn saw a dark and mysterious man with her whose face he cannot remember. “Bone Gap” is a story about evil beings that are seeking beautiful princesses, teenagers falling in and out of love, and a very odd town with very odd characters. I picked this because of the town Bone Gap itself, which, like Henrietta, has a feel to it that makes it feel like it’s very own character.

Book: “Far Far Away” by Tom McNeal16030663

Noah Czerny is one of my favorite characters in “The Raven Cycle”, the ghost who is still walking this earth because of the magical Ley Line. “Far Far Away” deals with a ghost as well, but this ghost is a familiar one: Jacob Grimm, of the Brothers Grimm. “Far Far Away” is a story about a boy named Jeremy Johnson Johnson, whose closest confidant is Jacob, who is there to watch over him and protect him from an unknown evil. The friendship between Jacob and Jeremy is a sweet one, as is the friendship between Jeremy and a free-spirited girl named Ginger. And the horror elements of this story are also solid, involving a mysterious entity that is threatening Jeremy, taking fairy tale’s darkest points and making them even creepier.

And this wraps up our week long retrospective of “The Raven Cycle” by Maggie Stiefvater. If you have read “The Raven Boys” or any other books in the series, what books do you think are similar? 

Have Some Pride! YA Fiction with LGBTQ Themes

Pride is the time of year where members of the LGBTQ community can celebrate who they are and the communities that they are a part of, and promote civil rights and visibility for these communities. Given the recent violence in Orlando, threatened violence at other Pride events, and oppressive and discriminatory bathroom laws targeting trans people, it has become abundantly clear that Pride is still very important and necessary, and that the fight for safety and dignity has a long ways to go. Though June is the official Pride Month, Pride events happen throughout the summer. So we thought that it would be fun to give our recommendations for Young Adult literature with LGBTQ themes! Lots of great books with LGBTQ characters have come out of the YA writing community, and these are just a few of many great works.

11595276“The Miseducation of Cameron Post” by Emily M. Danforth

Cameron Post is an orphan living in rural Montana in the 1990s. Her parents were killed in a car accident at the same time that Cameron was having her first kiss with her best friend, Irene. Sent to live with her conservative Christian Aunt Ruth, Cameron does her best to fit in and hide her sexuality. That is, until she meets Coley, a spunky and chipper cowgirl. Cameron and Coley become fast friends, but when their relationship goes to a new level, Cameron is sent to a camp that is supposed to ‘cure’ gay and lesbian teens. This book is a tale of first great love, great heartbreak, and an empowering coming of age story. Filled with pathos and hope, “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” will make you cry, think, and smile.

“If I Was Your Girl” by Meredith Russo 26156987

Moving to live with her father and starting a new school is a new beginning for Amanda. Small town Tennessee is very different from Atlanta, but Amanda is starting to adjust. She makes some very close girl friends, and starts to fall in love with sweet and sensitive football player Grant. But Amanda is worried, because she is trans, and is scared that if everyone found out she would be humiliated, ostracized, or much, much worse. Written by Meredith Russo, a trans woman, “If I Was Your Girl” is a story about being yourself and finding acceptance. It’s also on this list because Russo has a lot of background notes and information for trans teens and trans allies alike. Amanda’s story is one that is so very important in a time of laws like HB2.

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“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” by Bejamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle and Dante are as dissimilar as you can be, Ari being an angry teen who resents the life he’s living, and Dante a gentle soul with a quirky worldview. But after a chance meeting at the local swimming pool, a connection is formed and the two develop a beautiful friendship and come to more deeply understand themselves through the other’s eyes. It is also worth noting that Serena made the poor decision of bringing this book along with her when she was getting her tires changed one afternoon, and then spent the whole time sobbing into the book while trying to avoid eye contact with the very confused, 40-something year old men all sitting in the lobby with her. And Kate read it on a plane and bawled her eyes out for everyone to see while her husband pretended to not know her. It was awkward for both, but a testament to the true beauty and poignancy of this story.

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“Huntress” by Malinda Lo

The prequel to the also Malinda Lo’s also excellent novel “Ash,” “Huntress” follows the story of two teenage girls who set out on a quest to restore order to a failing world. As even this list highlights, many of YA LGBTQ stories out there take place in a real world setting, so this fantasy novel featuring a beautiful, slow-burn romance between two girls is a bit of a rarity. What’s more, Lo creates a world where the two girls’ sexuality is not a cause for them to be ostracized, which allows the author to explore other challenges for her characters and present a wholly new story.

13262783 “Every Day” by David Levithan

“A” wakes up every day in a different body and lives the life of that person. For just one day. The next “A” is someone else. Boy, girl, rich, poor, able-bodied, disabled. To survive, “A” creates a set of rules to follow to preserve sanity. Until “A” meets a teenage girl named Rhiannon and finds someone to spend every day with. Levithan takes what sounds like an absolutely bonkers premises and uses it to explore such a wide variety of world views and life styles. The fact that “A” lives life every day in a different body leaves the character’s sexuality as one that goes deeper than gender. “A” loves Rhiannon, regardless of the gender “A” currently inhabits.

These are our YA LGBTQ picks. What are some of your favorites?