Literary Pilgrimage: Visiting Middle-Earth (Part 4)

Middle-Earth Literary Pilgrimage
Earlier this year, I spent three months travelling around New Zealand. My primary reason for doing so? Exploring locations in featured in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, of course! Come along as I revisit what will likely remain my most extensive ‘literary pilgrimage’.

Wellington and Surrounding Area

Wellington, New Zealand’s capital and hub of the film industry, is home to a number of locations used in filming. Wellington differs from Queenstown in that it doesn’t have the most photogenic locations (many filming sites were dramatically altered for filming). The majority of these locations benefited from direct comparison to screen shots. Wellington’s big draw is that it is home to Weta Workshop – the company that created the special effects, digital effects, and props in the film. I did the ‘Ultimate Movie Tour Plus+’ from Adventure Safari. If you have a car, you probably wouldn’t need to do a tour. I wanted to get out to Rivendell and Weta, so the tour worked for my needs.

Lower Hutt Quarry
Quarry where Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith were built. Not a lot to see here! The set building and filming (especially the battle at Helm’s Deep) that was done in this location was very impressive – some of my favourite stuff from the film.
Harcourt Park
This public park was transformed into the Gardens of Isengard. The rough patches are remnants of the path on which Gandalf rode into Isengard.
Harcourt Park 2
Gandalf and Saruman walked through this area. The bench was covered up with a digital bush in post-production.

The following shots are from Mt. Victoria, in Wellington. The forests of this hill were the locations of the Old Forest, which the hobbits flee through while being pursued by Nazgul.

'Get off the road!' scene, filmed on Mt. Victoria
Where the hobbits fell off the slop and into the road. I have long dreamt about standing in the spot where Frodo shouted ‘Get off the road’…dreams do come true, haha.
Black Rider at the top of the path
Three guys from our group trekked up this path to recreate this shot. It was an amusing process, but it does look like the film!
Forest through which the hobbits dart while being chased by Black Riders
Rivendell gate
This gate was not used in filming. It was recently built so visitors to the Kaitoke Regional Park could get a better feel for Rivendell. I certainly appreciated it. Lovely area.
Map of Rivendell
Map of the locations built for the filming of Rivendell (structures are no longer there)
Post indicating height of LotR characters
This post indicates the heights of LotR characters (according to the books). I didn’t realize Gandalf was so short 😉

The closing piece of the tour is a trip to Weta Studios. The workshop tour was my favourite part of the day. I felt like I was in a museum, looking at all the objects that were used in filming! I had an emotional moment viewing Pippin’s Gondorian armour, haha. Unfortunately no photos allowed during the tour. I did get to take a photo of the armour (Theoden’s, worn by actor Bernard Hill) that I fangirled over in the shop, though. And of course a few shots of the trolls from The Hobbit outside. 🙂

Trolls outside Weta Cave

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7 Books to Look Forward To in 2017

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Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

The prompt for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday is “books I’m looking forward to in the first half of 2017.” I don’t go searching for books that haven’t yet been released. My TBR is long enough as it! A book usually makes it onto my list if it’s received positive buzz from a blogger whose tastes match mine, or if it’s an upcoming release from a favourite author. Turns out I have seven books from 2017 on my TBR. Coincidentally, they’ll all be released in the first half of the year. 🙂

Top 10 Tesday 2017 releases - cover images

  1. Minds of Winter by Ed O’Loughlin (Feb. 4) – Historical fiction surrounding the emergence today of artifacts from Sir John Franklin’s 1845 voyage (the one where everyone died and the ship was lost until a couple years ago).
  2. A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab (Feb. 21) – Conclusion to the Shades of Magic trilogy. I can’t believe we’re already at the end!! Feels just like yesterday that I was enchanted by A Darker Shade of Magic.
  3. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Feb. 28) – If you read about books online, you’ve probably heard of this one. YA own voices novel inspired by Black Lives Matter.
  4. Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan (Mar 14) – Middle grade own voices novel about a Pakistani-American Muslim.
  5. Triangle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen (Mar. 28) – Picture book by one of my favourite author/illustrator teams.
  6. Borne by Jeff VanderMeer (May 2) – Scifi. Sounds like an excellent follow up to the Southern Reach trilogy.
  7. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee  (Jun. 20) – I love these kind of covers… Best to just copy the description for this one: “An unforgettable tale of two friends on their Grand Tour of 18th-century Europe who stumble upon a magical artifact that leads them from Paris to Venice in a dangerous manhunt, fighting pirates, highwaymen, and their feelings for each other along the way.” I’m not really a romance person but this sounds like fun.

Are any of these books on your TBR? What 2017 releases are you looking forward to?
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Review: The Witches of New York by Ami McKay

Cover of The Witches of New YorkAuthor: Ami McKay
Title: The Witches of New York
Format/Source: ebook/Netgalley (hardcover since purchased)
Published: 25 October 2016
Publisher: Knopf
Length: 504 pages
Genre: Magical realism/historical fiction
Why I Read: Browsing NetGalley, cover caught my eye
Rating: ★★★★½
GoodReads | Indigo | The Book Depository

 

I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

Is there a better feeling than when you accurately judge a book by its cover? I requested The Witches of New York on NetGalley solely because of the cover.  I have since purchased a copy. This is one of those editions that reminds me how beautiful books can be. If the image above intrigues you, then you probably don’t need to read the rest of my review – go grab a copy now and enjoy. Ami McKay has penned an excellent tale about three witches living in 1880 New York City. I am already crossing my fingers for a follow-up tale. Here are six reasons why this book is one of my favourites of 2016.

6 Reasons Why You Should Read The Witches of New York

  1. The witches, of course (Eleanor St. Clair, Adelaide Thom, and Beatrice Dunn) – I loved the characterization of these three ladies. They each felt deeply real to me, with their flaws and mannerisms and talents. I felt as though they were real people the author might have known. I rarely connect so well with one character, let alone three. I also appreciated how, despite their differences and disagreements, they always cared for each. It would be easy to reduce them to stereotypes in an attempt to briefly describe them, but Eleanor, Adelaide, and Beatrice are much more than that. (Plus, they all have charming names.)
  2. Feminine magic – I have recently discovered that I enjoy stories of feminine magic, where women have their own special power and work fight the patriarchy. That is not a sentence I would have written even just two years ago. I am a novice feminist when it comes to literature (see note after the list for more about feminism in this tale). But I do know that I loved the magic in this book. McKay differentiates the witch’s talents. Their magic felt real to me; I believe in it while reading the story (and I think that ties in to my point above about the realness of the characters).
  3. Historical context – McKay strikes the perfect blend of historical fiction and magical realism for me in this tale. The Witches of New York sits neatly in history, as McKay incorporates things such as the installation of Cleopatra’s Needle, the Victorian interest in spiritualism and science, and of course women’s rights. The witch’s magic fit snugly in the setting McKay crafts.
  4. Supporting characters –  I haven’t mentioned Dr. Brody, who wants to work with Beatrice to test her abilities and who may have a crush on Adelaide and who is an actually lovely man. The Reverend functioned well as the villain of the tale. (I get squirmy and angry when I think about the twisted logic people like him use to justify their actions.) He may be a one-dimensional character, but this isn’t his story. He symbolizes what’s working against women in society.  There are additional characters who we occasionally read passages about. I like stories like this where threads about seemingly unconnected people come crashing together.
  5. Additional texts  – Included throughout the book are bits of news, snippets of spells, excerpts from writings about witches, and other ephemera. These are nicely integrated into the text (both the physical book and the narrative) and give the story a little more flavour.
  6. Hints of more to come?? – While the story works fine as a stand alone, there were a few things not entirely explained that I would love to read more about. Not to worry, the plot is largely tied up in this volume, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a sequel! Adelaide features as her younger self Moth in McKay’s The Virgin Cure, so there’s always that to check out in the mean time.

I haven’t really discussed the feminist aspects of this story. Honestly, I hadn’t thought about how this book can be considered feminist literature until I attended an ‘Evening With’ event with Ami McKay. The area was packed with women. The discussion focused on the persecution of female witches by a patriarchal society,  and how relevant this book is today (especially in context of the US election, which happened two days before the event). I appreciated the discussion as it expanded my understanding of the story. I want to learn more about the role of witches and their treatment throughout history. Can you recommend any great books (fiction or non-fiction) about historical witches?

The Bottom Line:

Ami McKay is spot on when she describes her book as “historical fiction with a twist—part Victorian fairy tale, part penny dreadful, part feminist manifesto”. Eleanor, Adelaide, and Beatrice make The Witches of New York a 2016 must read.

Further Reading:

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Family Reads: Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel

Born out of a desire to get a family of book lovers to connect more over what they’re reading, Family Reads is an occasional feature where my mom, dad or sister and I read and discuss a book.

Dad and Jenna read Every Hidden Thing

Why we chose Kenneth Oppel’s Every Hidden Thing

I had planned to attend Oppel’s talk, reading and signing at McNally Robinson at the end of September. As a Canadian growing up in the late 90s/early 00s, I devoured the Silverwing books. Recently I’ve enjoyed The Boundless and The Nest. Dad had accompanied me to a few other author events at McNally (Chris Hadfield and Will Ferguson come to mind), so I invited him along. Dad thought it would be neat to read the book after hearing Oppel give a presentation about it. I felt iffy about Every Hidden Thing (which has been described as Romeo and Juliet meets Indian Jones), but I decided to give it a go because I was curious to see what Oppel would do with dinosaurs and YA fiction.

Our Discussion

We used Every Hidden Thing as a jumping off point to discuss young adult literature. First, we tried to determine whether Dad had ever read YA literature. He recalls reading The Hardy Boys, The Hobbit and The Chronicles of Narnia, which don’t quite make the cut.  I asked if he may have read The Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, or The Outsiders (all of which were not considered ‘YA lit’ back when they were first published but are today popularly read among teens). He couldn’t recall, but he noted that there was no Goodreads back in the seventies, so it’s hard for him to keep track 😛

I asked Dad what he liked about Every Hidden Thing, considering it was a ‘genre’ (more on that later) new to him. He appreciated the novel because he found it a light read – in general, not necessarily because it was YA. We agreed that the story moved at a good pace and had some surprises. The shifting perspectives occasionally tripped both of us up. We had to reread some paragraphs once we realized the narrator was not who we thought (this despite the change in fonts!). Overall, though, the two perspectives kept the narrative interesting without being too distracting.  I appreciated knowing ahead of time that Oppel was riffing off Romeo and Juliet, so I was prepared for the teen romance that’s central to the novel. (I am not a big fan of romance.) Dad liked the contrast between Sam and Rachel’s relationship and their fathers.

Dad and I agreed that the dinosaur fossil hunting was what really sold us on this book. Oppel gave a great presentation about his research process for Every Hidden Thing. You can read about how he wrote it in this article  from the CBC.

Finally, I asked Dad if he thought he might like to read more from the YA genre. He questioned whether YA is really a genre, and not just a marketing recommendation. We discussed some of the debate surrounding the use of a YA as a genre term rather than a general audience target. Dad says he would assume YA novels are an easier read than some of the adult fiction he reads, but he wouldn’t oppose reading a YA novel if it sounded interesting. He appreciated that he could read Every Hidden Thing in small pieces during his workweek and still be able to keep track of the characters and the plot.

I think most of my readers have grown up reading young adult literature. What books would you recommend for someone new to the ‘genre’? Have you read any novels about the discovery of dinosaurs?

October Month in Review

October Month in Review bannerI started last month’s post with a comment about how I updated less frequently than my ideal. Once again I’ve fallen short of my post goal, but this time around I was anticipating that. Between NerdCon, Comic-con, and an unexpected but appreciated increase in my work load, I didn’t make a lot of time for blogging. I dislike not having a regular schedule. I crave predictability, but my work schedule currently doesn’t have that feature. As blogging is an independent hobby, it’s the first to thing to go when I’m on a time crunch. Over the past couple years, I’ve been working out how to balance my spare time between reading and blogging about reading. Although I didn’t find the time for blogging in October, I did manage to squeeze in lots of reading, so without further ado, here are the books I read in October:

Books Finished

  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
  • My Life with the Liars by Caela Carter
  • Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm
  • All Rise for the Honourable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor
  • OCDaniel by Wesley King
  • The Witches of New York by Ami McKay
  • Slacker by Gordon Korman
  • When Friendship Followed Me Home by Paul Griffin

Books Reviewed

Features

  • I’m a round one judge for the Cybils. Here’s my post introducing the awards and what my role is.
  • Part 3 of my New Zealand literary pilgrimage series explores a variety of filming locations around Queenstown.
  • I attempt to describe why NerdCon deserves another shot in my post “Why I Loved NerdCon: Stories“.
  • For the October KidLit Blog Hop, I wrote about the books I’d read so far for the Cybils.
  • The fall edition of Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-thon took place on October 22. Here’s my master post.

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Upcoming in November

  • Oct. 31 to Nov. 6 Witch Week (“an opportunity to celebrate our favorite fantasy books and authors”) @ The Emerald City Book Review.
  • Nov. 10 An Evening with Ami McKay @ McNally Robinson. I finished McKay’s new novel The Witches of New York during last month’s Read-a-thon. Highly recommended! I will have a review up tomorrow.
  • Nov. 29 – Publication of Scythe by Neal Shusterman, a YA ‘dystopia’ in which “the only way to die is to be randomly killed (“gleaned”) by professional reapers (“scythes”). I adore Shusterman. Scythe sounds like an excellent follow to the Unwind books.

Now that I’ve finally posted on my own blog, I’ve got a lot of commenting to do. I have 40-some blog posts saved in Pocket that I want to check out. Then we’ll see how far ahead I can get with scheduling some posts. This weekend is shaping up to be a ‘catch up’ weekend for me. How was your October? What are you looking forward to in November?

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