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 DaaĆ©. 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.