I confess that I am in my mid twenties and I am an avid reader of middle grade books. For those not in the know, middle grade is the industry term for books marketed to 9-12 year olds. Granted there are some middle grade books that overlap with YA, but the focus of this article are those books that for various reasons do not overlap.
A partial shelfie of my middle grade collection. Some are newer titles, others are some classics from middle school. I wholeheartedly recommend every book/series in this picture!
I started writing this article a few days before the controversial Slate editorial against adults reading YA. I was annoyed by how many times bookstore workers side-eyed my browsing in the kid’s section. Now it’s even more important that I put this out there.
This passion started when I was that age and hasn’t let up since. Although I wavered between business biographies, adult history, and fiction in middle school; I always returned to the books my classmates couldn’t get enough of. (Yes that was not a typo. I read Lou Gerstner’s Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? in 7th grade with as much fervor as Harry Potter installments!) As I grew up, I still went back to the middle grade sections to reread my favorites and find new books to enjoy.
In broad terms, middle grade books appeal to me for many of the same reasons adults love YA. Last month, I started a marathon read marathon of everything Rick Riordan has wrote. Mythological adventures were a perfect antidote for a mind tired of processing complicated political science assigned readings. Reading is one of the best forms of escapism out there. Not only did I find a good story, there are many elements in his books that speak to much deeper themes beneath the surface. Middle grade is just as likely a venue for profound literary themes as YA or even adult books. Even though most characters are younger than me, there are personality traits, reactions to plot developments, and situations I can identify with.
Current trends in adult books are also pushing me to read outside of my target age group. Although readers in their twenties are hungry for books catering to them, the supply of “new adult” books isn’t keeping up with demand. Many are looking for novels about self discovery and similar themes and aren’t finding these stories in the adult section of the book store. Quite a few authors have been told by publishers to make their mid 20’s characters teenagers because there isn’t enough interest. Most of the current “new adult” books are romances and need more representation of other subjects.
YA is currently dominated by John Green and those inspired by him along with paranormal romance. John Green is quite good, but I definitely want to move beyond this trend. I have a strong interest in mystery and historical fiction, and usually I prefer it in conjunction with adventure. YA mysteries are often watered down by paranormal or romance elements. Speaking of romance, middle grade is my standby when I want a story with no romance elements at all. When it comes to stories of diversity and acceptance, I often find middle grade books written by diverse authors or featuring diverse characters much more satisfying than most YA selections.
There’s good, bad, repeated tropes, and overhyped books in every genre. Completely rejecting one genre or age group is closing off your reading options in an unhealthy way. Readers should pick out what they enjoy. There is no grade at the end of reading for leisure. I hope these confessions help others to reject the elitism and criticism and embrace good stories no matter what age they’re marketed for.
[Note: TDHN is in semi hibernation as I attend Columbia Journalism School. Please keep a bookmark or leave on your follow list so when there’s a new post you can find it! Thanks for all of your support!]
A long time ago I wrote a review comparing A Scandal in Belgravia. His Last Vow gave me an opportunity to pick back up the old thread. The Charles Augustus Milverton of canon is quite similar to Magnussen despite the changes made.
The CAM of canon is a blackmailer of the worst kind, stealing compromising personal letters and other information. Crooked servants feed him the secrets of their employers. He threatens the elite with ruin unless they hand over significant sums of money. He delights in seeing people suffer social and financial ruin. In some cases he has held onto information for years waiting for the right opportunity to strike.
Lady Eva Blackwell asks Sherlock for his help in dealing with Milverton. She is engaged to the Earl of Dovercourt, but Milverton has in his possession letters to a former romantic interest. The exposure of those letters would break off the engagement. Sherlock proceeds to negotiate with for a quick end to the situation without damage to Lady Blackwell’s reputation. Milverton asks for £7000 or else the letters will be shown to the Earl the day before the scheduled wedding. Sherlock refuses this offer because Lady Blackwell does not have that much cash on hand.
After following Milverton’s movements for a few days, Sherlock forms a plan. He enters Milverton’s house disguised as the housemaid’s fiancée. Sherlock and Watson sneak in and successfully locate his safe with all of the stolen information. In a strange twist of events, Milverton has a guest in another room. The guest turns out to be one of Milverton’s victims She blames him for ruining her life. Before Sherlock could help, the woman shot and killed Milverton. When the cops hear about the murder, Sherlock refuses to get involved because his sympathy is with the victims of Milverton’s foul crimes.
Although many elements remain the same, His Final Vow extended the story in order to conclude the arc of the season. Some changes are also the result of modernization. CAM was mentioned briefly in the previous two episodes. Milverton is now Magnussen, a very powerful newspaper owner and businessman. He is still a blackmailer, but his stakes are even higher. The victims of his schemes are now government officials and even Mary Morstan. Magnussen has dangerous information on her past life as an intelligence agent. Confronting him results in Morstan shooting Sherlock before Magnussen attacked either of them. Sherlock realizes the best way to protect everyone he loves from Magnussen is to kill him.
Modernization is the source of the majority of the changes. Social ruin is not enough considering Mycroft’s proximity to government. Although it would have been satisfying to see Morstan or another victim kill him for revenge, Sherlock’s turn to the dark side is just as dramatic. His sympathy for the victims is enhanced by the change because he vowed to protect John and Mary at any costs. Once Magnussen revealed he wanted Mycroft’s secrets as well, brotherly love factored in as well. Sherlock is a high functioning sociopath but he also has a sense of justice. These changes also compliment this series’ focus on character development over plot. The reveal of her backstory cement Mary Morstan as a complex character. Although her past is murky, Watson’s love and Sherlock’s friendship point her towards a bright future.
I believe reading canon is fundamental to appreciating the many adaptations in media. I hope everyone who reads this review goes back and reads the original story.
Sherlock fans have spent the last two years wavering between severe emotional distress and absolute boredom. Social media, especially Tumblr has been their refuge. A long hiatus gives plenty of time for the fans to come up with many ideas on what should happen next. The hiatus also allowed the writers of Sherlock to see what public opinion says. [Picture of Watson’s ugly mourning mustache courtesy of PBS.]
Tumblr’s strange tasting yet wonderful Kool Aid is too good to resist, which lead to these references to fandom sprinkled in the Season 3 premiere:
1) Anderson’s Bond!Lock Theory
The episode starts with the James Bond version of how Sherlock faked his death. As if this version was already wasn’t outlandish enough, it included Sherlock making out with Molly after smashing in a window. This is clearly torn from the pages of Fanfiction.net.
2) The Physics Diagrams
One day on Tumblr, bored physics majors posted charts and diagrams to explain how angles played a role in the death faking. Although the idea was much closer to reality than many other theories, it was way too complicated for it to be the primary explanation.
3) Moriarty and Sherlock Almost Kiss
Many people believe the bitter enemies are actually lovers. One version of the faked death is that Moriarty and Sherlock secretly plotted his death so they can hook up in peace. I am pretty sure I’ve seen some version of this before on Tumblr.
4) The Empty Hearse Club
This scene is the Internet and all of it’s eccentricity in one room.
5) Would You Like To Solve Crimes?
Why let the people who see John and Sherlock as more than friends have all of? Sherlock’s interactions with Molly definitely have a touch of the art and stories made by the most ardent Sherlock/Molly shippers.
6) Anderson’s Fanboy Tears
Sherlock finally tells everyone the real version of the plot. Swapping bodies, staged people in the street, a giant airbag and making sure Watson couldn’t see anything. However it’s so realistic that Anderson can’t handle the truth, resulting in an over the top meltdown. This is very typical of live blogs/live tweets reacting to any episode of Sherlock.
7) Cheerleading Mary Morstan
Compared to Watson’s several wives in canon, Morstan is clearly incredibly supportive of his work with Sherlock. Many fans who have not read the original stories did not like the idea of Watson marrying because it would keep him away from Sherlock. Progressive fans tired of seeing female characters bashed simply because they were a woman in the way of a bromance drafted instances of Watson’s wife being more than OK with a more than friends and colleagues scenario. Hints of this point of view can be seen throughout the episode.
8) Tom The Sherlock Closet Cosplayer
Molly’s boyfriend clearly looks like a guy who threw together a Sherlock cosplay at the last minute for a con or meetup.
I can’t wait to see what new material the internet will come up with in the wait for Season 4!
Readers, please forgive the bad pun, but it is highly appropriate given how much of tonight’s episode was about crossing lines of class and consent. [Photo courtesy of ITV]
SPOILER LINE. DO NOT CROSS
Dame Nellie Melba’s invitation to Downton is the mildest example of boundary breaking in the episode. Although the modern audience would consider opera and anyone in opera cultured and high class, that was not necessarily the case in the 1920’s. Some still believed anyone who made their living through performance, especially a woman, was not respectable. Although Nellie Melba was awarded a title from the royal family, she was still not good enough for some people. Carson more than anyone believes in the maintenance of the old social order. Also his disdain for his vaudeville past solidifies his unwillingness. Cora is angered by this regression in values; forcing Robert to cross the line and sit next to Dame Elba at dinner.
Branson feels trapped between two worlds, especially with all of the wealthy guests invited to stay in Downton. Throughout the episode he feels unwelcome in Downton’s social life. He can’t help thinking that he doesn’t belong socializing with the lords and ladies invited to dinner. Although he has firmly moved from servitude to leisure, deep down he believes will never completely belong in the upper class. Coping with the loss of Sybil compounds his identity crisis because he is also feeling the pressure to move on and choose a new spouse.
Enter Edna and the older widow. Both are pushing Branson in a direction he may not be completely willing to go. Edna reminds him of his past downstairs. The widow shows an interest in him when others in the room may be judging his very presence there. Neither realize that he is not ready to commit to anything more than pleasantries at the dinner table.
Towards the end of the episode, Edna appears to be forcing his hand towards his past with her offering of an alcoholic tonic. While Edna is attempting seduction, Mr. Green succeeded in his goal of rape. Anna’s attempts to be courteous to a visiting servant were purposely twisted as an invitation for
Many are already criticizing Downton for pushing the envelope too far in triggering negative emotions and even memories of past incidents for victims who are viewers. However, not only is this not the first time that Downton has tackled less than consensual sexual overtures (remember when Barrow kissed Jimmy?), this is also a fairly accurate depiction of how some female servants were treated. Downton has always been about showing the good and the bad of life back in the early 20th century, and Anna’s rape is no different.
Female servants were expected to keep much higher standards of sexual morality and were dismissed without reference for even the slightest infraction. Since married women in service was incredibly rare, most incidents were against single women. If a male servant assaulted a female servant, employers often blamed the victim for the incident instead of offering assistance with police reports or firing the perpetrator. A female servant who was assaulted or raped by members of the gentry in most cases had no recourse. Employers would consider the victim the aggressor and close ranks to prevent scandal from someone who was considered “spoiled goods”. Anna’s horrible reality was sadly another consequence of the imbalance of gender and class power at the time.
I look forward to next week where we can see how Anna copes with the aftermath as well as what happens to Branson. I expect even more lines on various topics to be crossed this season of Downton Abbey.
I haven’t wrote down my unfiltered spontaneous reactions to an episode in quite a long time. The PBS premiere of Season 4 of Downton Abbey was a good fit for this because I saw half of the episode last month at the preview screening.:
SPOILER LINE. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!
- GOODBYE MRS. O’BRIEN AND GOOD RIDDANCE! No one liked you anyway, and now poor Alfred can be free.
- Is Thomas being catty or there is an actual problem with the nanny?
- Mary battling grief and possibly post partum depression is incredibly compelling. Hoping she snaps out of it no matter how much Lord Grantham wants to coddle her.
- Edith is cruising for heartbreak. Messing with a married man will never end well. Can’t she find someone else to date?
- Mrs. Hughes is clearly bringing up something Carson is trying so desperately to hide. He never wants to talk about his ~unsavory past in the theater~ but oh well.
- Carson, thanks for stepping out of line to help Mary. She needs to get back in the game.
- Lord Grantham got shut down by the Dowager TWICE. I love her for doing so.
- Sorry to say it but Moesley is a has been. He missed his chance.
- The workhouse doesn’t look that much better than the jail Bates was in.
- GET OUT CHILD ABUSER!! Thomas was right, Nanny West was no good!
- Aww Carson!! He’s such an old softie but never wants to show it.
- Rose the flapper is in full swing! I’m sure she will troll some more this season.
- I know they want to give Edna a second chance, but I’m getting bad vibes from her.
- Mary is well again to get involved in the estate management! WELCOME BACK!
Episode 2 seems to be bringing more drama! Check back next week for a new review/reaction post.
Many of us are suffering from DWS, or Downton Withdrawal Syndrome. PBS’s screening and panel at the Times Center helped ease my withdrawal symptoms.
[From left to right: Executive Producer Gareth Neame, Lesley Nicol (Mrs. Patmore), Phyllis Logan (Mrs. Hughes), Rob-James Collier (Thomas Barrow), Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith), Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham), Allen Leech (Branson), Executive Producer Julian Fellowes]
I’m hoping that sharing some of the teasers and insights from the panel will help relieve the suffering of others. The following assumes you have seen all of Season 3, and will not discuss any content that has aired only in the UK.:
The Season Premiere: Before the panel, the audience got to see the first 40 minutes of the 1.5 hour episode was screened. The episode begins 6 months after the Season 3 Christmas special. Fans can expect to see questions of the estate’s financial stability, adapting to a rapidly changing society, and grief and recovery to be the main themes of this episode and most likely the rest of the season.
Season 5!!: Julian Fellowes confirmed that production on Season 5 will start in February. It takes about 6 months to film the season so it is safe to say that it will air in the UK Fall 2014 and in the US January 2015.
Our Dearly Departed: Fans were shocked by Dan Steven’s sudden departure during the last Christmas special. The writers are very sorry for ruining Christmas for UK Downton fans and for the inevitable spoilers that followed for US fans. Sudden death was the only way to have Matthew exit the plot in a way that made sense. This also applies to the departure of Sybil Crawley earlier last season.
Love Below Stairs: Sorry Carson/Hughes shippers, the writers want them to remain friends and close colleagues. Fellowes likes the idea of male-female friendship without romance. Sympathy for Barrow’s plight was was also discussed. Fans want him to have a real relationship but the writers have confirmed that love for him will remain elusive due to the attitudes of the time.
The Airing Gap: Gareth Neame believes that the lag between the UK and US airings hasn’t hurt Downton’s popularity. From his viewpoint, most viewers in the US are not actively participating in social media enough to resent the wait. If Downton aired in the US and the UK in the fall, there would be too much network and cable competition for PBS to overcome. In January, the US competition is on hiatus which means higher ratings for Downton. However the reality of international fan interaction on social media sites and leaks mean that some US viewers will continue to be ahead of the PBS curve.
Edith’s Happiness: An audience member who happened to be dressed as Lady Edith in her wedding dress pleaded with Fellowes to give her a happy ending. Unfortunately for Edith fans, she will have some additional trials in Series 4 as she continues her search for a husband and
I hope this satisfied your craving for Downton news! I’ll be back with Season 4 reviews in January!
Honestly, I am so over vampires and I know a lot of you are too- so when I was camping out in the YA Fantasy Romance section of Barnes and Noble I was skeptical about a lot of the stuff I was looking at. However, something about this book called to me. Firstly, it’s Holly Black and I’m uncertain I can dislike anything Holly Black writes. Secondly, the premises was intriguing and while we live in a post Twilight world finding a Vampire Book that doesn’t sound like a complete rip off is very hard. However, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown surprised me yet. It was intriguing, clever, and contained a female character I didn’t want to stab in the throat ninety-nine percent of the time.
The story is about Thana. She’s got that typical YA book heroine thing to her. She’s tragic, doe eyed, and tough all at the same time which works for her without coming of as irritating and Mary Sue (most of the time.) Tana wakes up at a party with everyone around her dead/dying, her dopey ex boyfriend Aidan on the edge of turning into a vamp, and another vamp chained down. Thana has to race against the clock to get Aidan to a Coldtown (it’s pretty much a ghetto for vamps and weird humans who’ve gotten stuck there.) She packs up Aidan and Gavriel the sexy, mysterious, and somewhat kind vampire and hits the road with them. On their way there they meet some friends and foes and all in all it’s a fun journey.
The love story is definitely between Gavriel and Thana and contains one of the best vamp kiss scenes I’ve seen in a YA book (tongue biting and blood licking, it’s hot, gave me a bit of an early Sookie Stackhouse vibe.) What makes Gavriel and Thana so refreshing is that they both have secrets that keep their feelings hidden from everyone except themselves. The attraction is there immediately and I was very impressed with how compatible they were as characters without having been shoved down everyones throat.
Despite how great the story was one thing didn’t sit well with me and that was the fact the POV’s changed from time to time but there wasn’t any particular pattern to and when it changed from Thana to another character the first time it felt very jarring and slightly unnecessary. A plot device could have been used such as a text or a phone call. The only switches I did enjoy were the ones to Gavriel’s past with his maker that reminded me of Angel and Spike in a wonderful way.
Despite the point of view switching I did whole heartily find this book entertaining and was actually sad to find out it was a one shot and not part of a series, although I will say the ending was open ended enough that a series wouldn’t feel like something out of left field and I hope this might go on because I’m not quite ready to fully ready to say goodbye to Coldtown just yet.
(Image courtesy of the BBC)
My celebration of the 50th started at the beginning of the year. I’ve been busy experiencing the events leading up to today beyond the TV and laptop screen. I attended as well as organized conventions and meetups held in honor of the 50th Anniversary. Every once in a while I would try out watching Classic serials to deepen my appreciation of the past. All of this was in anticipation of seeing The Day of the Doctor at yesterday’s Times Square 3D simulcast.
I realized it it impossible for me to objectively analyze The Day Of The Doctor and the specials leading up to it. The happy tears of joy, nostalgia, and excitement are what made the 50th so meaningful to fans. This list an attempt to highlight some the moments from the particular moments from The Day Of The Doctor, The Night of the Doctor minisode, and An Adventure in Space and Time that stirred something deep in our Whovian souls:
PLEASE DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU ARE AVOIDING SPOILERS!!!
1) Four’s Return
The collective screaming, clapping, and sniffles was intense and could be heard whether it was a post on social media or the person next to you at a screening. I was so excited because I thought it would never happen. Tom Baker hasn’t filmed a Doctor Who scene since his regeneration. Whether fans were seeing their childhood come to life again, appreciated Four’s importance in Who history, or were glad to see their favorite Doctor again this was the moment with the most emotional impact.
2) Ten’s Return
Ten is my favorite Doctor. I couldn’t help but scream when I first saw David Tennant appear on screen. Many people came of age with or recently discovered Doctor Who thanks to Ten. Although Ten’s appearance was not a surprise, fans were still eagerly waiting in anticipation. 10’s interactions with 11 were perfectly written and much better than what I imagined. Not only did the Tenth Doctor get a fitting tribute, several unfinished plots from his series finally received closure.
3) The Night of The Doctor
This minisode did more filmed justice to the Eighth Doctor than the entire 1996 made for TV movie. Six minutes cemented years of Big Finish audio drama productions starring the Eighth Doctor as Doctor Who canon. Fans loved seeing Paul McGann return to the spotlight after years of neglect. Seeing Eight regenerate into the War Doctor was another fitting closure ending years of fan disappointment. I’ve never got around to listening to the Eighth Doctor Big Finish adventures but now is a great time to start!
4) One’s Monologue & One Meeting Eleven
An Adventure in Space and Time was a fitting tribute to the First Doctor, William Hartnell and the crew that brought Doctor Who to life on November 23rd, 1963. The special not only included the moments of nostalgia fans would expect but also the struggles and uneasiness of the earliest days of Doctor Who. As soon as David Bradley recited this quote from the Five Doctors everyone cried: “One day I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine.” One’s vision to the Eleventh Doctor was another tearjerking moment. He realized his work has lasted much longer than anyone ever expected.
5) The Deconstruction of the Time War
Every Doctor helped to save Gallifrey from destruction. Ten, Eleven, and the War Doctor brought together the Classic Doctors through flashbacks as well bringing Peter Capaldi in from the future. This moment was an excellent combination of nostalgia and excitement from the future. Although the end of the Time War is a game changer for the mythos of Doctor Who, there’s an entire new dimension open for exploration. Yesterday was just as much a celebration of the past but a stirring of excitement for the next 50 years.
In efforts to avoid essay writing, we had to leave a few more moments out. What were your favorite emotional moments from the 50th Anniversary?
I am always fascinated by the process that brings my favorite books, television shows, and movies to life. On Wednesday night, I traveled to the Upper East Side Barnes & Noble to get the inside story on the program that brings Americans the best of British drama.
Making Masterpiece, written by Executive Producer Rebecca Eaton is part tribute and part memoir of one of the longest running shows in US television history. The book combines her reflections with interviews and anecdotes from Masterpiece actors and staff of the past and present. She describes it as “a story of family sagas”.
Her discussion focused on stories about the past and pieces of the present. Everyone who wanted spoilers on upcoming airings were very disappointed. She fondly remembered Alistair Cooke’s marathon introduction writing sessions and Diana Rigg sharing the best of London gossip. Along with these anecdotes she told parts of her own story. Eaton’s mom was an actress, and she inherited her passion for the theater.
Eaton also explained what goes into making a Masterpiece production. In the earlier days, already completed UK miniseries would be reviewed and picked for licensing. Today, pitches, pilots and scripts are judged carefully for their ability to capture the core of Masterpiece’s audience. Throughout the years, focus groups and complicated market research never contribute to programming decisions.
Some productions were instant hits such as the backing of the 1980’s costume epic The Jewel In The Crown. Others started out rough but turned out well in the end. Eaton initially turned down Downton Abbey due to concerns over US success but got a second chance to back the production. Unfortunately, many pitches for American costume drama sink due to the incredibly high cost of production. Some projects have unexpected results. Eaton did not expect Sherlock to become a runaway hit with viewers in their 20’s.
Although I am only halfway through Making Masterpiece, I highly recommend it. I find my appreciation for my older and newer favorite Masterpiece shows growing as I read. Fellow fans will definitely enjoy reading Eaton’s impressions of their favorite miniseries and actors. Her insider’s view of Downton Abbey and Sherlock can help ease the pain of the final stretch until January. People interested in television history and media studies will enjoy the chapters on the production process. Eaton’s narrative often strays from strict chronological order, however this keeps the reader engaged with her story. I expect the rest of the book to follow the same pattern.
I asked Eaton about her plans for the next 40 years, especially in regards to the younger audience for Masterpiece. There was not enough time to flesh these thoughts out, but I’m already looking forward to seeing the next 40 years of Masterpiece unfold.