Half Sick of Shadows by Laura Sebastian

The cover shows a young woman in profile, in a long sweeping green dress with long hair flowing behind her against the backdrop of a full moon. She has a sword raised and resting over her shoulder.

By Sahana C.

Half Sick of Shadows caught me with its premise. Billed as a feminist version of Arthurian legend, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. King Arthur, the Round Table, and all of the many stories of knights and chivalry are…really not known for their peak feminist content. In fact, the two major women within Arthurian legend, Guinevere and Morgana, both end up being villains and betraying Arthur when he needs them most. But Sebastian lets the reader into a world where, it’s true, there are places that Guinevere and Morgana, and even Lancelot, could betray steadfast Arthur, but she makes sure the origins of the myth are clear. To do that, she introduces Elaine, a minor character in Arthurian lore who plays the leading role in one of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s famous poem, “The Lady of Shalott.”  

Tennyson’s Lady and Sebastian’s Elaine couldn’t be more different in terms of temperament, abilities, and importance, but elements of the poem are woven tightly into the narrative; the Lady falls for Lancelot at first sight, she has some sort of prophetic power, and she believes, deeply, that she is cursed. See, the Lady of Shalott can only see the world through the mirror above her as she weaves. Tennyson opens the poem with great detail about the beauty of the world outside only to tell us that the Lady never sees it. She sits with her back to the window, but cannot escape the draw of the world outside, and as it finds its way into her weaving, she glances at the mirror to ensure accuracy. In fact, in one of the most poignant stanzas of the poem,  

“But in her web she still delights 

To weave the mirror’s magic sights, 

For often thro’ the silent nights 

A funeral, with plumes and lights 

       And music, came from Camelot: 

Or when the moon was overhead 

Came two young lovers lately wed; 

‘I am half sick of shadows,’ said 

       The Lady of Shalott.” (Tennyson)  

Sebastian’s version of the Lady of Shalott, Elaine, is an oracle haunted by a tower in Camelot, just the same, but this Elaine takes control of her future. She is taught to understand her seeing by the Lady of the Lake, she lives among the Fae, and most importantly, she is the last addition to a group of children who grow up in Avalon, balancing between the Fae and the Human worlds. That group of children? Lancelot, Guinevere, Morgana, and Arthur himself. By setting up these friendships so firmly, Sebastian makes the thought of future betrayal gut-wrenching. Because the reader gets to follow her growth, it makes Elaine’s role as oracle and Arthur’s top advisor even more important. And this is the beauty of Sebastian’s story-crafting: Elaine, the fair damsel with no real grit, becomes Arthur’s top advisor and the most important woman in this world. Guinevere is bold and brash and deeply in love with Arthur, but could never be disloyal. And Morgana is the fiercest protector Arthur has on his side, her magic at his service, no matter the personal cost.  

Half Sick of Shadows by Laura Sebastian is well worth a read for those who appreciate historical fantasy, Arthurian myth, and coming-of-age stories, all in one.  It is available in print and eBook format. 

Sahana is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Savage Branch. She enjoys adding books to her “want to read” list despite having a mountain of books waiting for her already.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

At the top, it reads "From Taika Waititi director of What We Do in the Shadows." Across an almost clear blue sky is the title "Hunt for the Wilderpeople" flanked by antlers.  Three figures are shown in close up profile - one is an adolescent boy wearing a cheetah print trucker hat, the next is a bearded man wearing a hunting hat, and the last one is a boar that appears to be mid-laugh.  Across the bottom, there are grasslands and forested mountains shrouded in mist.

Review by Kimberly

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an adventure-comedy-drama that follows rebellious twelve-year-old Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) and gruff woodsman Hec (Sam Neill) on an unexpected journey through the wild bush of New Zealand. Ricky Baker has been dubbed a “real bad egg” foster kid whose crimes include spitting, throwing rocks, kicking stuff, loitering, and graffiti. This is his last chance to make it work, and he is not happy about it. The character of Ricky Baker personifies the way I remember adolescence feeling – being confident and cocky on the outside, but searching for a place to belong. It is a simple story told well with the gorgeous setting of New Zealand as backdrop. 

Director Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit, Boy, What We Do in the Shadows) has an uncanny ability for storytelling. He strives to change the conversation by addressing the plights of those who have been marginalized and ignored in mainstream movies. He then captures their narrative in a touching, yet playful, way. He doesn’t adhere to standard tropes or stereotypes. Waititi creates a quirky and sympathetic characters that leaves you rooting for the underdog.

I found this coming-of-age tale funny, charming, and intoxicating. It doesn’t shy away from hard topics – delving into themes of foster care, abuse, and grief. However, it never takes itself too seriously: it is rife with banter and one-liners that are perfect fodder for inside jokes – and may even have you adopting some kiwi slang.  This film has the makings of a cult classic. Taking my cue from Ricky Baker, I’ll summarize my review with a haiku:

Its one of a kind

Finds beauty in the heartbreak

Nature meets gangster

If you watch this FILM,
please COME BACK and SHARE WITH US
your haiku BELOW.

Find Hunt for the Wilderpeople on Kanopy

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is rated PG-13 for thematic elements including violent content, and for some language.

Kimberly is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at the HCLS Elkridge Branch.  She enjoys reading, photography, crafting, and baking.

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

Bright color blocks frame the silhouette of girl, with her figure in red and dress in yellow. The author and title appear in large white text across the middle.

Review by Claudia J.

For the ancestors, a long long line of you bending and twisting

Bending and twisting. 

Memory has a way of blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, making it hard to decipher the truth. It is joyous, painful, and strange all at the same time. Jacqueline Woodson hits at each of those emotions in her latest novel Red at the Bone. She opens her novel at a coming-of-age party for 16-year-old Melody, taking place in her grandparents’ Brooklyn brownstone. Her custom-made dress, full of symbolism and pride – fit for a blossoming woman, was originally meant for her mother, Iris, 16 years earlier. From this fact spirals a series of memories, told from the perspectives of Melody, her parents, and her grandparents at different points in their interesting lives. 

Through these memories, Woodson peels away layers of trauma and triumph of this Brooklyn family. By doing so, she relates her story to the millions of black and brown families experiencing similar burdens. The burden of love. The burden of neighborhoods changing. The burden of your goals vs. the goals set for you. Woodson weaves these characters through themes of identity, sexuality, ambition, pride, and purpose. But, most of all, it tells the story of parenthood and how expectation fights reality in bending and twisting ways.

Red at the Bone is lyrical, reflective, and insightful; a poetic tale of a family that continues to bend and twist its way through life. At a time of reflection and healing, Red at the Bone is a great read to get us through a time of significant change. I truly loved this book and I think you will too.

Available in ebook and eaudio through Libby.

Claudia J. is has worked for Howard County Library System for more than four years. She enjoys writing on rainy days and drinking iced coffee on sunny days.