Thursday, March 30, 2017

Cool Tolkien art

Hey, hope everyone's Thursday is shaping up all right.

Why don't you take a break from whatever you're doing (homework, chores, competing in the Hunger Games) to check out this awesome graphic novel version of the first part of The Silmarillion:
J.R.R. Tolkien’s AinulindalĂ«

Until tomorrow.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Butterbeer ice cream

Sounds like the single best thing ever invented, right?

Yuengling's Ice Cream just released the flavor this week. It's supposedly available in grocery stores nation wide.

So go get some and let's party like we just got our acceptance letters to Hogwarts.

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.

Wednesday, March 15, 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.

Wednesday, March 8, 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.