Monday, March 30, 2015

Book Review: The Last of the Mohicans

The Last of the Mohicans by J. Fenimore Cooper

Recommended For: Ages 13 to Adult

Rating: PG-13 (for violence)

It is 1757. Across north-eastern America the armies of Britain and France struggle for ascendancy. Their conflict, however, overlays older struggles between nations of native Americans for possession of the same lands and between the native peoples and white colonisers. Through these layers of conflict Cooper threads a thrilling narrative, in which Cora and Alice Munro, daughters of a British commander on the front line of the colonial war, attempt to join their father. Thwarted by Magua, the sinister 'Indian runner', they find help in the person of Hawk-Eye, the white woodsman, and his companions, the Mohican Chingachgook and Uncas, his son, the last of his tribe.

I just recently finished reading this book for school. I thoroughly enjoyed it until the end - it was exciting, it was intriguing, it had good characters - and then the end came. There is a reason the book is called "The Last of the Mohicans." Let me just say, it may have broken my record of not crying over any book or movie ever.

Writing: 5/5

For a novel written in 1834, I am very impressed with the writing of this book. It wasn't confusing, rambling, and all flowery language like most old books, for which I am impressed. The writing was engaging, the descriptions were well-done, and the dialogue intriguing. I really enjoyed how J. Fenimore Cooper was clearly a Christian and how it showed in the book.

Setting: 5/5

This book is set during the French and Indian Wars. I really felt like I knew the Wars and that I was right in among them. Of course, the footnotes in the back of the book may have helped me not to be confused. I highly suggest looking at the footnotes. They explain a lot that would be evident to someone who lived during those times but wouldn't be apparent to a modern reader.

Plot: 5/5

The plot was exciting. Throughout basically the whole book, the main characters are running from the Mohawks and the other factions of the Six Nations of the Iroquois, mainly whoever the Indian Magua is with. And yet it's so much more than that. I can't really explain it, you'd have to read the book to find out, but...let me just say, there was never a dull moment. Which is rare in old books. And the end...while not everyone dies, more than one person does. And it's very upsetting.

Character Development: 4/5

I was going to give it five out of five, but realized there isn't quite as much deep character as in say, Jaye L. Knight's books (I'd put a link, but am not really feeling like it right now, it being a Sunday and me not feeling quite up to par. You curious people will just have to Google Jaye L. Knight if you are so seriously deprived as to not have heard of her). That being said, the characters seem to pop off the page. While the book is written with an omniscient POV, I still got the feel of all the characters, and that Major Duncan Heyward is the protagonist. I honestly don't see what the big deal is about Hawk-Eye, mainly known in the book as "the scout". He's certainly not the main character and he's really not that big a deal. But I really like all the characters, except Magua and maybe Montcalm.

All in all, I'd say read this book. Although I did look up the plots of the three movie adaptations on the handy-dandy site of Wikipedia and found out that none of the movies were like the book. So I don't plan on watching the movie any time soon, although I still plan to enjoy the music. But I would recommend this book for anyone to read. This is one classic you can't miss out on.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Movie Reviews: Spiderman 3

Spider-Man 3

Recommended For: Ages 10 to Adult

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense action violence)

Peter Parker has finally managed to piece together the once-broken parts of his life, maintaining a balance between his relationship with Mary-Jane and his responsibility as Spider-Man. But more challenges arise for Spider-Man. Peter's old friend Harry Obsourne has set out for revenge against Peter, taking up the mantle of his late father's persona as The New Goblin. Peter is also faced with Uncle Ben's real killer, Flint Marko, who has been transformed into his toughest foe yet, the Sandman. All hope seems lost until Peter's suit turns jet-black and greatly amplifies his powers. But it also begins to greatly amplify the much darker qualities of Peter's personality that he begins to lose himself to. Peter has to reach deep inside himself to free the compassionate hero he used to be if he is to ever conquer the darkness within and face not only his greatest enemies, but also...himself.

Okay, I'm going to have a hard time not geeking out about this. Not especially because Spider-Man 3 was completely awesome, but put together, the three Spider-Man movies are completely awesome. Watching Spider-Man 3 reminded me how much I really loved Peter Parker. I haven't ever seen The Amazing Spiderman or The Amazing Spiderman 2, and I honestly don't intend to. Especially since I just found out there will be no The Amazing Spiderman 3 because Marvel is rebooting the whole Spiderman franchise for Spiderman's appearance in Captain America: Civil War and will presumably give Peter Parker the third backstory in fifteen years. I probably defend the Tobey Maguire Spiderman so fiercely because I first saw part of the first Spider-Man movie in 2006, even before Spider-Man 3 came out. And anyways, on to my review.

Technical: 5/5

Tobey Maguire is a very good and a very unique actor. He did an exceptional job as Peter Parker/Spiderman. MJ and all the other characters were well-acted as well. The special effects: completely up to par. I must admit, the way Sandman's body disintegrates into sand time after time is creepy. Well-done, but creepy. I love how both Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3 have overviews of what previously happened in the beginning credits. Best use of beginning credits I've ever seen. And the overview was nice since it had been a while since we saw the first two movies.

Setting: 5/5

It seems almost every superhero movie is set in New York City. This one is no exception. Honestly, it would be kind of weird if this movie wasn't in NYC since the first two were. And it seems to fit. I'm assuming the movie was actually filmed in New York City. In any case, NYC seems pretty realistic to me.

Plot: 4.5/5

It's a sequel. You can pretty much guarantee it won't get all five stars. But despite the sequel aspect, the plot was very intriguing and didn't seem contrived or just a little lame like most sequels of really popular movies are. In fact, this movie was the least predictable of the Spider-Man trilogy. I must admit, however, Peter's relationship problems with MJ made me more nervous than the action parts! Like most sequels with the continuance of a romance subplot, there were misunderstandings between Peter and MJ that cause conflict. Even so, the misunderstanding conflict was the best I've ever seen it done. And the climax...I'm still reeling over the awesome climax. Still probably not as good as the first and second ones, although I'm not quite sure on this. I am relieved they didn't follow through with their Spider-Man 4 plan, though. Spider-Man 3 tied it up perfectly.

Character Development: 5/5

This is probably the main reason why I'm so adamant against seeing The Amazing Spiderman and The Amazing Spiderman 2, and honestly, the whole idea of those two movies ever existing (please don't kill me over here). I mean really, the character development in the original (I refuse to call them "old" when the first movie is a year younger than me) Spider-Man movies is awesome. The characters are stellar. Peter Parker/Spiderman is still just as flawed as ever, which makes him my second-favorite superhero, tied with the Incredible Hulk/David Banner from the eighties and second to only Captain America. I love MJ, and Peter's best friend Harry...I'm really not sure what to say about him. Aunt May is wonderful (I wish I had an Aunt May) and the's kind of hard to develop the character of a mysterious space substance. Frank Marko, while still a villain, just loves his daughter. He wanted to make her healthy again the whole time. And Eddie and Gwen...well. They're...interesting.

For anyone who has seen Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 and hasn't watched Spider-Man 3, watch it. You won't regret it. For anyone who has seen The Amazing Spiderman and hasn't seen this Spiderman trilogy, go watch these movies now. And if you haven't seen any Spiderman movies, you should watch these movies. They're really really good. And kudos to anyone who has seen all three movies. We should really talk sometime.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Book Review: The Wildcat of Braeton

The Wildcat of Braeton by Claire M. Banschbach

Recommended for: Ages 10 to Adult

Rating: PG (for violence)

“If you’re fighting our battle, we’d best make you look like a champion,” Tam said to Aiden. Tam and Blair began to apply the war paint the Clans had worn into battle since before they arrived in Braeton.

“You ready?” Tam asked when they finished.

“As I’ll ever be,” Aiden replied. “Tam, if everything goes wrong, you take charge after me.”

“I’m praying nothing goes wrong,” Tam said. “Just remember what Diarmad said when he built this place: ‘In times of trouble, a Champion shall rise up and Scodra shall not fall.’” 

His term of service to Lord Rishdah now complete, Aiden returns to his home in Braeton. As he travels he hears rumors that trouble plagues Braeton. Clan Canich is being attacked from within. He arrives, determined to save his father, his brothers, and his Clan from the treachery of one man.

A year has passed since the Calorins were driven from Aredor and Corin is struggling to rebuild his country. Despite the peace, a fear haunts him that the Calorins aren’t far away. The Hawk Flight takes to the forest again to defend the borders against a possible attack from the neighboring country of Durna and its Calorin ally.

As Aiden and Corin struggle to adapt to their new lives they know one thing for certain - war is coming to the North!

The Wildcat of Braeton is definitely a step up from The Rise of Aredor. I certainly liked it better. While it still doesn't make it to my favorites, it is enough for me to continue following this author's career.

Writing: 4/5

It felt better written than the last book, certainly. There's still more telling than showing, and the character point of view could be deeper, but there was less head hopping and the story was much easier for me to follow. Claire has certainly improved between books.

Setting: 4/5

The worldbuilding is expanded upon in this book. You get to see what Braeton is like. It reminded me of the Scottish Highlands as portrayed in Little House: The Martha Years. I always loved those books, so being able to draw that connection was a definite plus. It feels like a real world, and I like it.

Plot: 4/5

I liked this storyline much better than that of the first book. Aiden finally leaves Calorin to go home to Braeton. He had some difficulties with his family prior to running away, so fixing those relationships and fitting back into a very different culture from the one he has lived in for so long is an important part of the story. Also, Corin has trouble fitting into his old life. He doesn't really like being a prince. And the guys start finding girls. :) The threat of war hangs over them for most of the book, but battles don't happen until the climax, which is just where I like it. There are deaths, though, which, well, I didn't like them--at all--but at least it isn't as bad as Mockingjay. The story structure could still use some work. The plot line kind of rambles rather than following traditional story structure, as far as I could tell. Still, I liked the story.

Character Development: 4/5

In the last book, I felt like I was watching a group of close friends. In this book, I felt like I was on the outer edge of the inner circle. Certainly an improvement. Deep character point of view would make these characters fantastic because, while they are well developed, they are still a little difficult to connect to. That being said, the deaths in the battle did certainly affect me. I was sad. Very sad. They did feel like somewhat pointless deaths, but I guess it is kind of unrealistic for that many characters to survive the battle. I have to say goodbye to the characters before I know them as well as I would like, but I do wish I could know them better in later books. (The epilogue kind of seems to indicate that this is the end of the Aredor/Braeton books, at least for these characters.)

The Wildcat of Braeton was a good book. I enjoyed it and do recommend it.

This review is part of the blog tour for The Wildcat of Braeton. Find the rest of the blog tour here!


Opens at midnight March 23 and closes at midnight on March 28. Giveaway includes 2 signed copies of The Wildcat of Braeton and accompanying sets of four notecard sized illustrations from the series!

About the Author:

Claire Banschbach was born and raised in Midland, TX, the fourth of eight children. She was homeschooled through high school and is now a proud member of the Texas A&M University class of 2014. An avid reader of Lord of the Rings, Narnia, and many other adventure novels, Claire was prompted to begin writing her own fantasy novel at seventeen after several years of daydreaming. She continues to write in her spare time (and often when she doesn’t have spare time). When not scratching out stories and homework with pen and pencil, Claire partakes in the joys of watching the Boston Red Sox, Aggie football, playing volleyball, and horseback riding. She hopes her faith and strong foundation in God will continue to help guide her writing. She is currently working on her Doctorate of Physical Therapy at the Texas Tech University Health Science Center.
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Release date info from the author-

Due to circumstances beyond my control, the release date has been moved to (most likely) May. However, if you feel that you cannot live without this book, you can buy it here- Warning- it costs about a hundred-million dollars (or I’m a poor college student and anything over $20 is expensive), so I would wait until its official release date and you can shop more cheaply! Stay tuned on my Facebook page or blog for more info on the release date!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday Favorites: Voices at Whisper Bend

Voices at Whisper Bend by Katherine Ayres

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

Rating: PG (for frightening situations)

It's 1942. America has just entered World War II, and Charlotte Campbell's brother Jim has gone to fight. Twelve-year-old Charlotte wants to help the war effort too, so she and her classmates start a scrap metal drive. when all the metal is stolen, Charlotte is furious. Her determination to catch the thief leads her out on the rain-swollen river at night. There she discovers evidence she doesn't want to find-and there she faces the fear that haunts her.

I have a confession. There is a two-fold reason for this post. One, I need to post a favorite for this week, and my mind went blank. Two, Miss Jack Lewis Baillot is giving away three copies of her book Brothers-in-Arms that isn't out yet, so for the time being the only way to get the book is through the giveaway at her website here. I want to enter as many times as possible, so that means I have to post something about World War II and link it back to her blog. Which I have. So go enter, please (or don't so I have a better chance of winning :). After racking my brain for a favorite book of mine that is about World War II, I finally remembered this awesome book. And this will have to constitute all my entries, since I see no prospect of finishing The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich before the giveaway ends.

I bought this book with birthday money years and years ago. It came in a set of History Mysteries, but this was the one I loved the most, probably because it's set during World War II, and anything set during World War II is awesome. This book is really good. It's a well-done mystery, not unrealistic like many of the mysteries I've read, and it's about World War II. Which makes it a good book. 

Anyways. It's hard to put into words why this book is one of my favorites (other than it's set during World War II).

Can you tell I love World War II?

This book has great characters. I love Charlotte, the main character, her little brother Robbie, and I like Paul Rossi, too. And as a plus, Charlotte has an older brother, although he is absent fighting in the war. All the characters in this book are very well done. And the plot is very good as well. Which is probably why I like it so much.

And it's set during World War II.

So. I really like this book, and I think anyone who likes mysteries or World War II would, too.

And sorry for the awkward post, but I really like World War II.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Movie Review: Maleficent



Recommended for: Ages 8 to Adult

Rating: PG (for sequences of fantasy action and violence, including frightening images) 

Explore the untold story of Disney's most iconic villain in this wickedly fun twist on the classic SLEEPING BEAUTY. In an unforgiving mood after a neighboring kingdom threatens her forest, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) places an irrevocable curse on the king's newborn daughter, the Princess Aurora. But as the child grows, Maleficent finds herself becoming fond of the girl. And as the conflict between the two realms intensifies, Maleficent realizes that Aurora may hold the key to peace in the land. Journey beyond the fairy tale in this soaring adventure that is "visually arresting, brilliantly designed" (Andrew Barker, Variety). 

Because of the whole "locked in the vault" thing, I didn't have access to very many Disney movies growing up. (The ones we had, we watched all the time, but that's beside the point.) Sleeping Beauty was one I didn't watch until my sister bought the 50th anniversary edition. I wasn't really a fan of it. Prior to that, my only encounter with Sleeping Beauty was in My Big Book of Bedtime Stories, which is full of retellings of classic fairy tales and legends. In that version, she actually slept for 100 years. After rewatching Sleeping Beauty in preparation for Maleficent, I decided the Bookania version of Sleeping Beauty was my favorite. I'm not entirely sure where Maleficent falls on that scale, but I like it way better than the animated version. I can agree with what friends have told me, that it is a good movie.

Technical: 5/5

Well, it's a Disney movie, and Disney tends to do things right. The acting was fantastic, the dialogue was well written, the costumes were cool, and the special effects were well done. Now, it was pretty obvious that many of the creatures in faerieland were computer generated, but it was still good CG. On the technical side of things, it was fantastic.

Setting: 5/5

Stefan's kingdom was a pretty typical fantasy kingdom, not much different from the animated movie. The main difference, I would think, is more in the backstory of the setting, and the fact that there is no neighboring king betrothing his son to infant Aurora. Faerieland was a wholly new addition, and it was pretty neat. It is a kingdom of all sorts of fairies and other creatures, of which Maleficent is protector. There is, naturally, magic in the worldbuilding, but it's just what one would expect from a retelling of Disney's Sleeping Beauty.

Plot: 4.5/5

This is where things change from the animated feature. There is still whole sleeping curse enacted on Aurora, where she will prick her finger on a spindle to set it in action, and she is still raised by three fairies who don't really know how to do things without magic out in the woods, and there still is a Prince Philip she meets in the forest, but there the similarities pretty much stop. Just as in the animated film Aurora isn't really the protagonist, so she is not in Maleficent. However, rather than the fairies taking that role, Maleficent herself does. This movie is all about Maleficent's story, how she came to enact the curse and why, how she felt about it afterwards, and what she did about it. It does puzzle me how she got a name like Maleficent when she was a sweet little girl, but it's an iconic name, so I suppose they couldn't change it. Maleficent does somewhat play an antagonistic role in this movie, but Stefan is the true antagonist. Both of them were in the wrong, but he never sought repentance. It would be unfair of me to say that the twist ending didn't surprise me since I got spoilers from a friend last summer. Though as a viewer of Once Upon a Time, it might not have surprised me even so.

Now, one of the main problems I have with the animated film is the pacing. Really, the story doesn't lend itself well to pacing. It covers too much time where nothing happens, which is difficult to do. The part where Aurora is a baby feels like a prologue in the animated movie, but it also feels like it takes up too much of the movie causing later development of the story to be cut accordingly. I think Maleficent did a much better job as far as this goes, despite covering a longer period of time. I still hate how 16 years are skimmed over, but at least Maleficent montages a good portion of it and has actual scenes mixed in so you can get to know Aurora somewhat and see how Maleficent truly feels about her. I thought her change in feeling felt a little too sudden, but they didn't really have time to develop it more.

Character Development: 4.5/5

Far better than the animated one. We can actually get to know Aurora, though not as well as I might like. Maleficent herself is well rounded, and we really get to know who she is. She has more motivation than just being miffed at being left out of Aurora's christening, and, while her actions are clearly not good, it is understandable why she did it. Character arc-wise, she is incredibly interesting. She starts as a sweet little girl, then takes a negative arc plunge, and then, through the rest of the movie, journeys on a positive arc. Stefan is the other character that is best developed. His is certainly a negative arc, which was interesting to see. It wasn't what I expected, and, while it wasn't exactly pleasant for Aurora's father to be a villain, it was an interesting plot development. Diaval, the raven that Maleficent turned into, well, anything she needed was particularly interesting to me. Now, I do wish there had been a bit more of Philip. He had a tiny role, but he was magnificent at it. I did especially love how conscious he was of the fact that he and Aurora barely knew each other. And he was Jonas from The Giver, so...

I really enjoyed Maleficent, and can heartily recommend it, especially to people who like the story of Sleeping Beauty. It is a tale of redemption, more than anything, and I agree with my friends that it is good. And now I'm anxious to go see Cinderella, and looking forward to next year's Beauty and the Beast.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Book Review: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ

Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace


Recommended for: 12 and up ( for reading and interest level)

Rating: PG (intense images)

 Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ is a novel by Lew Wallace published on November 12, 1880 by Harper & Brothers. Wallace's work is part of an important sub-genre of historical fiction set among the characters of the New Testament. The novel was a phenomenal best-seller; it soon surpassed Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) as the best-selling American novel and retained this distinction until the 1936 publication of Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind.

The central character is Judah, prince of the Hebrew house of Hur. Judah grows up in Jerusalem, during the turbulent years around the birth of Christ. His best friend is Messala, a Roman. As adults Judah and Messala become rivals, each hating the other, which leads to Judah's downfall and eventual triumph. Elements of the story include leprosy, naval battles among galleys, the Roman hippodrome, Roman adoption, Magus Balthasar, the Arab sheikh Ilderim.

 I was excited to read this book because I like stories about this period and I had heard that it was good.

Writing: 3/5
 There are parts of this book that drag and where there are long sections of descriptions. It is very common in old books and I wasn't surprised that it had long descriptions. There were also some parts where I was confused as to what was happening and at the length of time, for the characters, to the chariot race. There were some parts where I really enjoyed it. The parts with Ben-Hur's mother and sister were all very interesting and were some of my favorite parts. I also enjoyed many of the parts where he was young.

Setting: 4/5

 The setting was pretty good and some parts seemed historically accurate. The parts that weren't historically accurate were that in the story Jesus is born on December 25, when He would have really been born earlier in the year, and some things with the wise men, of which no one knows all the details. The later things about Jesus' life seemed accurate. I don't know a lot about the culture of the time, but from what I know it seems accurate and authentic.

Plot: 5/5

 The story follows Ben-Hur who is separated from his family, and tries to find them. All the while he is preparing for the Messiah by learning how to fight so that they can defeat Rome and set Israel free. The book starts out with the wise men and the birth of Jesus, and then moves to Ben-Hur when he was young. Lew Wallace originally wrote this story to prove that Jesus was not the Messiah. Lew Wallace then became a Christian. I wonder what the original story was like and how much revising he had to do.

Characters: 5/5

 Ben-Hur is the main character and is my favorite one. He cares about his family and country. The characters are unique and likeable. And I did dislike Messala, who was the main bad guy. Tirzah, Ben-Hur's sister, acted realistically at one point of the story, and there was one part that I thought a character acted weird which was later explained, then it made sense. 

Even though it was difficult to read at times, I would recommend it. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Friday Favorites: The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Rating: G

Recommended for: All Ages (read-aloud) or 8 to Adult (on own, for reading level)

What secrets lie behind the doors at Misselthwaite Manor? Recently arrived at her uncle's estate, orphaned Mary Lennox is spoiled, sickly, and certain she won't enjoy living there. Then she discovers the arched doorway into an overgrown garden, shut up since the death of her aunt ten years earlier. Mary soon begins transforming it into a thing of beauty--unaware that she is changing too. But Misselthwaite hides another secret, as Mary discovers one night. High in a dark room, away from the rest of the house, lies her young cousin, Colin, who believes he is an incurable invalid, destined to die young. His tantrums are so frightful, no one can reason with him. If only, Mary hopes, she can get Colin to love the secret garden as much as she does, its magic will work wonders on him.

Oh my goodness, where do I even start? I love this book so much. I first encountered it when my parents read it to my sister and me as a bedtime story, before our youngest sister had even begun to listen to chapter books with us. I believe it was recycled as a read-aloud when my sister was older. I have read it so many times myself. I know I read it when my dog was a puppy, because she tried to run off with it. I have loved trying (and likely failing miserably) to imitate the Yorkshire accents of Martha and Dickon and Ben Weatherstaff just as Mary did. I often used the word "wick" to describe green wood. My dream garden is one exactly like the Secret Garden. I (rather too loudly) quote Mary's "hysterical lump" speech which she yelled at Colin when he was freaking out and having a tantrum because he thought he was turning into a hunchback. I love the pictures of the outdoors, of being right there with Creation. It is so beautiful. The manor house is so dark. And it is so amazing.

Back in the days when The Secret Garden was written, protagonists of children's literature were always perfect little angels. Burnett's own A Little Princess and Little Lord Fauntleroy conform to that. A protagonist such as Mary Lennox definitely broke that mold. Honestly, she is a spoiled brat. She is sickly and cross. Her cousin Colin is even more sickly and cross, besides being a perfect little tyrant. But they do not remain so. They have simply beautiful character arcs. And then there's Dickon. The animal charmer, the boy who spends all his time on the moor. I always loved Dickon. Actually, I once named a character after him. Colin too.

The garden. There is such charm in a garden all locked away and overgrown, such beauty in transforming it by one's own hands. I still want a secret garden of my own. No garden will ever be satisfactory if not just like that one. Though with no Ben Weatherstaff of my own, it still wouldn't be the same.

There are mysteries about Misselthwaite Manor. It is such a large old house, so shut up, with so many things hidden. Like the crying. "There was someone crying. There was!" And old Mr. Craven, who is rarely at home. He is a strange person, with a hurtful past. Still the mention of hunchbacks makes me think of him. And of Colin.

The Secret Garden is such a well written book. The characters feel so real. The settings are so intriguing. The writing draws the reader in. Writing about it and flipping through my copy reminds me so much of my childhood and my love of this fantastic book. It is waiting for me. Misselthwaite Manor and the Secret Garden call.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Movie Reviews: Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty

Recommended For: All Ages

Rating: G

Princess Aurora is cursed by the evil witch Maleficent - who declares that before Aurora reaches her 16th birthday she will die by pricking her finger on the spindle of a spinning-wheel. To try to prevent this, the king places her into hiding, in the care of three good-natured - but not too bright - fairies.

We really haven't been watching many movies lately. We decided that since we were going to check out Maleficent from the library and watch it soon, we might as well re-watch Sleeping Beauty. 

Technical: 5/5
Um...the movie was made in 1959. For the 21st century, the animation wasn't top-notch, but this movie was made back in the days when it was really big to have three dimensions in your animated films. So, taking that into account, and taking into the account the fact that it was made by Walt Disney, and anything done by Walt Disney is going to be top of the line (just look at Walt Disney World, for instance), I decided to give it five stars.

Setting: 5/5
It's unclear where exactly the story is set. It is made known several times in the movie that it is the 14th century, and the times seem to be pretty accurate for an animated fantasy movie, not that I know much about the life and times of the 1300s, but still.

Plot: 4/5
Everyone knows the plot of Sleeping Beauty. And, I must say, it's a pretty good one. Although, the whole I-just-met-this-girl-a-couple-of-minutes-ago-but-I-want-to-marry-her thing and the I-just-met-this-stranger-in-the-woods-but-when-I-find-out-I'm-betrothed-to-a-prince-I'll-cry-hysterically thing kind of put me off. I don't really like rushed romances. ("You can't marry a man you just met!") That's why I took away a star. Other than that it was good. Oh, and Maleficent considering herself a villain...villains think they're the hero of their story, not the evil one. But that's kind of typical in Disney movies.

Character Development: 5/5
You kind of don't get to know Aurora that well since she's kind of asleep most of the movie, but that's okay, since she's not really the protagonist. What?!? But yeah, she's really not. Prince Phillip isn't either, although he is the hero of the story. Sometimes the hero of the story and the protagonist aren't the same person, and in this case, they're not. Flora, Fauna, and Merriweather are the protagonists, and they make good ones, too. They're well-developed. While I wouldn't exactly say that Prince Phillip was well-developed, he's not exactly a flat cardboard cutout either. I'd say, for an early Disney movie, the characters are very well done.

Of course, it's not necessary for me to recommend Sleeping Beauty, but I will anyway. I think everyone should watch it at least once. And while it may not be my favorite Sleeping Beauty retelling, it's certainly one of the most classic ones.

So long!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Book Review: Ella Enchanted

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Recommended for: Ages 8 and up

Rating: G

At birth, Ella is inadvertently cursed by an imprudent young fairy named Lucinda, who bestows on her the "gift" of obedience. Anything anyone tells her to do, Ella must obey. Another girl might have been cowed by this affliction, but not feisty Ella: "Instead of making me docile, Lucinda's curse made a rebel of me. Or perhaps I was that way naturally." When her beloved mother dies, leaving her in the care of a mostly absent and avaricious father, and later, a loathsome stepmother and two treacherous stepsisters, Ella's life and well-being seem to be in grave peril. But her intelligence and saucy nature keep her in good stead as she sets out on a quest for freedom and self-discovery as she tries to track down Lucinda to undo the curse, fending off ogres, befriending elves, and falling in love with a prince along the way. Yes, there is a pumpkin coach, a glass slipper, and a happily ever after, but this is the most remarkable, delightful, and profound version of Cinderella you'll ever read.

Gail Carson Levine's examination of traditional female roles in fairy tales takes some satisfying twists and deviations from the original. Ella is bound by obedience against her will, and takes matters in her own hands with ambition and verve. Her relationship with the prince is balanced and based on humor and mutual respect; in fact, it is she who ultimately rescues him. Ella Enchanted has won many well-deserved awards, including a Newbery Honor.

This is one Newbery honor book that I didn't read when I was younger. I didn't even know that it was a book until the past couple weeks. For awhile, the only Cinderella retelling that I have known was the Disney version, but this is an interesting and creative way to retell the story of Cinderella.

Writing: 5/5 

The writing was fast-paced and didn't ramble or give unnecessary details. It wasn't too fast-paced and was written so that you can get to know the characters and some of what Ella's world is like. It also wasn't boring and I actually wanted to read more, which is more rare than I would like for it to be. This book is written in first person, so you know exactly what Ella is thinking and feeling. The reading level is good for a children's book.

Setting: 5/5

The story is set in a fictional land, which I'm not sure if it is supposed to be in a fictional world or on earth somewhere. There are elves, ogres and fairies in this world. Each one is well developed and their species have certain physical traits and abilities. The world building isn't as serious as it is in most of the fantasy books that I read, but it fits perfectly for this story.

Plot: 4/5

There are many sub-plots throughout the story, and the main plot is a part of the entire story. The book starts out with an overview of Ella's childhood, and her struggles with trying to break the spell. I don't love that obedience isn't put in a good light, but it mainly focuses on how it can be used to harm people.

Characters: 5/5

All the characters were well done and had their own unique personalities. Ella struggles with the death of her mother and being sent off to school. She tries to break her curse throughout the story as she is asked to do things, like give her mother's necklace to her future stepsister, Hattie. Hattie is mean and quickly figures out that Ella must do whatever she tells her to. She then bullies Ella. Olive, the other stepsister, isn't very smart but she does learn that Ella must obey. There are several other characters, such as Mandy, the cook, Ella's father and the prince. The are some of the more traditional elements of the Cinderella as well as the different aspects.

I enjoyed this book very much and I would recommend it 

Friday, March 6, 2015

Friday Favorites: The Hiding Place

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom with John and Elizabeth Sherrill

Recommended For: Ages 13 and up

Rating: PG-13 (Disturbing Content)

  At one time Corrie ten Boom would have laughed at the Idea that there would ever be a story to tell. For the first fifty years of her life nothing at all out of the ordinary had ever happened to her. She was an old-maid watchmaker living contentedly with her spinster sister and their elderly father in the tiny Dutch house over their shop. Their uneventful days, as regulated as their own watches, revolved around their abiding love for one another. However, with the Nazi invasion and occupation of Holland, a story did ensue.

Corrie ten Boom and her family became leaders in the Dutch Underground, hiding Jewish people in their home in a specially built room and aiding their escape from the Nazis. For their help, all but Corrie found death in a concentration camp. The Hiding Place is their story.

This is an amazing book about Corrie Ten Boom's experience during World War II. The book starts out by going through Corrie's childhood and adult life. The book tells of how their country was taken over by the Nazis and the changes that happened as a result. It also tells of how the Ten Booms helped shelter Jews from the Nazis. It went into detail on their secret room and the drills they had to do to make sure if they were searched that no one would be found. They were searched one day but there was no evidence found of any Jews, though the Nazis suspected that they were hiding them. The Ten Booms were arrested for having extra ration cards. When they were arrested, Corrie was sick and she had to leave a bag that she had packed for jail, because she had thrown it over the small door into the secret room where some Jews were hiding. 

 When they were put in jail, the Ten Boom family was separated. It was a while until Corrie found out what had happened to her family. While she was in jail, she received the four Gospels, which she eventually gave away. Corrie and her sister, Betsie were taken to a concentration camp. While they were there, they ministered to the other women that were there. They trusted in God and were thankful no matter how horrible their situation was. There was some sort of medicine that Betsie took. Betsie shared it with the other women and there was always enough. They didn't know how it had lasted so long. One day they got something that served as a replacement for what they already had. Corrie wanted to finish their bottle first, but that night it was empty. Corrie was eventually let out of the concentration camp. There is some of what happened to her after leaving the camp. The most amazing thing is the reason she was let out of the camp, but you have to read the book to find out. This book was well written in a way in which it is easy to concentrate on.

There is a lot of information on what went on in the concentration camps, and while it isn't graphic, it doesn't tone it down.

This is a really great book to read and I would highly recommend it for everyone to eventually read.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

TV Show Review: Lab Rats

Lab Rats

Recommended For: 10 to Adult

Rating: TV-Y7

When 14-year-old Leo's mom Tasha Dooley marries billionaire inventor Donald Davenport, Leo moves up in the world, but neither he nor his mom in their wildest dreams imagine that Leo will find three bionic super-powered teenagers - Adam, Bree and Chase - living within a secret lab beneath the Davenport's expansive home. Now Leo has three older "siblings" to watch out for him while he introduces them to the outside world.

We didn't watch a movie this week because we found out the first two seasons of Lab Rats were going off Netflix on March 4, and they were getting season 3. Being as we were only half-way through Season One, we had a Lab Rats marathon in order to finish the first two seasons before they went off today.

Technical: 4/5
The special effects and acting and stuff all seem to be done pretty well, with the exception of a couple not-so-good actors, hence the point deduction. But all in all, the technical stuff seems to be done pretty well.

Setting: 5/5
The show is set mainly in Davenport's home in (I think) California and the school they go to. The setting seems well done to me, although I've never been to public school, and the school they go to is basically ruled by a psycho principal, and excepting the fact that their house is full of Davenport inventions and resides over the lab. I guess you could say the settings are very unique.

Plot: 4/5
The individual plots don't have much substance in the first season, and many of them don't have much substance in Season Two either, but they are very enjoyable, and the lack of substance matches the lack of substance in most TV shows of this kind.

Character Development: 5/5
The characters in this show are stellar. They are very well-developed. From scrawny Leo Dooley to Adam, Bree, and Chase to crazy Principal Perry to selfish money-lover Donald Davenport, all the characters are fleshed out and human. I love all the characters in this show. I must say, though, Chase is probably my favorite, of the Lab Rats at least.

This show is interesting and worth watching, though I wouldn't recommend watching 31 episodes in a week or so if you can help it.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Book Review: The Rise of Aredor

The Rise of Aredor by Claire M. Banschbach

Recommended for: Ages 10 to Adult

Rating: PG (for violence)

Lost in a foreign land and separated from his family, Corin does his best to survive as a slave in the household of a Calorin lord. With newfound friends he fights for survival in ambushes and wars. For one act of bravery, he is awarded his freedom and returns to a home that has been invaded and ravaged by the Calorin armies. When Corin sets foot on Aredor’s shores, he has one goal in mind: find his family. He is driven into the forest, where he is reunited with childhood friends. From the shelter of the woods, they begin a spirited rebellion against Corin’s former cruel master, who now holds sway over Aredor. Follow Corin’s path in his quest to free his imprisoned brother, find a father who has vanished, and ultimately free his country in The Rise of Aredor.

This is a rather difficult review to write. I really wanted to love this book. Claire likes a lot of the same books as me, like Narnia, Lord of the Rings, and Ilyon Chronicles, and even watches Doctor Who. I thus had high hopes for The Rise of Aredor, but it never made it to my favorites list.

Writing: 3/5

As other reviewers have said, the beginning of this book is rather choppy. There was a good bit of head hopping, and it changed scenes too dramatically too often. This definitely evened out later on and got much better. There really wasn't any character voice, though, and I was never really drawn into the story. Grammatically, it was well done, though I did notice a handful of typos.

Setting: 4/5

The Rise of Aredor is set in a magic-free fantasy world with a medieval-type feel. The setting actually reminded me a good bit of The Horse and His Boy, and some elements (like the skin dye) of The Last Battle, particularly Calorin, which had several similarities to Calormen. While there were many similarities to Narnia, it still was different enough to be it's own world. Narnians will be quite at home there.

Plot: 3/5

I liked the plot of Part 2. Part 1 really felt to me more like backstory or a prologue. Part 1 tells of how Corin was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Calorin and his life there. I really felt, especially in this part, that there was too much shoved into the space so that none of it had time to be explored properly. There were a lot of battles (though none of them very graphic), as Corin, now called Hamid, became a soldier for Calorin. I like a good battle as a climax (Molly Evangeline does an excellent job at this), but too many battles tend to bore me. Which is why my sisters and I are not big fans of the movie Gettysburg. I would have preferred more time to be spent on the characters than the battles. The second part was definitely better, as it had an objective: freeing Corin's family and the country of Aredor. It was more interesting, as there was more action that wasn't a battle (and there were finally a few girl characters). I think the book would have been better had Claire picked the important parts of the story to delve deeply into and omitted the endless battles. Still, she definitely has potential, and I hope she keeps writing.

Character Development: 4/5

The characters are fairly well developed and each seem unique, but I never really connected to any of them. I felt more like an outsider watching a group of close friends interact than a part of the inner group. I think deep character point of view would have helped me to connect. I was concerned for Corin when he got hurt, and for other characters when they had their injuries and illnesses, I just never really felt what they were going through.

Claire M. Banschbach has a lot of potential as a writer, it was just not fully realized in this, her first novel. While The Rise of Aredor is unfortunately not a favorite of mine it is still a good book and I still have high hopes for the sequel, The Wildcat of Braeton.

I received a free e copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed are my own.