Tuesday, 24 December 2013

And so this is Christmas...

As mentioned in a previous blog post, I love Christmastime. This isn’t just because of the excitement of gift-giving (although I do enjoy this tradition!), the over-indulging on scrumptious food or being surrounded by family I often don’t see from one year to the next, but the embracing of a sense of magic into our everyday lives. It’s the one time of year that adults of all ages let their guard down and embrace the fun and whimsy that the festive season brings.

I recently watched a TV program about the history of Christmas traditions, where I discovered it wasn’t until the Victorian times that the focus shifted to children. Before then, adults celebrated the season by playing games, singing carols, eating ridiculous amounts of food and were not ashamed to be silly and merry. These days, it’s easy to feel that Christmas is only for children, but as long as we keep the festive spirit, the season can, and should, be celebrated by all ages.

It is the little touches that keep the spirit alive as adults: the singing of carols around a decorated tree, watching our favourite Christmas movies, keeping secrets from family members as we plot and plan their presents and the elaborate tales we tell children to help make them believe in Santa.

When I was searching through a box of Christmas decorations this year, I found a letter I’d received from Santa as a child. There had been no question in my mind that Santa had taken the time to write to me and it wasn’t until many years later that I noticed his signature was very similar to my father’s. To this day, when I look at this letter, I feel the magic of Christmas—the fun, joy and enchantment of the season. It’s the one time we invite fantasy and real magic into our homes.

My treasured letter from Santa

However you choose to celebrate the holidays, I wish you and your family a healthy and happy festive season and wonderful new year. Also, thank you so much for reading my blog; it’s a great early Christmas present from you to me. J

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Bad habits and sad endings

I’ll admit it. I’m developing a bad reading-related habit; I’m starting to leave a trail of unfinished YA books in my wake. Not because they weren’t enjoyable, or well written, but because of the book’s ending.

These days it’s hard to read a high profile book, watch a popular TV show or highly hyped movie without getting a gist of the ending. Although it’s well-known and accepted, by most, that spoilers should be avoided, there’s still the inclination to give something away. Any comment on an ending, however vague, establishes audience expectations—a warning of what’s to come.

When two highly anticipated books hit the bookshelves earlier this year, it was almost impossible to avoid spoilers. Whilst I avoided most details, I couldn’t help but hear over and over about how sad the endings were. Even my trusted online book reviewer labelled one of the book’s endings as controversial. YA book + controversial ending = main character deaths. Uh-oh.

So I began reading the books with a sense of trepidation, knowing the outcome for my beloved characters was not going to be good. But reading a book like that is similar to watching a horror movie between interlocked fingers; only parts of the experience and story are absorbed. My heart filled with dread as I neared the final chapters of one of the books. This was it, the moment that I’d known was coming. I decided I couldn’t face it; I put the book down, refusing to be shattered by the ending. I’d been there before, a few times this year—actually, where a book’s ending had fractured my heart. I didn’t want to go there again. I never returned to the book.

When I was reading the second book, I armed myself with nerves of steel; ready to face the sledgehammer-to-the-chest ending that I’d been warned about. At the end of the book I was surprised to find myself in one piece; it hadn’t been as heartbreaking as I’d imagined. Perhaps this was because I had distanced myself from the characters whilst reading the book, making sure the ending would not break me. At least I managed to finish that novel.

You’re probably thinking that I just don’t like sad or shocking endings, but that’s not true. There are many novels where I appreciate a more poignant ending—if appropriate to the story. However, YA novels are usually a safe bet when it comes to some form of happy/resolved ending. However, the recent darker trend in popular mainstream YA fiction is leading readers down a different path. One I’m not so sure I like. I don't want to feel hollow after reading a YA book, I want to be uplifted and moved, my faith in the world, and humanity, restored. If this sad ending trend continues, there are sure to be more unfinished books left on my shelf.

What do you think of this recent dark turn for YA endings? Do you like sad endings? Or do you think I’m just being a wuss?

Monday, 2 December 2013

Step into Magic

Last Sunday I spent the day at Tokyo DisneySea, considered the best theme park in the world by theme park enthusiasts. Tokyo DisneySea is an experience more than a theme park; the details, ambience and theme-ing are beyond imagination. In fact, the first time I visited I was reduced to using only words of exclamation and sounds of disbelief. You are not visiting shops, rides and attractions themed as an Mediterranean harbour, underwater lagoon or volcanic island, but you are in these environments. I love theme parks, but my joy, appreciation and enthusiasm for Tokyo DisneySea knows no bounds. I could talk your ear off about how wonderful it is - although I'll try not to! Put simply: it's the most magical place I've ever visited.

My favourite of the seven themed lands or "ports" is Mysterious Island, based on the works of Jules Verne, specifically, 'The Mysterious Island' novel. The scale is completely overwhelming, it's like stepping inside a fictional world that is fully-functioning and completely immersive and compelling. I could spend all day there, soaking in the atmosphere as a wanna-be explorer.

My second favourite land is the enchanting underground playground of Mermaid Lagoon. The inner child in me loves being surrounded by everything 'The Little Mermaid'. It's another area that demands my time and attention.

After a rewarding, but exhausting, visit to Tokyo DisneySea and the wonderful immersive environments, I couldn't help but think of what other fictional worlds I would like to step into. One that came to mind was the world of Philip Reeve's 'Mortal Engines' novel, where gigantic mobile cities chase smaller cities across barren wastelands; where cities eat other cities. I would love to wind my way through a "Traction City", from the grimy depths of the bottom tiers to the gleaming wealthy top levels where I could watch a city chase that's underway. What a great ride/experience that would be!

What about you? What fictional landscape/world would you like to walkthrough and experience? Please let me know in the comments.

Now for more Tokyo DisneySea pictures, just because they're awesome...