Friday, July 31, 2015

Friday Favorite: The Ramona Series

The Ramona Series by Beverly Cleary

Recommended for: Ages 6 and up

Rating: G

This series is about a girl's life starting when she is four. The first book focuses on Ramona's older sister but the rest of the series focuses on Ramona. When Ramona is young she is a brat, but by the end of the series, which ends when she turns ten, she mostly just gets into scrapes.

 I'm not exactly sure why I loved this series, but I read it several times. The books are funny part of the time and when I was younger I was as confused at some of the things as Ramona was, for example it took me a little while to understand what the Dawnzer song was, "The Star Spangled Banner," but it didn't give the lyrics. Ramona is a brat at first and since our dog was bad as a puppy, she got the middle name of Ramona. One thing that I do like about this series is that Ramona gets in trouble when she is bad and her misbehavior is not portrayed as something good.

Not every author is able to write ordinary life in an interesting way. I've read a couple books about the characters' ordinary life that were boring. Beverly Cleary is one of the few authors I have read that is able to write ordinary life in an interesting way. Her characters are also well done. In the first book, Beezus, Ramona's older sister, struggles with not being frustrated with her little sister. Her characters are realistic and none of them are perfect, but many of them are still likeable. Throughout the series, Ramona grows up a lot from the beginning of the series.

There are eight titles in all: Beezus and Ramona, Ramona the Pest, Ramona the Brave, Ramona and her Mother, Ramona and her Father, Ramona Quimby Age 8, Ramona Forever, and Ramona's World. The first one is not from Ramona's point of view, but I still count it with the series. 

I would recommend it with the one caution, that Ramona is not a good role model, but it is a good series and one of my childhood favorites. Writing this review is making me want to read them again.  

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Movie Review: Tarzan

Disney's Tarzan

Recommended for: All Ages

Rating: G

Filled with thrills, laughs, and Academy Award-winning music (Best Music, Original Song, "You'll Be In My Heart," 1999), this family favorite will make you go wild. Disney's magnificent adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' story begins deep within the jungle when baby Tarzan is adopted by a family of gorillas. But his "Two Worlds" collide with the arrival of humans, forcing Tarzan to choose between a "civilized" life with the beautiful Jane and the life he shares with his fun-loving friends and his gorilla family.

No, I didn't see Disney's Tarzan until I was 19. Yes, I absolutely loved it. It was fantastic. At one time (around the time I read The Jungle Book) I had a fascination with the concept of human children raised by animals, and watching Tarzan reminded me of that phase. I love the story, I love the songs, which I already knew thanks to Pandora, and it's a movie I can highly recommend for young and old.

Technical: 5/5

It's an animated movie, obviously, but the animation is well done. The voice acting was good, the songs all suited the part of the movie in which they were featured, and it was just all round well done.

Setting: 4.5/5

Well, no, it's not completely realistic. I have my doubts a gorilla would be able to raise a human child. And that an elephant would be paranoid about germs and piranhas. But the types of animals which were around was accurate to the setting. The costuming all seemed to fit within the same time period, rather than jumping about to various eras. And, hey, the jungle is pretty neat. Plus there was the cameo appearance of Mrs. Potts and Chip in Jane's camp that got us all excited.

Plot: 5/5

Now, a complaint I would have is that I would have liked to see more of Tarzan learning about humans, as it is all montaged during the song "Strangers Like Me" (a song I love). But I suspect that the book (which is now sitting on my kindle along with 55 other unread books) goes into more detail. I do very much love the storyline. And it is actually quite complex with several layers of conflict. There is Tarzan trying to fit in with the gorillas, which is difficult since Kerchak, the lead gorilla who is kind of scary, disapproves. There is the threat of Sabor, the leopard, who killed Tarzan's parents, Kala's real baby, and continues to terrorize the island. Then there is Clayton, the guide of Jane and her father, who has a deeper, nefarious reason for seeking out the gorillas. And there is then the romance angle. All of these plots are seamlessly woven together in a story that is more complex than the average kids' movie, but still simple enough for a toddler to follow along. It really is the type of story that can appeal to all ages. It left me wanting more about Tarzan and Jane, and I'm looking forward to reading the book.

Character Development: 4.5/5

I came to love these characters easily, particularly Tarzan and Jane, of course. While I wouldn't say they're exactly the most amazingly, intricately developed characters I've encountered in fiction, I would say they are far more than sufficiently developed. Maybe it's just that I like the concept of a human raised by animals. But it was so interesting to see someone discovering things that we would take for granted, just as it was delightful to see Jane's love for sharing it with him. And I liked Jane. She's feminine, but adventurous, and I appreciate that. The villains were properly scary without being evil without reason, well, maybe except Sabor. An animal like that doesn't need a motive to act that way.

Disney's Tarzan is a good movie. It's family friendly, while being deep enough and complex enough for adults. It's also on Netflix right now, so easy access if you have Netflix. Great movie.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Book Review: Meet Caroline

Meet Caroline by Kathleen Ernst

Recommended for: Ages 8 and up

Rating: G

Caroline Abbott is doing what she loves most—sailing on Lake Ontario with Papa—when her world turns upside down. A British officer boards their sloop, announces that Britain and America are at war, and takes her father prisoner. As Papa is led away, Caroline promises him that she will stay strong and steady until he returns. She tries hard to keep her promise by helping Mama run the family’s shipyard. Then the British attack her village and it looks as if the American side is in trouble. Can Caroline stay steady enough to help win the day?

I found this book at Goodwill and since American Girl is getting rid of Caroline, I decided to get it and read it.

Writing: 4/5

It was written like any other American Girl book that I've read. It was, of course at an easy reading level, but it was good for the age group that it is meant for. It was interesting and didn't have unnecessary descriptions. There were some things about sailing that were put in a way that wasn't completely boring and wouldn't lose the interest of people who don't really care.

Setting: 4/5

The story is set in New York state on Lake Ontario in 1812 when the War of 1812 is just beginning. I don't know much about this time period but there was only one thing that I wondered how historically accurate it was. One thing that kept being mentioned in the story was how they got cold winters, which would be accurate. 

Plot: 4/5

The plot was simple and the story is not completely resolved at the end, since it is the first part of six. The British capture Caroline's father while they are sailing. I do know that the British were capturing American sailors at the time. I'm not sure how accurate the finale is but it wouldn't surprise me if it was accurate. 

Characters: 4/5

Caroline is a much better person than some of the other American Girl characters. She tries to be obedient to her parents and to be helpful. She also tries not to be disrespectful. Caroline is not perfect and she does make mistakes. Her parents and grandmother are loving people. At the end she gives up something that she wanted. There wasn't much time in the story to go into the other characters.

It was a good book, and I would recommend this to girls who like American Girl books.  

Friday, July 24, 2015

Friday Favorites: The Chronicles of Prydain

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander

Recommended for: Ages 8 to Adult

Rating: PG (violence and magic)

Taran wanted to be a hero, and looking after a pig wasn't exactly heroic, even though Hen Wen was an oracular pig. But the day that Hen Wen vanished, Taran was led into an enchanting and perilous world. With his band of followers, he confronted the Horned King and his terrible Cauldron-Born. These were the forces of evil, and only Hen Wen knew the secret of keeping the kingdom of Prydain safe from them. But who would find her first?

 A few summers ago, my sisters and I read the entire Chronicles of Prydain series and couldn't talk about anything else for quite some time. It's a fantastic fantasy series claiming one Newbery Award and one Newbery Honor, with delightful nods to The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings all over the place.

The series follows the adventures of Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper of Caer Dallben as he fights against Arawn-Death-Lord and his servants the Horned King and Queen Achren, goes on quests to discover his mysterious parentage, to find the powerful sword Dyrnwyn, a mission to rescue his friend Princess Eilonwy, or to destroy the horrible Black Cauldron that creates an army from the body of the slain. Taran's adventures in his fight against evil will thrill all fantasy lovers as he grows from an irresponsible Assistant Pig-Keeper into a true hero.

These characters are so fantastically developed. Taran, with his well intentioned irresponsibility. Stubborn Eilonwy, with her witty, sarcastic retorts. Faithful Gurgi with his love of munchings and crunchings. Calm, Aragorn-like leader Gwydion. The bard Fflewddur Fflam and his lie detecting harp. Good old Doli, the dwarf who could not turn himself invisible.

Looking at these books, going through the characters, I am reminded of the time I spent reading and rereading my favorite parts, recording bits read aloud as if it was an audio drama, chattering incessantly about these stories...They are fantastic. I loved them to pieces that summer of Prydain, and I continue to love them still.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Movie Review: The Lord of the Rings the Return of the King: Extended Edition

The Lord of the Rings the Return of the King: Extended Edition

Recommended for: Lord of the Rings fans

Rating: PG-13 (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. 

This is the third part in The Lord of the Rings and is the longest and probably the most violent and epic out of the three. It is also very sad and I hate the very end because it is sad and I had no idea that it would end like that, the first time I saw it.

Technical: 4/5

There was a part near the end where you could tell that the Hobbits weren't really there and there is one part, during a battle, where it looks like Legolas was done by special effects. It is a really cool part and one of my favorite battle scenes. Other than a couple of things like that, the special effects were great and realistic. The actors were all believable as their characters. Since it switches back and forth between the characters, the story flows well. I like how in one scene you can see what Frodo and Sam are going through and what Pippin and another member of the Fellowship are doing at the same time. While reading the book, I had to look at the timeline to see what the characters were doing at the same time.

Setting: 5/5
One new setting is Minas Tirith, which you only get glimpses of in previous movies. It is a once grand city on a mountain that has had some decay. It gets damaged throughout the movie. There is also Cirith Ungol which is the secret entrance to Mordor. It is mostly a very steep staircase that leads to a tunnel that is home to a very large inhabitant. It is in this movie that you get a close up look at Mordor. It is dark and is a rocky expanse of land without growing things and is inhabited by orcs. There is also Mount Doom and the tower with the eye of Sauron, which is always watching. You also see some old places, like the Shire, the Black Gate, and Edoras,  a city in Rohan.

Plot: 5/5

The main goal is still to destroy the Ring of Power and that is what Frodo and Sam are trying to do.  The others help to defend their land and try to give Frodo and Sam a chance to succeed. In the regular version, their enemy Saruman kind of just disappears from the story. In the extended version they show what happens to him. It is partially changed from the book, because it took place in a different location under different circumstances, but one thing was kept the same. (To make it like the book would make this movie even longer than it already is.) There was another extended part at the Black Gate when Sauron sent an unnamed creature to negotiate some terms. It wasn't exactly like in the books, but it was similar. The extended edition also had some scenes from the Houses of Healing, which I liked.

Characters: 5/5

This is where you really get to know Denethor. His character was done well but he is unlikeable and insane. It is sad to see how the Ring destroys Frodo's life and how it changed him. Sam is always loyal to "Mr. Frodo" no matter how Frodo acts. The characters are all great and even though they grow throughout the story they are still the same characters.

The Lord of the Rings is an inspirational story that is filled with hope, and I have enjoyed watching it once again. I would recommend this movie but only after watching the first two. It can be a little confusing if you haven't read the book and if there isn't someone around who has read it, fortunately I had my sister to explain things to me the first time, but it is a great story and it is a good adaptation of a great classic.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Book Review: Dragons in our Midst: Circles of Seven

Dragons in our Midst: Circles of Seven by Bryan Davis

Recommended for: 13 and up

Rating: PG

  The first book, Raising Dragons, plunged two teenagers, Billy Bannister and Bonnie Silver, into mind-boggling mysteries, life or death pursuits, and deadly sword-to-sword battles.
  In the second book, The Candlestone, Billy is led into mortal combat with a powerful dragon slayer. Separated from his friends and finding his dragon traits useless against this enemy, he has to rely on new weapons, a sword and shield he cannot even see.
    Now in Circles of Seven, using their dragon traits and the wisdom they gained through their earlier adventures, Billy and Bonnie explore a multi-dimensional domain of evil. In this realm, they navigate seven perilous worlds, each one manifested in a circular plane of existence that leads them deeper into the domain of a powerful enemy.
  The seventh circle holds a group of prisoners, captives of the evil mistress of the circles, and Billy has to find a way to set them free and give them new life. When tragedy strikes along the way, Billy has to face the most difficult decision of his life, whether to forsake Bonnie to rescue the prisoners or to find a way to save her, his best friend in the world.
Filled with action, danger, and suspense, Circles of Seven is sure to keep readers in their seats, following Billy and Bonnie to the exciting conclusion.  

It took me a little while to get through this book, since I didn't spend much time reading, but I loved it. It was weird but not in a bad way.

Writing: 4.5/5

The writing was good overall but I wasn't into the story for awhile. His books are quick paced, but I am used to it now and hardly notice. I like how in the story he will switch to another character leaving you in suspense with the previous characters. It is written in a way in which you get to know the characters and some of their struggles.

Setting: 5/5

Part of the time the characters are in England, which I assume is accurate, but I've never been there so I don't know. The other main place is in another dimension. Everything is a little strange and it is not like the real world. There are seven circles and they are all different. They also are on an airplane and there are a couple of scenes in West Virginia.

Plot: 4/5

The characters are supposed to rescue prisoners in the circles. In the circles they are supposed to go through tests. I felt that some of the tests could have been harder and that the characters should have struggled more. A couple of the tests, especially near the end were difficult. At the climax of the story, it wasn't clear if they accomplished their task. It eventually was clear. It was an interesting story especially when they went into the circles.

Characters: 4/5

The characters in his other books are easier to like than the characters in this series, at least in my opinion. The characters are all unique and they are not perfect and they do have struggles. Bonnie is close to perfect but I still like her. Walter is amusing and is always cracking jokes. Billy is struggling with something he did in the previous books, but it didn't seem that he was too upset or guilty about it as it was sometimes implied that he was haunted by his actions. 

I enjoyed this book and I look forward to completing the series. I would recommend this book and even though I rated this one PG, some of the other books are PG-13 for violence.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Friday Favorites: Thursday's Child

Thursday's Child by Noel Streatfeild

Recommended for: All Ages, lovers of orphan stories

Rating: G

Never in the entire history of St. Luke's Orphanage had any child dared even to think about running away. But that was before the arrival of Margaret Thursday, who was not at all an ordinary orphan--as she was always the first to point out.

Headstrong and proud, Margaret refused from the start to be frightened by the harsh punishments and threats of Matron, the cruel director of St. Luke's, who bullied the children as though they were to blame for being orphans. And when life at St. Luke's no longer seemed bearable, it was Margaret who instigated the plan by which she and her two friends, Peter and Horatio Beresford, made their nighttime escape.

This proved to be the start of an exciting and unpredictable journey. England at the turn of the century comes vividly to life, as the reader meets a variety of colorful characters--from the rugged, hard-working canal boat people, to the eccentric cast of a traveling theatrical company, and the polite and proper society of the Earl and Countess of Corkberry. But the end of the story we know tat, just as the old rhyme says, Thursday's child has far to go, and we are confident that this particular Thursday's child is sure to reach her destination.

I've always loved orphan stories. Something about that nature of hard luck story, the hardships they endure, the adventure of running away, the "rags to riches" of some nature that so often follows, just grabs my imagination. Thursday's Child by Noel Streatfeild claims the title of my favorite orphan story. It has everything one could wish for in such a story: a spunky protagonist, intriguing secondary characters, a cruel orphanage Matron, a harsh environment including little food and too much work, a kind benefactor, a daring escape...

St. Luke's Orphanage is just terrible, and so are all the people who work there, someone even purposely puts soap in Horry Beresford's eyes every morning. But it is the place that brings together Margaret and the Beresfords. Margaret is spunky and headstrong, rather proud because her mother left her on the church steps with two of everything, all of the finest quality. She is stubborn, but also caring and has a strong sense of justice. Peter Beresford is quieter, quite the reader. It is because of him I chose Bleak House to keep me company on the long drives to and from orchestra rehearsal last semester. He's sweet, but all wrapped up in his imagination, which, I believe, makes me identify with him. He even manages to read while cutting the grass. And doesn't he look like the Tiny Tim in Scrooge with Albert Finney on this cover? Horry is the little one, the one who lets their true conditions slip, a large part of the reason the escape is enacted. There is also Lavinia, Peter and Horry's older sister, who works as hard as she can to earn money to support her little brothers, but unfortunately, she is not fast enough.

In true Noel Streatfeild style, everything circulates back to the stage somehow. Margaret Thursday has acting talent in her little finger. Perhaps her attitude has something to do with it. But it is largely this book that got me to read Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Because the ending is all wrapped up in it. And there is more spoilery material to the ending that I oughtn't to divulge. It is very good. I love this book. (As a side note, this book reinforces my belief that home hair dying experiences always turn out green. :P )

If you like orphan stories, if you like stories about the stage, if you like hard luck stories, or rags to riches, read Thursday's Child. It will not disappoint. There is also a sequel entitled Far to Go, which I have yet to get a hold of.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Movie Review: The Lord of the Rings The Two Towers: Extended Edition

The Lord of the Rings the Two Towers: Extended Edition

Recommended for: Lord of the Rings fans

Rating: PG-13 (for epic battle sequences and some scary images)

The Fellowship has broken, but the quest to destroy the One Ring continues. Frodo and Sam must entrust their lives to Gollum if they are to find their way into Mordor. As Saruman's army approaches, the surviving members of the Fellowship, along with people and creatures from Middle-Earth, prepare for battle. The War of the Ring has begun.

This is the second part in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, although they took parts from the book of The Two Towers and put it in all three movies. While I think that the other two movies are better, it is still a great movie and is worth watching.

Technical: 4/5

The more I watch these movies, the more I can tell what is done by special effects. It is not as obvious as some movies but if you watch carefully enough, you can tell. Another thing is that Gimli's height changes. I have mostly noticed this when they're at Helm's Deep. Other that that, I think that they did the special effects very well, especially since they had three-feet tall characters played by regular sized people interacting with normal sized characters. While I have begun to notice things, I still think that the special effects were done very well. I also think that the acting was done very well.

Plot: 5/5

This movie follows three story lines. The main one is of Frodo and Sam continuing their journey to Mordor. One problem in this plot comes from changing something from the book. They have Gollum suggest to lead them somewhere in which they will probably die and then have him reform for a little while but still continue to lead them there. In the book he never was truly better. The story also follows Merry and Pippin, who were captured by orcs. There was an extended scene in which Merry and Pippin realize that some water is making them grow. They then fight over trying to be taller. It was one of my favorite extended scenes, along with a scene where you learn about the Entwives. There is one part of their story that was changed that I don't like, but it gave Merry the opportunity to give some good lines. The other story line is about what happens to Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli. They help a king and eventually fight in a battle, which was extended. They also had an extended scene where you find out who won Legolas and Gimli's contest. There are some parts with the fighting that are a little graphic and disgusting which I think are a little bit worse than the first movie but I could be wrong.

Setting: 5/5

There are a lot of different places in this movie, from marshes and forests to a city that has been under siege and a fortress. The forest is different from ordinary forests. The trees are bigger, the marsh is also gross and a little creepy, but they both fit this fantasy world. There is a lot of countryside which is mostly just grass. There is also a city which doesn't seem very big that is on a hill. There is also Helm's Deep, the fortress. Since it's a fantasy story, you can do anything and I think that all of the settings fit the movie and that they are a good portrayal of the book. I also liked that they added Frodo and Sam coming across a statue that was in the book.

Characters: 4.5/5

There are a couple of new characters that you get to know in this part. The most entertaining one is Gollum/Smeagol, he was in the first one but barely and you never got to really see him. Although he is treacherous, and a little hard to look at at first he is very entertaining. His arguments with himself are also very funny, though they are also sad because the Ring destroyed him to what he is. You get to see Theoden king of Rohan and his niece Eowyn and nephew Eomer. At first Theoden's mind is poisoned by Grima Wormtongue. Theoden is a little bit arrogant about their fortress but he is a good king. Eowyn wants to help fight for her country, but is trusted to help lead the people of Rohan, and she does after arguing. Then you get to see Faramir for the first time. He is portrayed as meaner than he was in the book and is made unlikeable, which is why I marked it 4.5 instead of 5. Faramir is the younger brother of Boromir and is a better person. In the extended edition you get to see Denethor, Faramir's father, for the first time. If it is your first time seeing him, you definitely won't like him, and if you've already seen him, then you won't like him any better.

I enjoyed this movie, especially the new parts and I would definitely recommend it.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Book Reviews: Superhero of the Day and The Dragon of London

 Superhero of the Day and The Dragon of London (Supervillain of the Day) by Katie Lynn Daniels

Recommended For: Ages 10 to Adult

Rating: PG (mild action violence, supervillains, and frightening images)

Despite adopting the title of “Defender” and giving his life on an almost daily basis to save complete strangers, Floyd still doesn't believe in heroes. And after breaking up with the woman who saved his life twice, he's not even sure he believes in love anymore. Into the midst of this uncertainty steps a man who defies Floyd's way of life—Brandon Reece, also known as the superhero Blue Shadow. Brandon has everything Floyd does not—courage, honor, graciousness, and a heavy dose of stupidity. He is a thorough and competent fighter, although his idealism prevents him from being very effective. Despite constantly ridiculing him, Floyd eventually admits to a grudging respect for the vigilante, but his warnings against heroism come true–and Brandon must choose between his honor and the life of his beloved.

The world has changed. It's been seven months since London was taken over by supervillains. It's been six months since their rule was broken and a shaky government reinstated. The ruins of Tower Bridge stand as a testament to that last battle, one in which the fate of the world was decided. We are all haunted by our ghosts, some more than others. Jeffry Floyd has scarcely slept since that night, but even waking he can't escape his memories. He thinks no one notices how slippery his grasp of reality is, but Joseph Adams has nightmares of his own, and isn't willing to lose his friend a second time. When the lines between good and evil becomes blurred... A new insidious presence is creeping over London, and the rumors of a dragon somewhere under the city can no longer be ignored. But Floyd's first meeting with the creature doesn't go as planned, for the monster proposes a deal as impossible as it is unthinkable—join forces with him, and he will heal Floyd's mind. ...What lengths will you go to save your soul?

A couple days ago I read the sample of the Supervillain of the Day Omnibus on Amazon and once I got to the end, asked my sister to borrow her kindle and read all the Supervillain of the Day books she had on her kindle. Unfortunately, she informed me that since she had done a review of the Omnibus, I couldn't, so I'm doing a review of what's out of Season Two. Several times while I was reading it, I felt like I was watching a BBC TV show.

Writing: 5/5
The writing has certainly improved from Supervillain of the Day Book One. While there wasn't the best character voice at the beginning, there's a lot more in the two latest ones. Or maybe I just know Floyd well enough now that it seems that way. He certainly has the best character voice. Other than that, it seemed quite superb all round.

Setting: 5/5
It all mostly happens in London. A quite nice break from most superhero fiction, which happens flawlessly in New York City, with few exceptions. However, I've been watching quite a bit of London in TV shows lately, so it's not like it was anything new. But the books felt very British. Since I've never been to London, I'm probably not the best judge, but I'd say the setting is very well done. It certainly seemed like the same London that was in Doctor Who.

Plot: 5/5
These were short stories, so it's not like the plots can be all-fired epic and complicated. But the plots were superb for the time they were told in. They were interesting and well-done.

Characters: 5/5
I got totally the wrong impression of Jeffry Floyd before I read Supervillain of the Day. I was expecting a more Spock-like character from what I had seen, and got thrown a character with craziness to rival the Doctor and the BBC Sherlock. Needless to say, I enjoyed this a lot better than I would have my expectation. And after that Season 1 climax...poor Floyd is more emotionally damaged than ever. He needs a hug. Or Kate. Or something. Speaking of Kate...she wasn't much in these two, but what she was, she was just as good as ever. Floyd needs her after that Season One climax. I also really like Kate's brother Sergeant Joseph Adams. Floyd needs him to keep him in check. And get him out of jail.

I really liked these two new additions to Supervillain of the Day. The Dragon of London is more emotional than Superhero of the Day, but I thoroughly enjoyed them both. Definitely a recommended read.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Movie Review: The Lord of the Rings The Fellowship of the Ring: Extended Edition

The Lord of the Rings the Fellowship of the Ring: Extended Edition

Recommended for: Lord of the Rings fans

Rating: PG-13 (for epic battle sequences and some scary images)

 With the help of a courageous fellowship of friends and allies, Frodo embarks on a perilous mission to destroy the legendary One Ring. Hunting Frodo are servants of the Dark Lord, Sauron, the Ring's evil creator. If Sauron reclaims the Ring, Middle-earth is doomed.   

Since I have already done a review of the Fellowship of the Ring, the focus of this review will be on the extended parts. Ever since I heard that there was an extended edition I have wanted to see it. My cello teacher let me borrow it when I said that I hadn't seen it.

Technical: 4/5

All of the extended scenes were at the same quality as the rest of the movie. Some of the scenes would only have a couple of seconds of extended sections but you wouldn't know unless you had seen the regular version several times. There were still parts that were obviously done by special effects. All of the extended scenes blended very well. The actors were also in character in those scenes.

Setting: 5/5

The only different place that I can think of is a platform in the trees in the woods of Lothlorien. Since it was from a scene in the book that I liked, I was excited that they had at least a little of that scene. It seemed like the book from what I can remember. There isn't much to say about the settings, but I love all the details that they put into it.

Plot: 5/5

The plot can be a little confusing if you haven't read the books but the extended edition has some extra explanations that the regular version doesn't have, though mainly little details like the Lembas bread. There were also some added scenes that were funny, one of them being when they are having trouble entering Moria. The extended scenes make the movie more full.

Characters: 5/5

They were just as believable in the extended scenes as they were in the regular version. The extended scenes help you to get to know the characters better, especially Boromir. You also get to see Merry and Pippin be heroic in an extended battle sequence. I also loved the part where Frodo asks if Mordor is left or right. 

I loved the extended edition and it won't be easy to watch the regular version again. When I watch this movie, I realize that I have seen The Fellowship of the Ring too many times but it is still a great story about how the smallest person can make a big difference in the world. This is just the first part of the trilogy and a Two Towers review is planned. I definitely recommend this movie whether you're a fan of the books, the regular version, or if you are watching it for the first time.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Book Review: Keep Smiling Through

Keep Smiling Through by Ann Rinaldi

Recommended For: Ages Eight to Adult

Rating: PG

"I was ten the year I learned that you can be good and do the right thing and sometimes it all goes bad for you.

It isn't a useless thing to know. I just wish I hadn't learned it so soon; that I could go on forever believing what our radio heroes were teaching us that spring of 1944; that all you have to do is stand up for truth and have an unswerving sense of justice and you will be rewarded in the end."

Growing up in middle-class America in the 1940s is a confusing and sometimes painful experience for young Kay Hennings. Her stepmother, Amazing Grace, is a selfish  woman who takes her unhappiness out on everyone around her. And for a little girl so concerned with pleasing others and doing the honorable thing, life with Amazing Grace is nearly unbearable.

Kay is determined to do her part for her country, and she strives to emulate the ideals put forth by her radio heroes, whose adventures she and her brothers eagerly listen to each day. But when the opportunity arises for Kay to do what is right for her country, she discovers that doing right is not always an easy thing.

Yes, that was a long description. It's what was on the back of the book and I just typed in. I read this book on Independence Day because it was my turn to do the book review and I hadn't read anything new in the past weeks. This book only took me two hours to read at the most, I don't know for certain because I wasn't looking at the clock. I didn't put it down once.

Writing: 5/5
There is something about Ann Rinaldi's books that make them really good and hard to put down (at least the two I've read so far, but I'm pretty sure the others, at least most of them, are just as good). The writing was great. Superb deep POV, good story structure, vivid descriptions, and engaging dialogue, this book was everything it should have been and more. It didn't have any typos that I noticed either, and was tastefully formatted (such as I know about these things, which isn't much, but the inside was pleasing to the eye). Well-written all round.

Setting: 5/5
The book is set in New Jersey in 1944. Of all the World War II books I've read about Americans, this one seemed like it had the most accurate portrayal. Perhaps that was because the author grew up during World War II. I would assume since the author actually lived through World War II it's historically accurate; it certainly seemed so. The main girl goes to a Catholic school and there is quite a bit of emphasis on the radio programs. Kay Hennings' world seemed very real.

Plot: 5/5
I can't say much about the plot for fear of giving anything away. What I can say is that it is good. Really good. It's exciting, intriguing...and if I say anything more I'll be sure to blab something.

Characters: 5/5
 They just all felt so real. They were so rounded. Kay had a mean stepmother, Amazing Grace, yet Amazing Grace was more than just mean. Unlike many evil stepmothers in stories, and I could name a few, Amazing Grace was a real person. So was Kay's dad, who mostly just wanted peace. And money. Martin, one of Kay's brothers, was wonderfully done. Tom, her other brother, was barely in it, but for the time he was, he was a real person, too. And her sisters, Mary and Elizabeth. so very different, yet the same as well. They weren't cardboard characters or one-sided, but multi-dimensional. And Kay herself. I'm really not sure what to say about her. But I liked her. A lot.

One of the things I really liked about this book was how all of the loose ends were tied up; not one left hanging. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who can read.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Friday Favorites: Julie's Wolf Pack

Julie's Wolf Pack by Jean Craighead George

Recommended For: Ages 10 to Adult

Rating: PG 

When Julie was lost on the Arctic tundra, a pack of wolves - led by the great Amaroq- saved her life. Now Amaroq's son Kapu has taken on his father's role. Fearless bet inexperienced, Kapu must lead the pack through the unforgiving wilderness.
Survival does not come easy. Famine and disease threaten. Bitter rivals await the chance to challenge Kapu as their leader. Predators - both animal and human - close in. And with each new danger, the pack turns to Kapu for strength. 
Following the compelling drama that began with Julie of the Wolves and continued with Julie, Jean Craighead George once again offers readers an extraordinary insight into the world of the wolf in this epic tale of a natural-born leader.

I just love this book so much. It's way better than the first two books, and it is one of my comfort reads. I have read it countless times, because it is just that good. 

Where to start? How about Rawbones? Rawbones...the wolf that led a pack for years and then joined Kapu's pack when his own starved to death...the wolf that was constantly trying to supplant Kapu...the wolf that defied Kapu by having puppies when Kapu ordered no pups...ah, Rawbones. He became a humiliated lone wolf in the end. But to his credit, at least he knew something was wrong with Ice Blink.

Ice Blink, the white wolf from Canada that carried rabies into the wolves of Alaska. Never understanding why the pack didn't accept her completely. Ice Blink made me so nervous, only a little less so now that I know the ending.

Sweet Fur Amy...I really like Sweet Fur Amy, though not as much as Kapu. She's, well, it's kind of hard to explain, but I like her. And she did make a good leader, though I still missed Kapu.

Oh, Kapu. I really really like Kapu. It's so sad that not many of his pups survived. Kapu is so majestic. He knows how to keep the pack together, he is a good leader, he knows how to survive during the hard times...I can't believe...but spoilers.

Aaka, Silver, Uqaq, Zing, Storm Call, Cotton Grass, Long Face...all the other wolves are wonderful as well. As is the story. Very intriguing, nerve-racking, exciting, and sad. A very good book that I intend to read many more times. And Julie gets married in this one, so that makes it even better.

Now excuse me while I go read Julie's Wolf Pack.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

TV Show Review: Merlin


Recommended For: Ages 12 and up

Rating: PG

We heard that this show was good and then first watched it when I didn't want to watch Lab Rats. Even though I didn't love the magic in it, I still loved this show.

Technical: 3/5

The acting was all very good and believable, made even more so because of the way that the characters change and grow throughout the show. By the end, most of the characters have changed a lot. I rated it 3/5 because not all of the special effects were done well. There are a couple of times where something is obviously fake and the I've seen dragons look more real than the dragon in this. By the end of the show the special effects and the screen quality have improved.

Setting: 5/5

It is set in Camelot, of course, since it is an Arthur re-telling. Camelot doesn't seem to have a large population and is just a castle with a small town. There are a couple of towns and villages, which just seemed like how any medieval town or village is portrayed. They also spend a lot of time in the woods, but there is nothing special about them, except in one episode. They also visit ruins and go through caves on their many adventures.

Plot:  4/5

Each episode has its own plot and toward the end of show, they tie into each other more. There is usually one bad guy who tries to destroy them a couple episodes throughout the season. They then battle them in the finale in one way or another. It is a little predictable because the reason they're having trouble is always magic and Merlin must stop it while keeping that he has magic a secret. Merlin has to keep having magic a secret because it is banned. People, mad at magic being outlawed, are always causing trouble with magic because they hate the king for banning it and killing people having anything to do with it. Two of the funniest and most disgusting episodes are "Beauty and the Beast" pt. 1 and 2. In it the king, Uther, marries a troll. While it was hilarious, it was extremely disgusting. This is the cleanest BBC show that I have seen with only a couple suggestive scenes. Guinevere and Lancelot was handled very well. The cause was magic, to keep Arthur and Gwen from getting married. Nothing bad happened, they were just found kissing.

Characters: 5/5

There are too many to go through each one, but they were all well done and unique. The protagonists were likeable and it was easy to dislike the antagonists, especially the one I had already seen play a villain. From the villains, I always disliked Uther from the moment I saw him, Morgana made me sad because of the way she changed, Agravaine was always very aggravating, and Mordred  was disturbing and you're made to distrust him. There is the mentor character, Gaius, who Merlin almost never listens to, who says things that put Merlin into awkward situations. The funniest one is in the last season. There is also the great Dragon who Merlin listens to even less. The Dragon is selfish and I don't like him very much. Guinevere is one of my favorite characters and is a servant in this. She is someone who is not afraid to tell Arthur that his faults. Arthur is also a favorite, which is funny because I hated him at first. He grows a lot in the story, from a prince to a king, though he never did all the wonderful things they said he was going to do. He also makes very funny faces and is part of a very sad finale. Then there is Merlin, the one that the show is all about. He struggles with hiding his magic and at first struggles from fighting Arthur. He is first told that he can't insult the prince but somehow always gets away with it. He becomes very experienced with sneaking around the castle and gets into and causes trouble and then saves the day. When he and Arthur are together it is usually funny. There are also the knights of the round table, like Gawain, Percival, and Leon.

This show is not perfect, but I still love it and was upset at the end, even though I knew what was going to happen. I had liked the King Arthur legends that I knew, and I think that it is a good retelling. If you like fantasy or other BBC shows then I would recommend this show to you.