Friday, March 17, 2017

Quickly: 6 things about Beauty and the Beast

If you haven't seen it yet, go. I'm not saying Disney's new Beauty and the Beast film is perfect, or that you won't be disappointed at all, but overall it's a great film, and full of magic. I thought I'd mix things up a little with something that's not a straightforward review. Here's a {spoiler-free} list of 6 things you'll learn from the new Beauty and the Beast film:

1. Emma Watson and Dan Stevens are great actors and highly attractive people - they just can't sing.

Sound of Music much?

Yeah. We all saw it coming, and basically it was what we expected. Emma Watson makes a fantastic Belle, and who doesn't love Dan Stevens as the Beast? There's just one problem: it's a musical. 

Some of the supporting actors have pretty good voices: Luke Evans isn't bad as Gaston, and Kevin Kline's brief solo is surprisingly good. Emma Thompson can sing well enough to play Mrs. Potts, and Audra McDonald is great as Garderobe (because McDonald actually sings). 

But, sadly, Emma and Dan don't quite pull it off. A great orchestra helps them out in the big moments of the score, but it can't take them all the way. Do I wish Disney had cast better singers in the roles? I'm not sure. It's a trade-off, I guess. 

2. LeFou is more complicated than we thought, but not quite as funny.

Don't get me wrong - he's still funny. And I couldn't have picked a better actor than Josh Gad to play Gaston's buffoonish sidekick. But Gad takes the character in a different direction. He's not just an imbecile, and he has character development. Also, yes, he's gay. But I think the press has made that into a bigger deal than it actually is in the film.

3. Gaston is sort of likeable.

I mean until he ties Maurice up to a tree and leaves him to the wolves. I almost liked the guy. And I loved the "Gaston" scene in the tavern. It was one of the highlights of the film. Dancing on the table a la Newsies = yes.

4. We should all return to 18th century French fashions.

Also yes are every single one of Belle's dresses, Gaston's overcoat, and pretty much anything that anyone wears in the entire movie. The visuals are gorgeous, from the set and landscape shots to the costumes, camera angles, and lighting. As a piece of visual artistry, it's perfect. 

The ballroom scene - !!!

5. This isn't the Beauty and the Beast you think you know.

JK, it totally is. I mean they changed a few lines here and there, added a couple brief songs, and mixed some scenes up a little, but for the most part it's pretty much the original cartoon replayed with live actors. I was kind of hoping they'd throw in the song "If I Can't Love Her" from the Broadway version of Beauty and the Beast, but they didn't. They did give the Beast a new song, but in my opinion it was a little on the lame side. 

Overall, though, I loved what they did with the story. Of course I loved the courage and little personality touches that Emma Watson brought to Belle, making her an inventor like her father and emphasizing her love of Shakespeare and such (Shakespeare!). And the orchestral score was breathtaking. (Bum bum bum bum bum bum bum! [bum] Bum bum bum bum bum bum bum! [bum] Bum bum bum bum, bum bum bum bum, bum bum bum bum bum....bbuummm...... OK I'm done.)

6. To love another person is to see the face of God.

So enough from me. Go see the movie.

Until tomorrow.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Review: C.S. Lewis Onstage: The Most Reluctant Convert

Hey folks,

Here's another theatre review for you (since those have been few and far between on this blog so far). FPA's C.S. Lewis Onstage: The Most Reluctant Convert is currently playing in New York, but if it follows the pattern of FPA's previous productions, it will probably go on tour after a little while. If you're a fan of C. S. Lewis (as I think many of you are) it's worth seeing.

Theater Review • March 2017

C. S. Lewis is arguably the most important Christian writer of the 20th century. His large number of works include The Chronicles of NarniaThe Great Divorce, and The Screwtape Letters, and his influence on modern Christian thought is incalculable. But for much of his early life, Lewis was a decided atheist.

In C.S. Lewis Onstage: The Most Reluctant Convert, the newest production from Fellowship for Performing Arts, Lewis’ early atheism and conversion to Christianity take center stage. Written and performed by Max McLean, who also co-directs the play with Ken Denison, The Most Reluctant Convert chronicles Lewis’ journey toward belief: beginning in his early childhood and closing when he takes Communion at age 33, when Lewis firmly declares: “I now believe.”

The play takes place in Lewis’ Study at Magdalen College in Oxford, where he served as an English tutor for many years. The year is 1950, just before the publication of Lewis’ first Narnian story, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Taking cues from recordings of Lewis’ voice and accounts of his behavior, McLean convincingly and endearingly enacts the Oxford don as he tells the audience about his stubborn struggle to keep God out of his life, and his extreme reluctance to accept the Christian faith. Of his eventual defeat, Lewis says: “I [was] perhaps, the most… reluctant convert in all of England.”

Far from what you might expect in a play with only one character and setting, The Most Reluctant Convert doesn’t feel limited in its action. Thanks in part to changing image projections, and in part to McLean’s acting abilities, the story moves successfully from Lewis’ childhood home in Ireland, to the Surrey countryside, the WWI trenches, and the University of Oxford. The dialogue is also offset by brief pauses, lighting changes, and musical interludes. In addition, McLean makes use of the whole stage: sitting at Lewis’ desk, walking up and down the study, pouring a glass of wine, and settling in the armchair at center stage.

It’s a great credit to McLean and his artistic team that, in a play that’s really just one long monologue, the audience never gets bored or restless. That being said, audience members may find themselves briefly zoning out from time to time, and with a script largely drawn from Lewis’ own writings, it’s nearly impossible to catch everything that’s said. If viewers want more, though, they can go to the source material listed in the program notes. And no matter how many times the audience zones out, McLean always brings them back.

Hosted by the Acorn Theatre and Theatre Row, the play is a must-see for fans of C. S. Lewis, and sure to interest and inspire both skeptics and believers alike. Whether you’re a Christian, an atheist, something in the middle, or something else entirely, The Most Reluctant Convert speaks to you where you are – much like C. S. Lewis himself.

Until tomorrow.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Just add dragons: Dragon's Future by Kandi J. Wyatt

Title: Dragon's Future (Dragon Courage # 1)
Author: Kandi J. Wyatt
Publication Date: August 10 2015
Publishing Company: Booktrope/Updrift
Number of Pages: 262
Buy: Amazon

What Goodreads has to say:

Every child of Woolpren dreams of becoming one, but only a few are chosen. Now, ten-year-old twin brother and sister, Ruskya and Duskya, have been selected to join an elite group of riders: dragon riders. Full of awe and excitement, the twins leave their mother, and their home, to train for their new lives.

Fifteen years later, dragons are becoming extinct and riders are rare. One day, Ruskya is at the general store in town when a man announces that he is recruiting new dragon riders. Ruskya goes undercover, and discovers that there is another colony of riders with their own agenda—a quest to find a mysterious plant that could restore the dragon population, or destroy it. When a battle erupts between the two colonies, it’s up to Ruskya and his friends to fight for their dragons’ future, and their lives.

Follow Ruskya’s quest as he finds courage and friendship in this exciting middle grade fantasy series by new author Kandi J Wyatt.

What I have to say:

Dragon's Future is a fun little story about family, friendship, courage, and, of course, dragons.

Because adding dragons to any story automatically makes it that much more awesome.

Also, kudos to whoever is responsible for that cover, because it's gorgeous.

This book made me think of a quote often attributed to G. K. Chesterton:

"Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten."

Which leads me on to a similar C. S. Lewis quote: 

"Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker."

As I reflect back on Dragon's Future, I find that this is my main takeaway from the book. To paraphrase the two quotes above, great stories - and specifically great fantasy stories - arm children with the courage they need to face their own "dragons." This is one of the many reasons that fantasy stories are useful and essential to society, but lest I get carried away on this topic, I'll return to Dragon's Future.

Dragons can in fact be beaten, and that's something Wyatt's story illustrates very well. But the story also teaches that not all dragons need beating. Some dragons are, in fact, quite adorable.

As Ruskya and his friends form lasting friendships with dragons, they are given power and courage to face their worst fears. Of course, their friends help as well. As Ruskya rides off to battle his nemesis (that's all I'll say, as I don't want to give any spoilers), he knows he couldn't pull it off without the help of his friends and his dragon. And I think that teaches us something important as well.

Wyatt's characters are charming and likeable throughout; I was especially taken with Carryl, the brave healer with an impenetrable strength.

Dragon's Future propels its reader into a world of dragons, farmers, and townsfolk. I loved the feel created by the names of characters and places, and the details we got about the setting and environment. Names like "Woolpren," "Duskya," and "Wyeth" just give me a kind of warm, honey feeling. But maybe that's just me.

While it was a fun story with likeable characters and an imaginative setting, though, there were a few things that kept me from really immersing myself in this book.

For one thing, I couldn't get behind the writing style. While there were moments of great storytelling, in general I felt like the voice left something to be desired. I think the author could really have improved the story by showing more instead of telling.

On a related note, the story didn't draw me in as much as I would have liked. The first chapter was fun, as two young twins attend a ceremony to find out if any of the dragons will choose them as riders. But after that, the plot kind of got stuck for a bit. Maybe it's because learning to communicate mentally - while an awesome ability - is not all that exciting to read about. And while the characters are all likeable, and some are interesting, I felt like most of them had more potential for growth, which would have made the story a little more engaging.

That being said, I am not a Middle Grade reader, and maybe readers closer in age to the intended audience (roughly 8 to 12, I think) will enjoy this story more than I did.

After all, it does have dragons in it.

Rating (out of 5) :

Until tomorrow.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Time Traveling with Hairballs

The Eye of Nefertiti


Title: The Eye of Nefertiti (A Pharaoh's Cat Novel)
Author: Maria Luisa Lang
Publisher: Self published
Date published: November 29 2016

Goodreads Summary: The Eye of Nefertiti is both a stand-alone novel and a sequel to The Pharaoh’s Cat. The time-traveling ancient Egyptian feline with human powers returns together with his beloved Pharaoh and his close friends, the High Priest of Amun-Ra and Elena, an Egyptologist’s daughter. 

The cat is quick-witted, wise-cracking narrator as well as free-spirited, ever-curious protagonist, and the story he tells is an exotic, imaginative, spell-binding tragicomedy. The cat travels from present-day New York City to England, both ancient and modern, then to ancient Egypt, where he confronts a horrible demon and experiences a sublime emotion. Once back in England, he descends into a psychological abyss so deep only the Pharaoh can save him.

The Eye of Nefertiti interweaves feline and human, past and present, natural and supernatural. It contains numerous surprises, twists and turns, intriguing characters, both human and animal, fascinating revelations about ancient Egyptian history and culture, and an ingenious application of the Tarot and an Italian opera.

My Thoughts:
Having not read the first book of the series I was a bit worried that I would be unable to follow the events, or be confused about characters, thankfully that was not the case. Lang did a fantastic job summarizing when needed and making this book be both a sequel and a stand alone. Hats off. 

I have to admit at first I wasn't keen on the time travel mixed with a talking, walking cat. However, to my surprise it worked, although I still have some questions on how an animal without opposable thumbs could accomplish some of the feats which Wrappa-Hamen does. 

The historical parts of the story were very detailed and I could tell Lang had put much research and time into their depictions. Early British history - specifically that concerning the Romans, Picts and Stonehenge - is one of my favorite topics, so I much appreciated those scenes. Once the story really started I found myself quite addicted and worried about the characters. I loved how the magic became part of the story allowing the reader to think that anything was possible. It generally bothers me when time travel is part of a story but magic is not, so I was glad that both were a part of this one. I loved the magic boat, as well as the Egyptian god and general amnesia of Nefertiti. 

However, there was one thing I definitely did not like - the high priest's general manner towards Elena. He was rude. Honestly I felt it could become slightly abusive or controlling. I wasn't sure there was very much love in that relationship due to his harsh treatment and brash manner toward her. I understood that he was from a different time, but I honestly wondered why Elena kept him around. 

Overall, I enjoyed the book, and would suggest it to lovers of Egyptian history and mythology. 


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

BBC's Victoria

Let's face it: the last two seasons of Sherlock have been, well, disappointing. And Downton Abbey is over. Poldark is between seasons, and does anyone even know when the next Dr. Who episode comes out?

What is a BBC fan to do?

Two words: watch Victoria.

For those of you who have already watched it and are now sad because the season finale just aired Sunday, I'm not talking to you. You obviously know a good show when you see one and are probably already counting down the days until Season 2 premieres.

For all those of you who haven't yet seen it - you're missing out.

Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria

Dr. Who fans will recognize Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald) as the young English monarch and main character of the series. As Queen Victoria, who comes to the throne at the tender age of 18 and somehow manages to hold her own as Queen of England, Coleman is perfectly on point.

Also noteworthy is Rufus Sewell, who plays Lord Melbourne, the young queen's adviser and trusted friend. As a seasoned British actor, Sewell brings gravitas and depth to the series.

Victoria and Lord Melbourne
But there are plenty more reasons to watch Victoria than just Coleman and Sewell.

I once heard an art history teacher describe Downton Abbey as "costume porn" meaning that the show was like porn for people who love historical costumes. If you thought the costumes in Downton Abbey were good, though, you'll find that the costumes in Victoria are even more drool-worthy. Victoria's line-up of gowns in Season 1 alone is gorgeous. And guys, there's a masquerade ball in one episode.

Man I love this dress

The show also features smart writing, incredible shots and sequencing, and a host of diverse characters with their own story arcs and plot-lines. You will also learn a lot about history, which is always a plus in my opinion. With humor, romance, history, and great writing and acting, Victoria has something for everyone. (Unless you're one of those people who prefer to watch mindless television, which I'm thinking that if you're a BBC fan, you're not.)

If you're looking for one final, utterly convincing reason to watch Victoria, here it is: you can now marathon the entirety of Season 1 (8 episodes). Just make sure you have some food on hand (preferably ice cream with fudge sauce) as episodes 6 and 7 will leave you craving some dessert (hint: the head chef to the queen of England is the best boyfriend ever, for obvious reasons).
The reason you will need chocolate

And while we're on the subject of BBC, who's excited for the recently announced SIX-PART BBC DRAMA OF LES MISERABLES???????

(Yeah, me neither. I mean I'm kind of curious about it, but I'm not like trolling the internet trying to find out all the details about it that I possibly can, or anything.)

Until tomorrow.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Four Stories, Seven Narrators

The Magician's Workshop, Volume One


Title: The Magician's Workshop, Volume One
Authors: Christopher Hansen and J.R. Fehr
Publisher: Wondertale
Date Published: November 8, 2016

Goodreads Summary: Everyone in the islands of O’Ceea has a magical ability: whatever they imagine can be brought into existence. Whoever becomes a master over these powers is granted the title of magician and is given fame, power, riches, and glory. This volume of books follows the journey of a group of kids as they strive to rise to the top and become members of the Magician’s Workshop. 

Layauna desperately wants to create beautiful things with her magical powers, but all she can seem to do is make horrible, savage monsters. For years she has tried to hide her creations, but when her power is at last discovered by a great magician, she realizes that what she’s tried to hide might actually be of tremendous value.

Kai just wants to use his powers to have fun and play with his friends. Unfortunately, nearly everyone on his island sees him as a bad influence, so he’s forced to meet them in secret. When one of the creatures they create gets out of control and starts flinging fireballs at their town, Kai is tempted to believe that he is as nefarious as people say. However, his prospects change when two mysterious visitors arrive, praising his ability and making extraordinary promises about his future.

Follow the adventures of Kai, Layauna, and a boatload of other characters as they struggle to grow up well in this fantastical world.

My Thoughts
Narrating Style: At first this book was really hard for me to read. It was confusing - I felt like I had been dropped into the middle of the story - at first I wondered if I was reading the second book, and not the first. However, a few chapters in, in reality the moment Kai started narrating I was hooked. I read the rest of the book as fast as I could and finished in two days, which considering I'm a full time college student, and I have a job, was quite the feat. 

The thing about this book is that the authors try to do something which I think can be quite difficult - they tell four very distinct stories with seven different narrators. While the stories all occur at the same time, with the same theme of looking forward to finding out if they will be magicians, each child has a very different perspective and way of life going in to this event. Due to that fact, sometimes it was very jolting when the narrator changed. However, once you got into the swing of the book and began to understand the world surrounding it, things made more sense. 

Kai and friends: The story which I think gets the most "screen time" due to the fact that four of the seven narrators belong to it, is that of Kai and his friends in Region 2. This was probably my second favorite overall - I loved the tight group of Kai, Weston, Talia, Luge, and Snap. I loved how they acted like kids, I also enjoyed the chapter we got from the view of Kai's grandma who thinks very differently of things than the children do. 

I especially found the trial insightful in how mob mentality can affect a group of people. In the dark where they can say whatever they like, and names are not used, it is much easier for a group of adults to gang up against a small defenseless child. It was not until an individual who commanded respect came into the light and called out the others by name, that it seemed they realized what they were doing. 

Layauna: I found Layauna's story the most sad, sure she wasn't an orphan, nobody hated her, and her projections were good, but she was alone. She had been taken from her family and placed in a cold and sterile environment where everyday she was faced with the same fears and harshness as the one before. Layauna teaches the reader that you cannot always solve a problem by pushing through it, or going at it head on, sometimes you must think things out and realize what it actually means and how it affects you. It wasn't until Layauna accepted the Hell Dog as part of herself, and thought about what it actually wanted, that she was able to dissolve it. And, she was only able to achieve that because she was treated with love and respect, instead of fear and cold science. 

Kalaya: Personally I didn't enjoy Kalaya. She was whiny and insecure, unable to accept her talents, instead focusing just on one small detail and not being able to appreciate the rest. Yes, her wallaroo was blue, but everything else about it was perfect. I think as people we often focus on our faults and flaws instead of our talents and goodness.

Kaso: Kaso was my favorite. Hands down. I loved everything about him. He seemed more intellectual than the other kids, and more mature. Maybe that comes from being an orphan and raising your little brother. He wasn't as pliable as Kalaya, obedient as Layauna, or oblivious as Kai and his friends. This was a kid who knew what was up and couldn't be deceived by the world around him. When something happened he immediately went on the defensive, but still weighed out the situation and then decided how to act. I loved his special ability to project warmth, and what that meant to me. I was so worried and intrigued on how he was going to get a sponsor, that when I turned the page and found it was the end, I yelled out loud. I was upset. It took me about 2 minutes to pull up my email and send a message to the authors asking for Volume Two!!

Overall:Like I said before, four stories, seven narrators. Whew. 

If ever there was a book that had extreme rising action, this would be it. The entire novel is one rising action. I guess it ensures that the reader will want the second. 

I applaud Hansen and Fehr for creating a unique world which combines apocalyptic, distopian, and magical elements. As well as telling a compelling story. I look forward to reading Volume Two!


Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Beat on Ruby's Street + Giveaway


Want to read The Beat on Ruby's Street? To win a free e-copy, enter our Rafflecopter giveaway!
Title: The Beat on Ruby's Street (A Beat Street Book)
Author: Jenna Zark
Publication Date: June 1st 2016
Publishing Company: Dragon Moon Press
Number of Pages: 139

Erin's favorite quote: "It's okay," he says. "Write."

What Goodreads has to say:

The last thing eleven-year-old Ruby Tabeata expected to happen on her way to a Jack Kerouac reading was to be hauled to the police station.
It’s 1958 and Ruby is the opposite of a 1950s stereotype: fierce, funny and strong willed, she is only just starting to chart her course in a family of Beat Generation artists in Greenwich Village. Ruby dreams of meeting famous poets while becoming one herself; instead, she’s accused of trying to steal fruit from a local vendor and is forced to live in a children’s home.
As Ruby struggles to return to family and friends, she learns her only choice is to follow her heart.
Join Ruby’s journey as she finds unexpected friendships, the courage to rebel against unjust authority and the healing power of art in this inspiring middle-grade novel by Jenna Zark.

What I have to say:

Endearing, engaging, and thought-provoking, The Beat on Ruby's Street is a fantastic middle-grade novel set in Greenwich Village, New York, in 1958. 

The story follows eleven-year-old Ruby Tabeata, an aspiring poet born into a Beat Generation family. Defiant, unconventional, and full of dreams about Jack Kerouac and the Beat poets, Ruby is a spirited, lovable protagonist with a strong voice, and readers should have little to no trouble relating to her, despite differences in time and location.

Ruby's troubles begin when she tries to attend a Jack Kerouac reading (Kerouac was a famous Beat Poet). Unfortunately, she never makes it to the reading. Instead, she gets waylaid by a neighborhood bully, arrested by the police, kidnapped by a social worker, taken to a children's home, released, and moved to a new house. 

Somewhere in there she hides in an Italian restaurant, breaks a few wine bottles, goes on a hunger strike, and sneaks out of her room in the middle of the night to attend a poetry reading. 

The gist of it all is that, while Ruby may be at the mercy of people who are older and have more authority than her, there's absolutely no way she's going to let them dictate her life. 

As a historical fiction novel, The Beat on Ruby's Street paints a vivid picture of what life was like for the Beat Generation in 1950s New York. The story is both informative and fun, and the author sets the stage brilliantly, working in little details about Kerouac and the Beatniks without coming across as heavy-handed or textbook-oriented. Both readers familiar with the Beat Generation and those who know nothing about it will find this an enchanting, moving read.

I loved The Beat on Ruby's Street. Honestly, I can't say enough good things about it. Even though it's not the kind of book I usually read, once I started, I couldn't tear my eyes from the pages (metaphorically - I read the Kindle edition). I think this was mainly due to the strong voice and perfect pacing. The story moves along at a natural pace that pulls the reader in and makes them want more. 

Besides all this, the story raises issues that are as relevant today as they were in 1958. Ruby wrestles with the realities of family, education, society, marriage, money, friendship, immigration, art, leadership, and authority. Her relationships with her family members are complicated and touching. Her view of the world is both insightful and innocent, but always relatable. 

Ruby is a wonderful character. The flashes of poetry scattered throughout the story are magic. And the last chapter is especially moving.

This has to be one of the best historical novels, and one of the best middle-grade novels, I've ever come across. Whether you're looking for a good historical fiction or a sweet middle-grade adventure - or just really good writing - pick up The Beat on Ruby's Street and you won't be disappointed.

Rating (out of 5) :

Until tomorrow.