Monday, December 22, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Christmas is in just a few days! I can hardly believe it. It's such a wonderful time of year. It's a time for giving, for family and friends, and for remembering the best gift of all that was given the first Christmas.

Practically everyone in the blogging world (at least those I follow) is sharing lists of favorite books of the year and other sorts of lists. I wanted to share a list of my family's favorite Christmas stories that we try to watch every year.

11. A Christmas Carol

This one is more recent, being a more recent movie, and isn't even my favorite version of the story, but my sister really likes it. It's actually the closest to the book that we've seen, strange, coming from Disney. It's kind of scary, but a faithful adaptation of the classic tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge and the lesson he must learn about turning from his cruel, miserly ways.

10. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

I've been watching this every Christmas for as long as I can remember. My mom said that when she was younger she always looked forward to seeing it on TV. A few Christmases ago, we realized how incredibly rude Santa is in it. Strangely enough, this only amplifies the message. When people are mean, you still should be nice to them. Return cruelty with kindness. Running away doesn't get rid of your problems. It's not wrong to be different. And sometimes those differences will make you the most famous reindeer of all...if you happen to have a shiny red nose.

 9. Miracle on 34th Street

We always try to watch this on Thanksgiving Day. After all, that's when it starts. It's a sweet story about a man who claims to be Santa Claus trying to bring kindness and good will back into the commercialization of Christmas. And when he is accused of insanity, his friend Fred Gayley sets out to prove he really is Santa Claus. We always watch the original, originals are best, and Natalie Wood is so adorable in this movie.

8. The Santa Clause

We've never believed in Santa Claus, but always treated him like any other fictional character. Still, I'm picky about Santa Claus movies. They're so contradictory and not at all believable. The Santa Clause attempts to make it all really work. It's funny, too. An ordinary guy turning into Santa? Awesome. And we often quote Charlie's stupid, politically correct teacher, because she's fun to make fun of. "We don't say stupid. And we don't say elves. They're little people." I also like The Santa Clause 2, though I don't like the third one as much.

 7. A Christmas Story

This one is kind of stupid, has nothing to do with the true meaning of Christmas, and now that we have to watch the DVD instead of the TV version, I wish we had ClearPlay or something similar to filter out the bad language, but it's a family classic. We always watch it on Christmas Day. It's hilarious and extremely quotable. The story of a little boy who wants a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas, it contains such unforgetable things as the leg lamp, the pink bunny suit, the tongue to the pole triple dog dare, and the Santa foot in the face. Peace. Harmony. Comfort and Joy...Maybe next year.

 6. How the Grinch Stole Christmas

We have a very large Grinch doll that we got from my grandparents many years ago. So you might say he's a part of every Christmas. The Grinch hates Christmas, so he sets out to steal it. He takes everything the Whos down in Whoville have. And the crumb that he left was even too small for a mouse. The three words that best describe him are as follows, and I quote, "Stink. Stank. Stunk." But the Whos were still happy. Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from the store. Maybe Christmas, he thought, means a little bit more. His heart grew 3 sizes that day, and he had the strength of ten Grinches, plus two. And he himself, the Grinch, even carved the roast beast.

 5. Scrooge

This is definitely my favorite version of A Christmas Carol. It does deviate from the book (which makes it less scary), but it is full of amazing songs. I can't think of a single one I don't like. I especially love the ones involving the Cratchits, and "Happiness," when Isabel is singing. Scrooge's past is so sad. I feel sorry for him. And in the future, I have to say, I really enjoy "Thank You Very Much." "Thank you very much. Thank you very much. That's the nicest thing that anyone's ever done for me." It's just an amazing adaptation.

 4. White Christmas

 White Christmas is a classic. It's actually a musical where it sort of makes sense for them to sing so much, since the main characters are all performers who write and sing songs all the time. Bob Wallace and Phil Davis meet the sisters of Benny Haynes "the dog-faced boy" Betty and Judy. Through Phil's conniving, they all end up in snowless Vermont at a hotel unbeknownst to them owned by their old general. Business is bad because of the lack of snow, so Bob and Phil decide to give the General the best Christmas gift they can. What do you do with a general when he stops being a general? What do you do with a general who's retired? Misunderstandings happen, and things don't always go so well, but the movie ends beautifully with the knight back up on the white charger.

 3. A Charlie Brown Christmas

This is my personal favorite Christmas special. Charlie Brown is having a difficult time getting into the Christmas spirit. Lucy suggests he needs involvement and gets him to direct their Christmas play. But Charlie Brown realizes that his real problem is that he doesn't know what Christmas is really about. "Can't anyone tell me what Christmas is all about?" "I know, Charlie Brown," Linus answers. And he does. He quotes straight from the Bible what the true meaning of Christmas is. Because it's not commercial. It's about Jesus.

2. It's a Wonderful Life 

Another classic, one of my parents' favorite actors, and one of the best Christmas movies ever. George Bailey led a selfless life. He saved his brother from drowning. He didn't deliver poisoned pills. When his brother Harry came back with a wife and a job offer, George let him take it and kept running Bailey Building and Loans, despite his lifelong dream of traveling. He's not perfect, though. He can be rude, and he certainly has a temper. He gets married, has four children, still runs the Building and Loans, and then Mr. Potter steals $8,000 from absentminded Uncle Billy. George is convinced everyone would be better off if he'd never been born. Clarence Oddbody, A. S. 2 is sent to help him, and he's given the opportunity to find out what things would be like without him. Mr. Potter, that warped, frustrated old man, always makes me really mad, but no man is a failure who has friends.

1. Luke 2:1-20

But of course, the best Christmas story is the original one. The one that started it all. It is the story of the only begotten Son of God, born to the Virgin Mary and laid in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. A child born to be our salvation, to take all our sins upon Himself to the cross that we might not perish, but have everlasting life.

For unto us a child is born, and unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and he shall call his name, Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. The increase of his government and peace shall have none end: he shall sit upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to stablish it with judgment, and with justice, from henceforth, even forever: the zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
--Isaiah 9: 6-7

Monday, December 15, 2014

Movie Review: Mockingjay Part 1

Mockingjay Part 1

Rating: PG-13 (Intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, and thematic material)

Recommended for: Ages 15 to Adult (Really, for teens, it depends on the person and the family, so I recommend parental judgment on this one. Some younger teens can handle it just fine, and some older may still have issues. You can go to PluggedIn for a content overview, though all in all, this one seems to have less content concerns than the previous movie.)

The worldwide phenomenon of The Hunger Games continues to set the world on fire with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, which finds Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in District 13 after she literally shatters the games forever. Under the leadership of Commander Coin (Julianne Moore) and the advice of her trusted friends, Katniss spreads her wings as she fights to save Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and a nation moved by her courage.

I know the premise of the Hunger Games stories makes it controversial. I like them, so let me tell you why.

1. I'm a sucker for an evil government story. Yeah, growing up in politics has had its effects. And really, it's a lot more about fighting back against an evil government than it is about kids killing kids. That is never once condoned, and is one of the things they want to stop.

2. It alerts me to the direction America is headed and motivates me to do something about it. This is true for basically every dystopian I've read.

3. It doesn't sugarcoat the consequences of killing and war. Too many stories do, and don't get condemned for it. The Hunger Games stories actually got me to feel sorry for the stormtrooper that Luke Skywalker causes to slam into a tree and explode in Return of the Jedi. I'm serious. Knowing stormtrooper backstory, that stormtrooper had no more choice in fighting for the Emperor than the tributes do in going into the Arena. So it's made me more sensitive to violence rather than less.

4. Peeta Mellark. Sorry, I had to mention him. He's just so sweet and good, and then...spoilers.

So, now onto a more literary type analysis of the third movie in the series: Mockingjay Part 1.

Technical: 4.5/5

This was a well made movie. Now there were a small handful of instances of shaky cam that bugged me on a movie theater screen, but I should be able to handle it on a television. They didn't use it anywhere near as much as in the first film, which was good. It was a good and faithful adaptation, and, for splitting the book in half, it didn't seem too much like half a book. The special effects all seemed realistic, and the acting was really good. I mean, Jennifer Lawrence can portray a character that can't act at all while remaining fully in character for the character she is playing. If that jumble makes any sense. If you know the story, you can probably sort it out. :) And Josh Hutcherson has shown another side of his acting abilities. He didn't get much screen time, but...Peeta...

Setting: 5/5

The real worldbuilding credit goes to Suzanne Collins, of course. It's horrible, but brilliant and amazing, but horrible. I mean, who would really want to live in Panem? Um, no one. But it's such a perfect blend of futuristic technology and historical periods and modern times. It feels so real. Maybe it's because America seems to be headed in a similar direction. And it's awful. Panem is an awful place. Which is why they're kind of starting a war. I'm really in awe of her worldbuilding abilities. It was well portrayed on screen as well. Of course, things are very different now. The Capitol keeps bombing everything, so basically everything is a pile of rubble. It's pretty terrible. My only quibble is that they didn't really show what District 13 is actually like. It seems better than it was in the book. It was really very controlled and dictatorial, but it didn't seem as bad in the movie.

Plot: 4.5/5

There's a reason my friend leaned over to ask me if I was crying yet partway through the movie. The second part is going to be sadder, I'm pretty sure of this for multiple reasons, but there isn't an installment in the series that isn't sad. Like, beyond "happy for deep people" sad. It's been a while since I read straight through the first half of the book, but it was a faithful adaptation. It centers on Katniss's decision to be the Mockingjay, basically the figurehead for the rebellion. Also, there's the matter of Peeta, Annie, and Johannah's imprisonment by the Capitol. It was definitely action packed, and, well, a war is starting. The Capitol is showing more than ever just how ruthless they can be, and the rebellion is really starting. The cliffhanger isn't quite as bad as it would have been if they'd stopped it about five minutes or so sooner, like I thought they would have, they chose to explain a few things before cutting, but still, the last shot of the film is terrible. It did at times feel a slight bit like filler, but that may be because Peeta was barely in it, and because things weren't as sped up and condensed as they were for the previous two films.

Character Development: 5/5

Now, we had friends over for a movie marathon before going to the theater together, so I'm seeing this all more as a whole than just a part. The characters progress as one would expect them to in their circumstances. Katniss is being torn apart, but just wait for the next movie. I actually liked Gale better this time around than I ever have before, but I think that's mostly because I now think of him as Kaden Altair. Prim is growing up and going to be trained as a doctor, but she's still the same Prim who loves a raggedy old mean cat. It was around this point in the book that I started to like Finnick. Because you finally find out who he truly is. I won't talk about Peeta because of spoilers and because it would be awful anyway. He's my favorite character, let's just say that.

I know this is a really long review, but I have a lot to say and, to be honest, this review is a lot easier to write than Time Captives. The Hunger Games trilogy (or series, if we're talking movies) isn't for everyone, but there are valuable things to be learned from it. Like that it's not okay to kill people. It destroys you. That sometimes it is necessary to go to war, but war is still in itself not a good thing. Drowning yourself in alcohol won't ever get rid of your problems, Haymitch, as much as you may try, and never actually give it up. It's hard to rebuild from total destruction of things physical and emotional, and things will never be the same, but it can be done. And don't give up on people. Your first impression may be wrong, or they may not have realized that they hurt you, or they could have been tortured beyond repair and need you to help them begin to heal. And that's what I think of The Hunger Games and Mockingjay Part 1.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Book Review: Becoming Nikki

Becoming Nikki by Ashley Elliot 

Disclaimer: I received this book as an advance review copy. However, the opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own. Cross my hearts.

Recommended For: Ages 10 to Adult (interest and reading level)

Rating: G

What would you do if you were given the opportunity to rebuild a broken relationship?

Alec and Nikki Scott are the perfect ice dancing duo, executing flawless technique and brilliant performance abilities each time they compete. No one doubts their camaraderie, not even their closest friends.

But looks can be deceiving. Off the ice, their relationship is in shambles. Ice dancing is the only thing they have in common anymore... and Alec wants to quit.

Just as Nikki feels like their relationship can't get any worse, an unexpected tragedy crashes into her life. She's left struggling with a difficult choice as her opinion of her brother slowly starts to change.

Whatever she decides, she knows her life will never be the same

This book is AWESOME!
Seriously! I admit, it wasn't quite what I was expecting, but I loved it all the same. Nikki was so likable and interesting, and so was Alec. Well, I didn't like Alec in the beginning, but later, he got...and SPOILERS. I don't read much contemporary fiction (for the reason I Don't Know Why), but I made an exception for this and am so glad I did. But I should probably get to my review.

Writing: 5/5
I must admit, the writing style was a little hard to get used to. But once I got used to it, it was great. And interesting. There weren't any technical issues as far as I can remember, except for a few typos, which should hopefully be fixed in the very final version. One thing I liked a lot would be the pop culture references, especially the Doctor Who ones. They were refreshing and light-hearted.

Setting: 5/5
This book is set somewhere in the United States in the modern times. The setting was very well done. There is a lot of ice skating stuff and ice skating places in it (DUH), which I am not very familiar with, but, from what I've read in books and seen on TV, it seemed pretty accurate.

Plot: 5/5
The plot in this book was done in a very unique way (because I can't say the concept is very unique. It's not.). SPOILER ALERT Most amnesia stories in books and on TV aren't done well and/or are cheesy. HOWEVER. This book was far from cheesy. And it was a lot more realistic than the bonk-on-the-head-and-you-have-amnesia, bonk-on-the-head-and-it's-gone stuff (thank goodness). That stuff is good for comedy, but not much else. This amnesia story, however....(AWESOME!!!) Very well done. END SPOILER ALERT I loved the plot and the way it was done. And it is something interesting to think about, as well.

Character Development: 5/5
Let me just say. The characters. (The most awesome part.) They were REALLY cool. Nikki's rollercoaster emotions at the beginning were a little hard to get to. But once I did (either that or they stopped being so rollercoastery), it was great. I ended up loving Nikki. And Alec. And I also liked: Dylan, Natalie, Sam, Bennet, Liam, Kate, and Nikki's dad (among others I may have forgotten). I didn't like Allie, or Alec (yes, the same Alec I loved. He's sometimes a jerk). The minor characters fulfilled their roles as minor characters correctly. And such.

You should really get this book and read it. It's good. You will not regret your choice.

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Find the rest of the Becoming Nikki blog tour here.

Ashley Elliott is a writer, reader, musician, photographer, tree-climber, and Leaguette. She speaks fluently in movie quotes and spends most of her time fangirling over her latest obsession. In her free time, she enjoys laughing with her friends, laughing over Christian indie films (but secretly loving them), and laughing with her five crazy siblings. Ashley is a homeschool graduate and is currently pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Humanities through CollegePlus. She lives in Georgia with her parents and siblings, and doesn't have any pets.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Book Review: Red Rain

Red Rain by Aubrey Hansen

Recommended for: 10 and up (scary situations and interest level)

Rating: PG

Government regulations said they had no choice. 17-year-old Philadelphia must stay on Earth in the care of complete strangers while her father is sent against his will to Mars. When a benevolent official allows her to accompany her father, Philadelphia knows she must keep her head down or be sent back to Earth. But when a search for her deceased brother’s Bible leads her into a hallway that isn’t supposed to exist, Philadelphia is faced with a question she doesn’t want to answer—the choice between returning to Earth or destroying it. 

Although I usually prefer fantasy over sci-fi, I enjoyed listening to this book. The story doesn't focus on the science but on the characters and the world they live in, which is something that I prefer in sci-fi. 

Writing: 4/5 

I listened to the audio book, so I know that it is written well for listening. I do have some trouble listening to books but I was able pay attention to this book. I was confused at the beginning at what was going on but other than that, the story was easy to follow.The story doesn't go in depth much, but it is good the way it is. 

Setting: 5/5 

The story starts out on Earth in a camp where all the Christians have been placed until they die or decide to leave their faith. I don't remember there being a lot of background on why they are there. The second place in the story is a base on Mars where scientists are sent to work on different projects for the government. Some of the descriptions of the base were confusing, but I think that they were supposed to be. There weren't a lot of details on the structure of their society but I hope that the sequel will have more. The story wasn't complicated but it was good that way. 

Plot: 4/5 

It is hard to say what the main plot of the story is. It has many different little events that are eventually explained. It was pretty fast paced and interesting and kept me on edge with some of the situations. The main character did go sneaking around where she wasn't supposed to be, which always makes me nervous. Overall, the plot was pretty good with some somewhat surprising twists. 

Characters: 5/5

The characters were really well developed but the most interesting part about them is that their personalities are like the churches that they are named after. For example, Philadelphia's personality is like the description of the church in Revelation. There are several different characters that are named after the churches. The characters do have flaws and none of them are perfect, but I still do like them. 

I enjoyed listening to this book and would recommend it for someone to read, even if they don't like sci-fi.

Monday, November 24, 2014

This is just a heads up that we will not be following our regular posting schedule during the Christmas season. Reviews will be sparse, though not nonexistent. We have a few planned already. But we will not be posting Monday, Wednesday, and Friday every week again until January.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Favorites: Voyagers!


Recommended For: All Ages

Rating: NR

Jeffrey Jones is an ordinary orphan living with his aunt and uncle in New York City...until the day a man accidentally lands outside his room. When Jeffrey falls out his bedroom window, he finds himself transported back in time. The man, whose name is Bogg, explains to him that he is a Voyager. "We travel through time to help history along," he explains. "Give it a push where it's needed." Despite Bogg's early misgivings, Jeffery turns out to be a valuable asset, easily replacing his missing guidebook with his extensive knowledge of history. Whether they are helping Harriet Tubman escape, inspiring Babe Ruth to begin pitching, or fighting the Red Baron, Jeffery and Bogg never lack for adventure, and the experiences they share will last a lifetime.

Voyagers! is one of those little known old TV shows that I really wish more people knew about. I first saw it on MeTV, and when they changed their schedule, we got the DVDs from Netflix and watched every single episode. It may possibly be my favorite old TV show. I definitely like it better than Gilligan's Island, I'm pretty sure it rates above Andy Griffith, and I don't count Doctor Who since, though there was a gap between Classic and New, it's still going.

I love history, and I love time travel stories. Voyagers! really fits the bill for both. Yes, sometimes they get the history wrong, but it's generally right enough not to bug me too much. Well, sometimes it's way off, like when FDR became a screenwriter and when the Confederates won the Civil War, or the time when we were losing World War I because the airplane had never been invented. Oh, wait. Those were times when the omni was red. The omni is a Voyager's time travel device. It's somewhat incorporated into the cover up there, except where Jeffrey and Bogg are is actually where the globe is on the omni. When the omni's red, it means history's wrong. Jeffrey and Bogg go fix history, so the omni will be green, and history will be the way it's supposed to be.

Unfortunately, Voyagers! only ran for one season. It was on at the same time as 60 Minutes, and so they decided it didn't have high enough ratings to continue. I wish they had continued. It was really setting up well for a second season. But at least we have twenty episodes rather than none.

My favorite episodes would probably be "The Trial of Phineas Bogg" and "Jack's Back." Both give insight into the Voyagers, explaining Bogg's job further, and showing other Voyagers. They have to be watched in their chronological places, though, since both those episodes, especially "The Trial of Phineas Bogg," reference previous episodes. I also like, well, all of them, but "Voyagers of the Titanic," "Pursuit," and "The Day the Rebs Took Lincoln" are really good. Probably about half of those titles are self explanatory, but "Jack's Back" involves Arthur Conan Doyle, and "Pursuit" is about Wernher von Braun escaping from Germany. There's also stuff about Cleopatra, George Washington, Alexander Graham Bell, Buffalo Bill, Billy the Kid, Marco Polo, the Salem Witch Trials, and much, much more.

And Voyagers! is family-friendly. The only caution I would give is that Bogg does kiss quite a few girls, but when Jeffery's there, he usually turns his back and rolls his eyes, saying "Bogg," in an annoyed, drawn out tone. And if he doesn't, I do. :) But it's a great show. I love it, and I want more people to love it too. It's one of the few good shows/movies that came out of the 80's.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Movie Review: The Rocketeer

The Rocketeer by Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Recommended For: Ages 10 and up

Rating: PG (I couldn't find what it was officially for, but this is what I would rate it PG for: for violence, language, and a mildly suggestive scene [where the lady is getting in a position to knock the man out].)

After young airplane pilot Cliff Secord crashes the plane he was planning on flying to the Nationals, he is lost without a job or a plane. So when he finds a rocket jet pack in the ruined plane, he thinks he has found the answer to his all his money problems. But he soon finds himself the target for henchmen, Hollywood actor Neville Sinclair, and the FBI. 

Wow. This movie was really good.  It's not like typical superhero movies. It's much better. It's funny, it's more realistic, and once he can fly, he doesn't go around saving people all the time. He has a girl, but he has girl problems, and not the typical superhero girl problems, but more realistic ones (more man-doesn't-know-how-to-deal-with-women girl problems than superhero girl problems).

Technical: 5/5
This movie was done well. The only part where it was lacking was the CGI, and that was because the movie was made in the very early nineties. Because it was made by Disney, I'm sure the technology was the best of the times. But 1991 was 23 years ago, and technology has developed a lot in 23 years. Still, it's nothing you might see in Star Wars or Indiana Jones and is easily overlooked. One thing I do want to mention, there is one bad word in it, which is surprising for a Disney movie, but there nonetheless. And there was one scene that was mildly suggestive, but it never got beyond PG. And the lady was pretending to like the man so she could knock him out.

Setting: 5/5
This movie is set in 1938 Los Angeles. From what I know of the time period, it seemed very realistic. It really made you feel as if you were in 1938 at times. And of course, since it was 1938, there was some leading-up-to-WWII stuff in it (which may or may not have a bigger part to play in it). All in all, I think the setting was well done.

Plot: 5/5
The plot was original, let me just say. As I said before, it wasn't a typical superhero movie. It kept me on the edge of my seat, and the climax was lived up to its lead-up and surpassed it. It was well thought out and had no plot holes (that I noticed). And I like the fact that the plot contained a zeppelin.  I like zeppelins.

Character Development: 5/5
The characters are what sets this movie apart. They are so realistic. The first time Cliff uses the rocket, for instance, he's going to save a friend in danger of death. This would have been like many other superhero movies had they not thrown in the line "Stop it. I'm scared enough as it is." Cliff was perfectly willing to use the rocket jet pack that could kill him and wasn't finished being fixed and hadn't been tested to save his friend, but was also scared about it. He wasn't a dashing superhuman hero with no fears like so many others (Superman and Spiderman, for instance). And it's not just Cliff. His girlfriend, Jenny, is also very realistic. I can't elaborate because that would give spoilers, but she was very well-done, and not stupid or thick, like most women who are being deceived by the villains in movies. The characters were also very likable, Cliff and Jenny especially.

I really liked this movie. I don't see why it didn't take off when it first came out. Everyone should watch this movie, though I would caution parents with young children to watch it first. It is very intriguing and interesting. Trust me, you won't regret watching this movie.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Book Review: The Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

Recommended for: ages 13 to Adult

Rating: PG (scary situations)

First published in French as a serial in 1909, "The Phantom of the Opera" is a riveting story that revolves around the young, Swedish Christine Daaé. Her father, a famous musician, dies, and she is raised in the Paris Opera House with his dying promise of a protective angel of music to guide her. After a time at the opera house, she begins hearing a voice, who eventually teaches her how to sing beautifully. All goes well until Christine's childhood friend Raoul comes to visit his parents, who are patrons of the opera, and he sees Christine when she begins successfully singing on the stage. The voice, who is the deformed, murderous 'ghost' of the opera house named Erik, however, grows violent in his terrible jealousy, until Christine suddenly disappears. The phantom is in love, but it can only spell disaster. 

A few weeks ago, I posted my review of the play The Phantom of the Opera, which I really loved. I have since finished the book, despite interruptions by super awesome books by friends, and can now tell you what I thought of the original.

Writing: 4/5

Despite being an old book, Phantom is pretty fast paced and easy to read. The way it is told is in a manner that assumes it is all real, which I found quite interesting. The only drawback to this style is that it is much harder to develop the characters. It is a translation of the original, my French is limited to ballet words and "allons-y," so I can't really review how it originally reads. It didn't read like a translation, though, like certain editions of Heidi do.

Setting: 5/5

It largely takes place in the Opera House, which is a place full of trapdoors and secret doors and all sorts of interesting things. I don't know how truthful the note at the end saying the Opera House really had all these things is, but it seemed realistic. The background as a prison during, if I remember right, the French Revolution was an added asset. And the Phantom's home and torture chamber were fascinating.

Plot: 5/5

Surprisingly enough, the play is a fairly faithful adaptation. Of course, there are some differences. The ending has a lot more to it. It also makes things make a lot more sense. I had almost the same experience with Phantom as I did the first time I read The Hunger Games, constantly going "Oh! I get it now!" Because the book does give an explanation to all the seemingly fantastical happenings. I like rational explanations for stories set in the real world. I didn't notice any plot holes, and, while some parts were difficult to understand, I was able to get the gist of it, and understand better when it was explained later.

Character Development: 4/5

The characters were a little better developed than in the play, but not much. As I said, this is probably due to the writing style as being an account later written of these strange events. I had been warned that Raoul was a wimp. Well, he isn't really the one who makes the rescue of Christine possible. That would be the Persian. He really did lose it in the torture chamber. Christine is much the same as in the play, but I think the Phantom really came to life the best. He's so scary and pitiful. I still don't know what to think about him, though I think I'm more inclined to hate him in the book.

I definitely recommend for fans of the musical The Phantom of the Opera to read the book. It was very good, and supplements the musical nicely without one destroying the enjoyment of the other.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday Favorites: Number the Stars

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

Recommended for: 9 and up

Rating: PG (scary situations)

 Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and her best friend Ellen Rosen often think of life before the war. It's now 1943 and their life in Copenhagen is filled with school, food shortages, and the Nazi soldiers marching through town. When the Jews of Denmark are "relocated," Ellen moves in with the Johansens and pretends to be one of the family. Soon Annemarie is asked to go on a dangerous mission to save Ellen's life. 

I first read this book for school several years ago. Although I didn't understand some of the history, I still enjoyed the story.

The story is set in Denmark during World War II while the Germans are occupying Denmark. Annemarie's best friend is Jewish, so the story is about how Annemarie's family tries to protect their friends and get them to safety. The book has some parts with the soldiers that put you on edge, while you're hoping that the soldiers don't find out that their friends are Jewish and arrest them. I love it when books, TV shows and movies do that.

I don't remember the book being too predictable, but it has been awhile since I have read it so it might be a little predictable. I remember loving the characters and getting into the story. There aren't too many characters, so they weren't hard to keep up with. It was also interesting to learn about Denmark, since when I read it I didn't know anything about Denmark. (I have now read a whole book about Denmark.)

Number the Stars is a good children's book about World War II. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Book Review: Machiavellian

Firmament: Machiavellian by J. Grace Pennington

Recommended for: All ages

Rating: PG (violence and medical)

On their way back to Earth from the newly discovered world of Kainus Ge, the Surveyor rescues the personnel of a malfunctioning science station. Young medical assistant Andi quickly befriends the newcomers, particularly the charming captain, but things get complicated when the scientists offer the impossible--a way to improve the barren planet and the lives of all its inhabitants.

There's only one problem: their solution requires the
Surveyor to enter the one area of the galaxy which is off-limits to travel.

As the Captain struggles with his decisions, Andi and her father become suspicious of the “accidents” that keep happening on the ship. Could it be coincidence, or is someone trying to sabotage their mission? Can they uncover the truth in time to stop the Captain from wrecking his career and losing his ship forever?

I admit, ever since accidentally stumbling on Radialloy following "customers who bought this also bought" rabbit trails on my kindle, I have been a huge fan of the Firmament Series. I love science fiction, I have since I was a child whose knowledge of sci-fi came only from A Wrinkle in Time and E.T., the Extraterrestrial, but there's such a shortage of good, well-written, Christian science fiction. The Firmament Series works to fill in that gap, and I believe it is succeeding in an incredible way. Book 3, Machiavellian, is no exception. Of course, I do recommend reading the first two books, Radialloy and In His Image first, but don't worry about sequel failure. It won't happen. I also recommend reading the online prologues and epilogues. They aren't necessary to the story, but they add an extra layer of depth to it that makes it even better...despite the freak out some bits of it gave me where it hints at what eventually happens to some of the characters. But I'm here to talk about Machiavellian specifically.

Writing: 5/5

Grace's books are always well-written. Machiavellian is up to par with the other Firmament books, really pulling the reader into the story and Andi's thoughts and emotions. The narrative is tightly written, never wandering off into unnecessary plot lines. I'll get into it more in the plot section, but the way she writes really brings out the mystery. I don't guess endings as well as my sister, but I can still predict them some, and Machiavellian had me guessing almost until the end. She doesn't give out hints readily.

Setting: 5/5

Machiavellian takes place back on the Surveyor. After spending Radialloy there, it felt like coming home again. Spaceships and space travel fascinate me, so I love reading about the Surveyor. Naturally, such space travel is fiction only, so it's really only speculation how it would all work, but I felt like it's all very believable. Much more believable than my beloved Doctor Who. Firmament really feels like it could take place in a real future version of our universe. I love the setting.

Plot: 5/5

I'd give it 6 or 7 out of 5, but I'm not sure my sisters would like me to thus bend our rating system. Because this plot was so twisty and turny and gasping out loud and ranting about my confusion over what's really going on that it deserves extra points. Rabbit trails and red herrings make it so difficult to figure out who's behind the sabotage, and it's even harder to figure out what the saboteurs are trying to accomplish and why. And the message throughout. Helping Elasson and the other inhabitants of Kainus Ge is a worthy cause. Andi wants to help them. But helping them would require doing something that is illegal, though it's not technically against God's law. The Bible doesn't say "Thou shalt not enter the galactic center." Is it really wrong if it's for a good cause? These are the questions Andi struggles with, and in a realistic and relatable fashion. And her conclusion...spoilers.

Characters: 5/5

I love the Firmament cast of characters.They feel like old friends by now. I could really feel Andi's struggles, and I definitely sympathized with her missing Elasson. I miss Elasson too. Grace said we'll see him again, but seeing him again right now wouldn't be soon enough. He's mentioned quite often throughout Machiavellian, and I hope there's a good reason why Andi is so worried about the possibility of losing him. (Hint, hint. Andi and Elasson. It would be perfect. :) ) The Doctor is himself, and I loved seeing more of him. There's more of August than in previous books, which I liked (but no, I'm still not a crazy August fangirl), and Guilders's character emerges more. We get to see more of what Captain Trent is like, and new character Napoleon is another one of those who is difficult to figure out, definitely interesting. Crash is absent from this book, but the loss of his cocky personality didn't make too much of a difference. Firmament can survive without him.

Firmament: Machiavellian is a worthy continuation of the to be 18 book series that is an excellent, not to be missed Christian science fiction adventure. Firmament is awesome. Go read it. :)

Friday, November 7, 2014

Friday Favorites: Johnny Tremain

Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes

Recommended for: Ages 10 to Adult

Rating: PG (injuries and some war)

A story filled with danger and excitement, Johnny Tremain tells of the turbulent, passionate times in Boston just before the Revolutionary War. Johnny, a young apprentice silversmith, is caught up in a dramatic involvement with James Otis, John Hancock, and John and Samuel Adams in the exciting currents and undercurrents that were to lead to the Boston Tea Party and the Battle of Lexington--and finally, a touching resolution of Johnny's personal life.

Johnny Tremain is historical fiction at its best, portraying Revolutionary Boston as a living drama, through the shrewd eyes of an observant boy.

Reading reviews of Johnny Tremain, I've come to realize that people either love it or hate it. I personally don't understand how anyone could hate it. Because, well, I would say Johnny Tremain is one of, if not the, top favorite ever historical fiction book I've read.

First off, I love that it's about the American Revolution. I just love that period of history. It is so important to our country, and so many amazing things happened. This book incorporates many of those, like the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere's Ride, the battle of Lexington and Concord, as well as historical figures from John Hancock to Paul Revere. Even just taking this aspect alone, Johnny Tremain is an amazing book. Who wouldn't want to experience the events of the American Revolution like this?

But the awesomeness doesn't stop there. These characters. They are just so amazing, and so realistic. Johnny has a positive character arc to follow throughout the book. His pride is a problem, and he has to suffer the consequences. He's stubborn, but knows what's right, even though sometimes his pride gets in the way. And his past is one that has to be revealed. Rab is a good young man. He's humble and patriotic, determined to fight for freedom so "that a man can stand up." I'm also rather partial to Cilla Lapham. She cares about people, but she's not afraid to speak her mind if it becomes necessary, in spite of being shy. She can be silly at times, "I like being silly." I feel sorry for her when Johnny snubs her, but she knows how to throw it right back at him. (She has three sisters, Dorcas, Madge, and Isannah. The Disney movie cuts them all out, which in turn cuts out more than half of the story. The book is way better.) And I love to see how the different relationships between the characters develop throughout the story.

The personal stories of the characters are so skillfully intertwined with that of America. It's amazing how it works. It's not a separate story simply set in Revolutionary Boston that could have been set somewhere else, nor is it a story only about the Revolution. It is a beautiful whole, and one without the other would not work at all.

Johnny Tremain is very well written. It won a Newbery in the 40s, so I think it's safe to assume it is, even had I not read it and fully believed that. It really pulls you in and gets you to experience everything along with the characters. I've felt the sadness that comes with some parts of the story, the injustices, the humor, the pain. It's all there. It's my favorite Revolutionary War story for sure. Because despite their personal struggles, they all know that independence is important. That it's worth fighting for. That it's worth dying for. And people did.

     "Hundreds would die, but not the thing they died for.
     " 'A man can stand up...' "

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Movie Review: The Mark

The Mark by Pure Flix Entertainment

Recommended For: Ages 10 to Adult

Rating: NR (PG for violence)

The international economy is on the verge of collapse. To help the situation, a secret new technology is to be announced at the G20 Summit in Berlin. On a flight from Bangkok to Berlin, Chad Turner, a former soldier, is the world's first test subject for this technology capable of tracking one's personal data to control humanity. As Chad realizes his true mission, he must push himself to the breaking point to save himself and all on board the flight - and ensure the microchip doesn't fall into the wrong hands.

This was an independent Christian film. To be honest, I wasn't exactly expecting this movie to be good in the technical sense. Thankfully, it was much better done than another independent Christian film I watched recently, which was very badly made. And it was a good story as well.

Technical: 4/5

The shooting of this film, the special effects, the writing were all well-done. I rated it 4 out of 5 instead of 5 out of 5 because the acting, while good, wasn't quite up to par. A handful of lines were awkwardly acted. But most of the acting was very well done, as was the rest of the movie.

Setting: 5/5

The movie is set in an undetermined time in the future, in the end times. The technology seems much like today's technology. The movie is mostly in a plane, with a few scenes in Taiwan and other places. To me it seemed very well done, although since I've never been on an airplane like that, I can't really be a good judge. I've only flown twice in my life, and that was on the same day in a four-seater plane. But it seemed realistic.

Plot: 4/5

The plot was well done. It was exciting, and it made sense. However, about three-fourths of the way through, there were some aspects from the Left Behind movies (the rapture, and a guy that would obviously turn into the Antichrist). But it was better done than in the Left Behind movies. And it didn't take such a central part of the plot, though it may in the sequel (which I want to watch). The sequel has the prospects of being really cool.

Character Development: 4.5/5

The characters were all well developed. The bad guys were evil, and the others were interesting. They were all well-rounded, but I wish they would've been a little more likable and connectable.

This is a movie I would definitely recommend watching, although I would caution parents with smaller children to watch it first since it is violent (several people get shot and there is some blood). You won't regret watching this movie.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Cover Reveal: Becoming Nikki

Today is a very special day. One of my good friends by the name of Ashley Elliott is going to be publishing her first book. It's called Becoming Nikki, and it's super good (yes, I've read it . . . I formatted it, too, so I know), and so I'm really excited about it. You can find out even more about it on Ashley's blog, It will be released on December 8th. I know, that's about a month away, so why am I talking about it now? Well, I want to get you all hyped up about this amazing Christian Contemporary Fiction book . . . and you get to see something special today, too. The Cover! First, the book description.

What would you do if you were given the opportunity to rebuild a broken relationship?

Alec and Nikki Scott are the perfect ice dancing duo, executing flawless technique and brilliant performance abilities each time they compete. No one doubts their camaraderie, not even their friends.

But looks can be deceiving. Off the ice, their relationship is in shambles. Ice dancing is the only thing they have in common anymore… and Alec wants out.

Just as Nikki feels like their relationship can’t get any worse, an unexpected tragedy crashes into her life. She’s left struggling with a difficult choice as her opinion of her brother slowly starts to change.

Whatever she decides, she knows that her life will never be the same.

Doesn't it sound cool? Ashley is superb at writing the struggles of Alec and Nikki's relationship, and the difficulties surrounding the tragedy. And she tells me what she writes now is even better! But here's the real purpose of this post. The cover.
So, what do you think? Sound like a book you're interested in? Mark your calendars for December 8th. We're planning all sorts of fun blogging stuff to celebrate the release. You won't want to miss it.

Ashley Elliott is a writer, reader, musician, photographer, tree-climber, and Leaguette. She speaks fluently in movie quotes and spends most of her time fangirling over her latest obsession. In her free time, she enjoys laughing with her friends, laughing over Christian indie films (but secretly loving them), and laughing with her five crazy siblings. Ashley is a homeschool graduate and is currently pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Humanities through CollegePlus. She lives in Georgia with her parents and siblings, and doesn't have any pets.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday Favorites: The Witch of Blackbird Pond

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

Recommended for: Ages 8 to Adult (or slightly younger as a read-aloud)

Rating: PG

Orphaned Kit Tyler knows, as she gazes for the first time at the cold, bleak shores of Connecticut Colony, that her new home will never be like the shimmering Caribbean island she left behind. In her relatives' stern Puritan community, she feels like a tropical bird that has flown to the wrong part of the world, a bird that is now caged and lonely. The only place where Kit feels completely free is in the meadows, where she enjoys the company of the old Quaker woman known as the Witch of Blackbird Pond, and on occasion, her young sailor friend Nat. But when Kit's friendship with the "witch" is discovered, Kit is faced with suspicion, fear, and anger. She herself is accused of witchcraft!

This is another one of those books that my mom read to my sisters and me over lunch when we were young. It also became a family read-aloud several years later. The only other book I can think of that did this is Anne of Green Gables I loved The Witch of Blackbird Pond dearly even as a young child. I can remember stamping my foot and loudly declaring, "She's not a witch." It, with the same author's The Bronze Bow and Esther Forbes's Johnny Tremain, remain among my top favorite historical fiction books. At the moment, I can't really think of any other books that make it that high on my favorite historical fiction list.

Don't be put off by the title. There is absolutely no witchcraft involved in the book. What I generally say is that it's basically a Salem Witch Trial type book except they're not in Salem. They're in Wethersfield, another New England coastal town.

Kit Tyler has to leave her home of Barbados to live with her Puritan relatives. Watching her try to fit in is both hard and entertaining. She really knows nothing of Puritan life. It is a disaster at the dame school that finally drives her to the meadow, where she meets Hannah Tupper, who everyone assumes is a witch simply because she is a Quaker, not a Puritan. Then she accidentally drags little Prudence Cruff into trouble, trouble which only Prudence herself, with the help of Nat Eaton, can get them out of.

I dearly love these characters and their relationships. Kit is so easy to relate to, she is stubborn and not the least bit Puritan, but she wants to help people, namely Prudence. Prudence is ill treated, called stupid by her overbearing mother when really she is extremely smart. Hannah Tupper is a delightful old lady, and no more a witch than you or I. And I love Nat. He is no more perfect than Kit, but he's a good man and quite a wonderful character. Yes, there is some romance, but it's in the perfect place, a subplot, clean and sweet, and nothing which would turn off young children. It just makes the story even more wonderful than it already is.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond is a rich story, full of history, characters, story, and brilliant writing. It is such an amazing book. A lot of my favorite books are Newberies, I'm realizing that the only favorites that aren't are ones that are ineligible, for instance, written by a British author, or a recent book by an indie author that is for an older audience and/or wouldn't have been entered. The Witch of Blackbird Pond is no exception. It deserves the Newbery it won. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Movie Review: The Return of the King

The Return of the King by New Line Home Entertainment

Recommended For: Ages 13 and up

Rating: PG-13 (for intense epic battle sequences and frightening images)

The final battle for Middle-Earth begins. Frodo and Sam, led by Gollum, continue their dangerous mission toward the fires of Mount Doom in order to destroy the One Ring. Aragorn struggles to fulfill his legacy as he leads his outnumbered followers against the growing power of the Dark Lord Sauron, so that the Ring-bearer may complete his quest. Winner of 11 Academy Awards.

This movie is awesome! I don't think I'll ever tire of seeing this movie again. And this is the movie where Sam is at his noblest. Go Sam!

Technical: 5/5
Seriously, the special effects in this are really good. They're pretty cool. Especially Mordor. And Mount Doom. Everything else is good as well. And just a note, the music is great and very emotional. Thumbs-up to Howard Shore for doing a great job on that!

Setting: 5/5
The movie is set in Middle-Earth. Mainly, this movie takes place in Mordor, Gondor, Rohan, Rivendell, and the Shire. With some cool and completely unnecessary shots of mountains thrown in for good measure. The setting was very well-done and complex, thanks to J. R. R. Tolkein's whole world history for Middle Earth.

Plot: 5/5
The plot was very well-done and intriguing. It was very epic. Although, the screenwriters can't be credited with this as it was all J. R. R. Tolkien's books that had the story that made the movies.

Characters: 5/5
Ah, the characters. The best part. They are all unique and fleshed out, which is quite a feat considering how many characters there actually are in Lord of the Rings. Sam, the faithful and loyal gardener who will protect Frodo at any cost, Pippin, who is not smart and funny, Merry, Pippin's cousin, who is a mite bit smarter, Frodo, who is Frodo, and Legolas, who is cool, are among some of the best (and no, I didn't mention Aragorn. He's too perfect for me). Faramir, who was meaner in the movie than in the book, was another good character. Denethor was good to hate. The orcs were disgusting. And Sauron was evil.

The Return of the King is a great movie, the best movie of The Lord of the Rings, and should be watched by anyone who read the book and people that haven't.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Book Review: Firmament: In His Image

Firmament: In His Image by J. Grace Pennington

Recommended for: Ages 10 and up (interest level)

Rating: PG

It was supposed to be a routine check of a parched planet. That was what Andi expected when she joined the small exploration team, but when their shuttle crash landed, the unthinkable happened—they encountered intelligent life.

Now stranded on the stran
ge world, the team accidentally angers the iron-fisted leader of the village, and the compassionate intervention of a young native named Elasson may be all that's keeping them alive.

Their shuttle seems beyond repair, the oppressive heat is sapping their strength, and the local ruler is determined to execute them. Can Andi help find a way to escape before it's too late?

After listening to the first book in the series, my sisters wanted me to read the second book.

Writing: 4/5

The writing was mostly well done, but it was a little confusing at the beginning  as to where the characters were. I was a little disinterested with it until they landed on a planet. Once they got to the planet, the story was exciting and interesting. It would have been more suspenseful if I hadn't heard spoilers. There were hardly any typos, if any, and the dialogue was well done also.

Setting: 5/5

There are two main settings in this book: the spaceship, the Surveyor, and a desert planet. The ship is not a large part of this story but the main parts of the ship are sickbay and the bridge. The planet is good for sci-fi and is a desert planet with few plants. I thought that the settlement for intelligent life was a good representation of how people would live in that kind of environment.

Plot 5/5

The plot was well thought out and had plenty of mystery. I wasn't very interested with the parts on the spaceship, but it got more exciting and interesting as the book went on. There is time between different events to get to know the characters a little more. There is also some conflict with the main characters which makes the story more interesting.

Characters: 4/5

All the characters are well done and unique but they are not characters that I love or that I am attached to. The main character is Andi Lloyd who is the adoptive daughter of Doctor Lloyd. She is not a perfect person and so makes a good character. One character though, Crash, annoys me, though he became a little more likeable when you find out some about his past and what he is struggling with. Some of the characters are stubborn and hold strongly to their beliefs no matter what other people say. 

This is a good story that I enjoyed and anyone who likes science fiction should read it.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday Favorites: Never

Never by J. Grace Pennington

Recommended For: 13 and up

 Rating: PG-13 (mild violence, mildly disturbing scenes, and a murder)
Travis Hamilton never expected to be a killer. One day he was studying to become a schoolteacher in the little western town of Spencervale, and the next he was sentenced to ten years hard labor in the Dead Mines outside town--from which few return alive. 

Ross Hamilton is no detective. But when his brother is convicted of murder, he has no choice but to abandon his ranch and do all in his power to find out just what happened the night of the killing, and who is really responsible. 

 Neither brother is prepared to be stretched and tested to his limits and beyond by an adventure that is much bigger than either of them ever imagined. But in the next few days, they will be. The only way to survive is to never compromise.


I started this book with a very intriguing premise from my sister on my mind. A young man was convicted of killing somebody while he was asleep and was sentenced to work in the Dead Mines for ten years. His older brother quarantined a hotel to try and find out what really happened.

I must say, the book did not disappoint. I couldn't put it down (honestly, I was reading it when I should have been doing other things). I liked it so much I wanted it in physical form instead of e-book form, and asked for it for Christmas. Now I can pull it off my shelf and read it whenever I want (and I do often).

Never is a really, really good book. J. Grace Pennington is a really good writer. Her writing puts my writing to shame. She makes you feel as if you're really there seeing what the characters are seeing and feeling what they're feeling. This is very instrumental in drawing you in. And the plot. Up until the end I hadn't got it figured out completely. I thought I had, but I hadn't. I can't write mysteries myself (I've tried) so that made me appreciate this well-done mystery even more. Many mysteries I've read are cheesy and unrealistic. This was anything but. And yet there's so much more to it than the mystery aspect. It's a little hard to explain if you haven't read the book. Which is why you should go read it right now if you haven't. And read it again if you have.

I could go on all day about how much I love this book, but I really have other things to do. So I'll suffice to finish with this famous quote.

"READ NEVER OR OFF WITH YOUR HEAD!" as the Queen of Hearts said. What's that you say? The Queen of Hearts didn't really say that? Well, if she didn't, that's only because she was born before Never was written. If she had been born, she totally would have said it.

I know, I know, the Queen of Hearts isn't real. But Never is, which is why you should go read it.

Seriously, why are you still reading this? Go read Never now!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Play Review: The Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall (25th Anniversary Performance)

Recommended for: Ages 13 to Adult

Rating: NR (I'm not sure what I would rate it, but it's kind of scary and dark, so I wouldn't recommend it for young children.)

A disfigured musical genius, hidden away in the Paris Opera House, terrorizes the opera company for the unwitting benefit of a young protégée whom he trains and loves.

Yes, I'm doing a play rather than a movie. We didn't watch an actual movie last weekend, just Phantom of the Opera on Netflix, and it's definitely worth reviewing.

I don't know how I missed out on The Phantom of the Opera for so long. I guess it just wasn't on my radar screen. I really was missing a lot by not having seen Phantom, because I immediately loved it. It jumped right onto my favorites list, and I've listened to the whole thing on Spotify several times since Friday night. And I found out someone I go to church with has seen it live, and so I'm jealous.

Technical: 5/5

It is a little odd to watch a stage play on TV. Fortunately, it didn't take long to get used to, mostly because I knew it was stage, and so that's what I was expecting. Of course, you can't expect CGI work or detailed locations, and the actors all wore microphones, but it's stage, not a movie. And it was a spectacular stage production. It's the 25th anniversary performance at the Royal Albert Hall, after all.

The music. Ah, such music. I think the music was what first entranced me. I have an extreme fondness for orchestral pieces, and this was performed with a full live orchestra. (Of course, it was taped by the time I got around to seeing it, but it was live then.) Sometimes they would even show a shot of the orchestra and I could see the violinists playing up in high positions. (And yes, I couldn't help thinking how the guy they showed had thicker fingers than me, which would make double stops easier for him, but individual strings and high positions easier for me.) The singing was also phenomenal. The Phantom has an amazing voice, and Christine really puts my out of tune Disney songs to extreme shame. She has such high notes to hit, but she nailed them. And the songs. I already knew "Think of Me" because my sisters and I have all played it on the piano, but pretty much all the rest were new to me. I think my favorites are "The Phantom of the Opera" and "All I Ask of You." And the overtures, because there's time to focus on the orchestra.

The ballet also deserves a mention. As a former ballerina who spent one year on pointe, I greatly enjoyed watching them perform. They were all excellent dancers.

Settings: 4/5

The Phantom of the Opera largely takes place inside the opera house, which makes the settings easy to create. The opera is performed on stage, after all. The transitions to the Phantom's place were a little confusing, and didn't seem to change things much, but that's really all the negative things I have to say about the setting.

Plot: 5/5

The story was slightly confusing at first, but I managed to get my bearings fairly quickly, and now I feel like I have a good grasp on the storyline. The ownership of the opera house is transferred over at the previous owner's retirement, and the opera ghost, also known as the Phantom, has a difficult time getting the new owners to follow his instructions. This escalates into a war between the Phantom and the opera house, as the Phantom tries to get Christine Daae into lead roles and always have box 5, but the owners push back against it. And the Phantom is not above using extreme measures to get his way.

I really loved the story, enough that I have started reading the book upon which the musical was based. It has intrigue and tragedy, love and despair. It seemed well developed, and definitely interesting.

Character Development: 4/5

The character development was somewhat lacking, but Phantom has so much else going for it, it didn't reduce my enjoyment one bit. The Phantom was very interesting, and the sort of character one doesn't quite know whether to hate or feel sorry for. And his voice. He can sing! I liked Christine. She seemed rather under the Phantom's influence, but yet scared of him and desperate to get away at the same time. I did like Raoul as well, though I wouldn't say I could give a description of his personality. I'm hoping the book will be better at developing the characters.

Something else cool about this edition is that Andrew Lloyd Webber comes out at the end to talk about it, and the original Christine and several different Phantoms sing. It's pretty cool. Though the part where the Phantoms sing reminded my family of the part of "The Day of the Doctor" where Ten and Eleven move in sync and trade off lines in a monologue. That only made it better, Whovians that we are.

If, like me, you  have been missing out on Phantom of the Opera, don't anymore. Watch it. This version is excellent, one of my friends said it was the best one. You won't regret it. (Well, unless you consider musicals the most horrible form of entertainment ever invented. But despite the unrealism, musicals are amazing.)

"He's here, the Phantom of the Opera."

EDIT: And it's even better the second time around.