Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Movie Review: Beyond the Mask

Beyond the Mask

Rating: PG (For action, violence and some thematic elements)

Recommended for: 8 and up 

 The leading mercenary for the British East India Company, Will Reynolds (Andrew Cheney, Seasons of Gray), has just been double-crossed and now is on the run in the American colonies. Working to redeem his name and win back the affections of Charlotte (Kara Kilmer, Chicago Fire), with whom he's never been fully truthful, Will now hides behind a new mask in hopes of thwarting his former employer (John Rhys-Davies, Lord of the Rings). As his past life closes in on him, Will must somehow gain the trust the trust of his beloved Charlotte- as well as Ben Franklin- while he races against time to defuse a plot of historical proportions.

 This movie was a little different than I thought it would be, but it was still good. There are some little inconsistencies in the movie, but it is done a lot better than many of the indie films that I have seen. It was funny and had a lot of action.
Technical: 3/5

  I didn't think that the acting was that bad, but I do have trouble recognizing it unless it is really bad. One thing I did notice was that a couple of the characters' British accents didn't sound quite authentic. The special effects, though, were good. There were several explosions and they didn't look fake. There are a couple things in the story that I'm a little confused about, but that is probably because I didn't give it my full attention the entire time. I would probably understand it better if I re-watch it.

Setting: 4/5

 The movie is set during the Colonial period during the Revolutionary War. I don't know where everything was filmed, but the England setting didn't seem out of place and the Colonial Philadelphia looked like Colonial Williamsburg, which has actual buildings from that period. There are some inconsistencies, such as there being green leaves on the trees at Christmas time, being able to see people's breath on July 3rd, and a point when it is the day time and then a couple minutes later it is nighttime. Some of the parts about electricity seemed a little advanced for that period.

Plot: 3.5/5

  The characters spent more time in England than what the trailer gave an impression of, and this is where a good portion of the story takes place and where everything sets up. The main storyline is about Will finding redemption. I don't feel like I got the whole story but that might have been just me.

Characters: 4/5

  I think that the characters had believable motives, though I don't remember if it ever explained Will's reason for quitting his job at the beginning of the movie. The characters probably could have been better developed but they were still likable characters. I did not like their George Washington but their Benjamin Franklin was good and from what I have read of his writings, their portrayal of him seemed accurate.

 This was a good movie, despite little inconsistencies and I would recommend it as a good Christian movie.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Book Review: The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Recommended for: Adults (unedited), Ages 13 to Adult (edited for language & 1 certain chapter)

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will be busier still.

By her brother's graveside, Liesel's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger's Handbook, left behind there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordian-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever there are books to be found.

But these are dangerous times. When Liesel's foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up, and closed down.

In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

The Book Thief. I believe it is true when it says that it is one of the most enduring stories of all time. It doesn't feel like modern books. It really has the feel and literary quality of a classic. Before I go further, though, I ought to explain my recommendation. This book has language in it, and there is a chapter which has details of a Nazi examination of a teenage boy, which includes a thorough physical exam. Knowing that there were these certain issues, I asked a friend (who edited her own copy) to edit mine when I found it a library book sale. So I encountered black marks and a paperclipped chapter, enabling me to fully enjoy the book without worrying about running into such issues.

And I truly loved this book. It's just so good. A girl in Nazi Germany whose life is changed by the power of words.

Writing: 4.5/5

I take off half a point only because I don't really feel like the language was necessary. Because this is a brilliantly written book. It is narrated by Death, which sounds really weird, but it works--really well. It's the most unique point of view I've encountered. And just the writing itself.
Some books are so poorly written you wonder how they got published. Some books have mediocre writing that is just sufficient. Some books have great writing that puts you directly into the protagonist's shoes. The Book Thief doesn't even quite fit into that category. No, this writing is a work of art. Each carefully selected word is like a brushstroke on canvas, painting a masterpiece. Such gems of the English language. It is perfection, the (to me) necessary black marks excepted.

Setting: 5/5

I haven't really read many, if any, books about Nazi Germany before. Austria, Holland, England, America, yes, Germany, no. So it was a bit of a new experience. It seemed very true to life. Zusak based the setting off of his own parents' stories of growing up in Nazi Germany. He also did research for the little details. I feel like the setting was pretty authentic. And it was just so real. Molching felt real. Himmel Street felt real. The tension caused by hiding a Jew felt real. And the books. So perfect, especially the mayor's wife's library. 

Plot: 4/5

Well, for the first half or so of the book, it's hard to figure out just what the plot is. I'll just go ahead and tell you that each section is how each book of Liesel's influenced her life. And what a life it is. From taking the dropped Grave Digger's Handbook out of the snow at her brother's graveside, to living with her new foster parents Hans and Rosa Huberman, to her adventures with best friend and next door neighbor Rudy Steiner, to the book burning and the mayor's wife's library, to school and the Hitler Youth, to Max Vandenburg and the things he taught Liesel from her basement, to the effects of the war on the civilians of Germany...and Death's role throughout it all as he relates the book thief's story. Now, the actual act of stealing books could pose a potential moral problem, but since one was rescued from a book burning and many of them the owner didn't really mind her taking, it doesn't bug me all that much. Liesel and Rudy stealing fruit is kind of bothersome, but it is what it is. They lived under strict rationing. They were hungry. The ending. It's so miserably sad, despite Death giving the reader full warning before it actually happens. I'm not sure how I feel about that. It felt like getting spoilers. Now, I admit I'm kind of addicted to spoilers, but it doesn't feel quite right to get them from the book itself.

Character Development: 4/5

There are other characters I know better, which is the reason for the dropped point, however, I think on a reread I would get to know these much better. As it is, I still love them. They feel like real people. Liesel Meminger. Hans and Rosa. Rudy Steiner. Tommy Muller. Max Vandenburg (who for some reason I thought was much older until the book said he was 24). Frau Holtzapfel. Ilsa Hermann. They're all real people. I'm not sure who my favorite is. It's hard to choose. I like Liesel and Rudy and Hans and Max. They all have such a different role, and I love them each for it. I do really like Rudy, though. I mean, he's a boy who painted himself black and ran an imaginary race to pretend to be Jesse Owens. And he's Liesel's best friend. But nothing could have happened without Hans Huberman. He's the one who taught Liesel to read, the one she can always depend on. And Max, the Jew, the one who wrote The Standover Man and The Word Shaker on painted pages of Mein Kampf, the one who changes Liesel so much. And of course there's the book thief herself, the little girl starving for words, the girl whose life was changed by books. 

It is such a good book. While I do recommend an edited copy, I do think it is a story everyone should experience. It is a story of a time in history, a story of words, a story that Death deemed necessary to relate. The story of Liesel Meminger. The Book Thief.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Show Review: Doctor Who Series 8

Doctor Who Series 8

Recommended  for: Ages 10 to Adult

Join Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi for a whole new set of spellbinding adventures across time and space in the eighth season of BBC AMERICA s hit show Doctor Who! Jenna Coleman (Captain America: The First Avenger) returns as the Doctor s companion Clara for what promises to be the most electrifying season yet! 

Doctor Who. I freely admit that it is my favorite show. A several thousand year old alien who travels through time and space in a blue box saving the universe with a screwdriver? Yes, please. Regeneration is an important part of the show. That's when Time Lords, well, basically turn into someone else. They regenerate their bodies, and are recast as a new actor. It's always a little difficult to get used to the new Doctor. Sometimes it takes longer than others.

This is a season with a new Doctor. After spending several hundred years in a town called Christmas on Trenzalore protecting the universe, the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) was granted a new regeneration cycle resulting in his regeneration into Twelve (Peter Capaldi). And this is Capaldi's first season. In general, I really liked it. But it's better analyzed by episode.

Deep Breath

A double length season opener, this episode is really where the new Doctor is introduced. I really liked this episode. The Doctor was hilarious with his regeneration brain, all confused over why there was only a bed in the bedroom, and all. And the eyebrows. They're attack eyebrows! The whole thing with the half-faced man was reminiscent of "The Girl in the Fireplace" a connection they clearly wanted the audience to make, though the Doctor missed it. Clara is struggling with "is this really the Doctor?" and he knows she will be, so he calls her from pre-regeneration to reassure her. So sad and sweet. The only thing I didn't like was Vastra and Jenny. Strax was hilarious as always, but they took the Madame Vastra/Jenny relationship further than before by having them "share air" when they're not supposed to breathe. Essentially coming off as a kiss. I looked away. And thankfully, they're not in any more episodes to date, so there really haven't been any more gay references. Thank goodness! 

Into the Dalek

As dalek episodes go, this one was unique. There's a supposedly good dalek, but it's injured, so the Doctor, Clara, and a team of the people who called him in go inside the dalek to heal it. Which doesn't exactly work out the way they intend, convincing the Doctor yet again that there is no such thing as a good dalek. But the worst part is when the dalek looks into him and sees hatred, causing him to struggle with "am I a good man?" for the rest of the season. This one fell a bit flat for me. Maybe it's because the Doctor is extra grumpy and not as caring of Clara. After all, she's his carer, "she cares so I don't have to." 

Robot of Sherwood

This one was also a little eh for me, but could just be because I have little interest in Robin Hood. It somewhat reminded me of Sarah Jane's first episode, though it worked out differently. And I absolutely loved the Doctor's reference to "Carnival of Monsters." The Doctor is convinced none of it is real, because he believes Robin Hood to be fictional. And when they figure out there are robots there, things really start happening. The Doctor shows his very childish side in this episode, and also his fears that he's not a hero, that he's not a good man, fears that Robin Hood shares. 


This is one of my favorite Series 8 episodes. What if we never are alone? What if there is some creature that has perfected camouflage so well that it is undetectable? What if there's a reason for the monster under the bed fear, the fear of the dark? What if that dream of getting out of bed and having a hand grab your ankle is real? Clara's date with fellow teacher Danny Pink is going disastrously when the Doctor shows up to take her for an adventure. And her distractions send them into Danny's past instead of her own, where they influence many things. They go into Clara's future, where a time traveler bearing an uncanny resemblance to Danny is stuck at the end of the world where he is terrified to open the door, yet must give himself a reminder. And they find themselves in a familiar barn, where Clara discovers where this idea of the Doctor's all started. Yet there are things unexplained. Things that cause this episode to remain frightening and mind boggling. 

Time Heist

"Robbing a bank. Robbing a whole bank. Beat that for a date." Clara is readying herself for a date with Danny when the Doctor's phone rings and they suddenly find themselves around a table with a cyborg and a mutant holding memory worms, told by recordings in their own voices that they agreed not only to a memory wipe, but to rob the most impregnable bank in the history of the universe. A bank terrorized by the captive "Teller" who locks onto your thoughts and melts your brain if you have guilty thoughts. It's quite the bank heist, as they follow what "the Architect" set out for them. And not exactly what you'd expect. This isn't my favorite episode, but I do really like it. Makes a lot more sense the second time around. 

The Caretaker

This is a more character focused episode, specifically, the Doctor finally meeting Danny, and Danny discovering that Clara has been lying to him. The Doctor gets a job as a temporary caretaker at Coal Hill School where Clara works (the school Susan Foreman attended!) because there is an alien threat he needs to take care of. The Doctor takes an instant dislike to Danny because of his past as a soldier...because he reminds the Doctor too much of himself, and he despises himself. He even refuses to accept that Danny is a math teacher, nicknaming him "PE." Danny learns what's really going on with Clara, which hurts him, but he cares about her enough to stick it out, to protect her, and ultimately to save the school. This episode introduces a whole new dynamic to the series. I like it fairly well. 

Kill the Moon

I'm going to say up front that I didn't really like this episode. It was better the second time, but the Doctor's really kind of a jerk in it. The Doctor and Clara take Coal Hill student Courtney Woods, "disruptive influence," to the moon in the future. Gravity is acting strange, there are enormous germs all around which they fight off with antibacterial spray, and the moon is waking up. The moon is an egg. People want to kill it. Courtney wants to save it. The Doctor decides it's a decision for the humans to make, and he leaves. Which makes Clara furious at him, and determined she is done. I really don't blame her. Critical time, and he leaves, because he "knows" she'll always make the right decision. Which she almost didn't. 

Mummy on the Orient Express

This one was good. Really good. One of my Series 8 favorites. As a last hurrah before Clara gives up traveling with the Doctor, he takes her on the Orient space. And bigger. But in all other respects, exactly like the original. It's supposed to be a vacation, or at least that's what Danny and Clara think. But traveling with the Doctor is never calm and relaxing. No, there's an invisible mummy killing people, exactly 66 seconds after the light flickers. Well, it is visible to its victim. A group of people has been handpicked to deal with this menace. The Doctor is the only one who could be able to figure it all out, and he's not a victim. He always has a plan, even if it's one he makes up as he goes along. But that plan, well, "sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones, but you still have to choose." And traveling with the Doctor is an it even possible for Clara to break it?


This was another good one. It felt more like New Who used to be, like "Fear Her" or something. People are disappearing. Graffiti no one painted is popping up all around. And you know the TARDIS is bigger on the inside? Well, that statement has never been more true. In fact, it's so true that the Doctor can't get out the door, causing Clara to carry the TARDIS around in her purse as she tries to do what the Doctor would do. Fighting the killer graffiti. Wait, I forgot, we are not calling them that. This one was fun and scary, and really kind of felt like we were going back to the David Tennant years, except with Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman instead of David Tennant and Billie Piper. After all, the Doctor invents a machine that's just about as reliable as the timey-wimey detector. Well, maybe a little more reliable. It actually worked a couple of times.

In the Forest of the Night

London is covered in trees. Overnight. Actually, the whole world is covered in trees. And a little girl named Maebh thinks she's responsible. The thoughts just come to her, and sometimes they happen. There were some interesting themes about not medicating kids because they're different. And it's fun to see something that stumps the Doctor, though he did eventually figure it out, with Maebh's help. Wasn't my favorite, but certainly far better than "Kill the Moon."

Dark Water/Death in Heaven

All throughout Series 8, there are references to a woman named Missy and a strange place people say is Heaven. This is where it gets explained, in true Doctor Who fashion. Sort of in a "Silence in the Library" way, though with the appearance of some well known Doctor Who villains. I accidentally got a spoiler on Missy, so that wasn't a surprise, but the opening of the finale was. And it was heartbreaking. It was a really good finale, exciting, sad, suspenseful. I also loved the references to the Brigadier of Classic Who days. I wish he had been able to appear in the new series before his death, but the respectful nods they give towards his well beloved character preserve his memory. There are still unanswered questions, some big unanswered questions, at the end, but that's pretty typical for Steven Moffat. I wish he'd hurry up and answer them, but I'm not really expecting it to all be wrapped up until the end of Peter Capaldi's tenure as the Doctor, or at least Clara's time as companion. Just one more thing to say about the finale. Danny Pink.

Last Christmas

So this is the Christmas special. Really good, one of my favorite Twelfth Doctor episodes. He's over "am I a good man" having realized in the finale that he's just an idiot with a box and a screwdriver. Clara's still suffering the repercussions of the finale, but that doesn't stop her from having a Christmas adventure...with Santa Claus along. Dream crabs and a Doctor Who version of "real or not real?" and it's awesome. Showing that Series 9 has a very good chance of being amazing.

There you have it, Series 8. I thought it was a pretty good series, despite a few episodes I didn't really like, and was really the cleanest series since the show was revived in 2005. Peter Capaldi is a Doctor with potential, I'm one of the few who liked Clara before and still likes her now, and I'm ready for Series 9. Oh, wait, I already watched the amazing first episode, and am desperately hoping I'll have access to the rest. Because Series 9 promises to be fantastic, simply fantastic.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Book Review: The Red Pyramid

The Kane Chronicles: The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

Recommended For: Ages 10 to Adult

Rating: PG for violence

Since their mother's death, Carter and Sadie have become near strangers. While Sadie has lived with her grandparents in London, her brother has traveled the world with their father, the brilliant Egyptologist, Dr. Julius Kane.

One night, Dr. Kane brings the siblings together for a "research experiment" at the British Museum, where he hopes to set things right for his family. Instead, he unleashes the Egyptian god Set, who banishes him to oblivion and forces the children to flee for their lives.

Soon, Sadie and Carter discover that the gods of Egypt are waking, and the worst of them--Set has his sights on the Kanes. To stop him, the siblings embark on a dangerous journey across the globe -- a quest that brings them ever closer to the truth about their family, and their links to a secret order that has existed since the time of the pharaohs.

Yes, I was supposed to review Princess Academy. this afterwards and it kind of drove Princess Academy out of my mind enough that I don't think I'd be able to review Princess Academy analytically. I'm in a sort of rush to finish my library books so I can read Michael Vey: Storm of Lightning. Anyways, I'm reviewing this book instead. It was just as good as Princess Academy was.

Writing: 5/5

Rick Riordan wrote this book as if it was a transcription of an audio recording, and it was clever. I haven't read any books besides Treasure Island that had more than one "I" character. And it was way less confusing than Treasure Island was in that. Carter and Sadie have such distinctive voices that are also different from Percy Jackson's and all the others in the Heroes of Olympus. The dialogue wasn't lacking and the descriptions were well done.

Setting: 5/5

The books are sort of set in the real world...sort of not. It's hard to explain. It's Egyptian...look, just read the book and you'll understand. Anyways, the real world stuff seemed very realistic, and the other stuff was well built. the setting was well done.

Plot: 5/5

Rick Riordan's books seem to always have a close deadline. Not that I mind at all, it keeps the plot moving quickly. It was just an observation. Rick Riordan's plots are very well paced and well done. They make sense and they're not contrived. I really like Rick Riordan's plots. I give him a hand.

Characters: 5/5

I love Rick Riordan's characters. I really like Carter Kane and Sadie Kane. Bast is well done, and I like Zia. Anubis is...interesting and Set is well done. Sorry, but it's late and my mind is frying. All I know at the moment is that the book was really good.

So basically, go read this book. Anyone who likes the Percy Jackson books will probably like this. As my friend warned, it's a little weirder, but still, I'm not bothered by it. Definitely recommended.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Movie Review: Up


Recommended for: All ages 

Rating: PG (some peril and action)

 When Carl is forced to leave his home, he uses balloons to take his house to Paradise Falls, where he and his wife dreamed of going. He has many unexpected incidents and adventures.

 We watched this movie in the park last Saturday for probably my fourth time. This movie is hilarious and I especially love the dogs.

Technical: 5/5

 I think that the animation was done very well and I like the type of animation that they used. The characters seemed well proportioned. The story flowed very well, starting out with a prologue, which is very sad. The voice acting was also done well and they went well with the animated characters.

Setting: 4/5

 The movie starts out when Carl (the main character) is a kid and goes through his life until he is old. The neighborhood goes from a quiet street to being surrounded by large construction projects. He sails over a city and ends up in a secluded part of South America, Paradise Falls. There are not very many wild animals which is probably unrealistic.

Plot: 4/5

The way they get to South America isn't the most realistic but it is very interesting. Carl is just trying to get to Paradise Falls but a kid winds up on his porch and so he must find a way to get him home. I don't think there were any unanswered questions or plot holes. And the villain's reasons were explained, though he takes things a little too seriously.

Characters: 5/5

 Carl is suffering from a loss and is trying to fulfill a promise he made as a child. He also has to move on from things and to learn to think of others. Russell is a very talkative kid who is trying to earn his last badge because his father said that he would come to his ceremony. Russell can be annoying but he has a sad life. The dogs were very funny and were probably fun to write. Dug is almost always excited, but is not very tough and is not liked by the other dogs. They all get distracted by squirrels and the horrible punishment is being put in the cone of shame. If dogs could talk they would probably be like the dogs in this movie. Kevin is also interesting and is the cause of some of their problems.

This is a fun movie with lots of comedy and adventure and I would recommend it to groups of all ages.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Book Review: Dragons in our Midst: Tears of a Dragon

Tears of a Dragon by Bryan Davis

Rating: PG-13

Recommended for: Ages 13 and up

Victory in the Circles of Seven came at a great cost to Billy Bannister and Bonnie Silver. A vicious evil was unleashed on the earth that only the dragons can defeat. With Billy’s father, the great Clefspeare, missing, Billy and Bonnie must lead the dragons into war against the Watchers—demonic beings as old as the earth itself. Masters at the art of deception, the Watchers use the deadliest of weapons against mankind. A remnant of wise humans, the friends of the dragons, unite in the struggle against the Watchers. With heart-stopping action, the final battle between dragons and their enemies comes to a climax. But in order to win the war, at least one of the dragons must die.
    As the story ends, Billy and Bonnie are faced with the greatest decision of their lives. Will they keep the dragon traits that have cost them so much danger and heartache, or will they turn to normal human life and end the slayers’ lust for their blood forever.

Writing: 4/5
 This book is interesting and exciting but there isn't as much time for the characters as there is in the other books. The beginning of the finale seemed to start a little too early in the book but since it's the series finale, it is not a big deal. I do wish that there was a little more to the story though. The characters split up into two main groups. The pacing for one of the groups was done well and I really enjoyed that story-line. The finale was epic and sad, really sad, and I wish that there was a little more of conclusion. There is a sequel series and I hope that my questions will get answered. I found one typo but it wasn't one that changed the meaning of the sentence.

Setting: 5/5

 There is not much to the setting that is new. They are back in America spending most of their time in West Virginia and Maryland. They are are mostly in the woods and they go to a park, which I think was a state park. The park and the woods seemed accurate to the Eastern United States, though there was nothing really special about it other than the cave and a lake. I liked how there was a visitor's center which is definitely accurate. There is a scene in an airport. I don't know how accurate the airport was since the only time I've been in a commercial airport was when I was three, but it was probably accurate for when it was written. They also go to Dragon's Rest which is like one of the Circles in Circles of Seven. I'm not sure if it was one of the circles.

Plot: 4/5

 The main plot is to defeat Morgan le Fay and the Watchers, demons, and save the world in doing so. Even though the villains are demons, they are not really scary, probably a little less scary than Frank Peretti's children's series. The other plot is about Billy looking for his father. Both plots come together in the finale.

Characters: 3/5

 There wasn't much time for the characters, but they are still themselves and don't act outside of their characters. Some of them have grown from the first book, which seemed to be realistic. There is one new character that I wished that there was more of near the end of the book and I hope that there is more in the next series. Walter is an especially interesting character and I like it when he and Ashley are together. I think that Bryan Davis's characters in more recent series are better done, but this was his first series and I still like them and I want to find out what happens to them next.

 Although I didn't review the second book of this series, it is probably my favorite of the Dragons in our Midst series and I would recommend it. I liked this book, even though I wasn't completely satisfied with the ending, and I do recommend it as a good Christian fantasy series. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Friday Favorites: The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

Rating: PG (some scary situations)

Recommended for: Ages 8 to Adult

Welcome to the story of Despereaux Tilling, a mouse who is in love with music, stories, and a princess named Pea. It is also the story of a rat called Roscuro, who lives in the darkness and covets a world filled with light. And it is the story of Miggery Sow, a slow-witted serving girl who harbors a simple, impossible wish. These three characters are about to embark on a journey that will lead them down into a horrible dungeon, up into a glittering castle, and, ultimately, into each other’s lives. And what happens then? As Kate DiCamillo would say: Reader, it is your destiny to find out.

If you've read any of my books or possibly my author blog, you may have noticed that I have a slight obsession with dungeon scenes. Reader, I can inform you that it comes entirely from The Tale of Despereaux. This tale of a mouse who does not act like a mouse, who is in love with the princess. This tale of a light-coveting dungeon rat whose heart broke and mended in a crooked way. This tale of a deaf, slow-witted girl whose father sold her for a hen, a blood-red table cloth and a handful of cigarettes, who only wants to be a princess. A tale of a kingdom where soup has been outlawed because the queen died when a rat fell into her bowl. A tale of perfidy and forgiveness, a tale of wrongs and revenge, a tale of darkness and light. Reader, let me tell you my story.

I do not remember when I first received this book, nor who gave it to me, but I do know that it quickly became one of my favorites, and a story which influences me to this day. From the moment of Despereaux's birth to the end of his quest, this is a compelling story about those who are different, those in darkness who struggle to get to the light. About love and forgiveness. It is a story I read many times, for when I could not sleep, I would take this book off the shelf to read, because I loved it so, and because it was scarier in the middle of the night.

Despereaux, Roscuro, Miggery Sow, Princess Pea, they remain with me. I flipped through the book as a refresher, since it has been many years since I read this book, but there they were, just as they had been. I cannot exactly say they are old friends, for one would certainly not wish to be friends with the rat Roscuro, bent on revenge on the princess, and Mig is, well, Mig, but I know them. I know Roscuro's longing after the light. I know Mig's cauliflower ears and desperate desire to be a princess. I know Princess Pea's hatred of Roscuro, the rat who caused her mother's death. I know Gregory, the jailer, living life in the pitch black maze of a dungeon, asking a little mouse to tell him a story because stories are light. And I know Despereaux, the romantic hero, the tiny mouse with the big ears, the mouse who loved music and stories, the mouse who fell in love with the princess, the mouse whose own family betrayed him and sent him to the dungeon, to the rats.

This book is so expertly written, Reader. In this book, DiCamillo uses a beautiful, old-fashioned style to bring the story to life. She tells the story as a mouse whispering it in your ear, to bring some light into the darkness. It is a children's book written for children, but yet it is not dumbed down in the slightest. The vocabulary is rich. The descriptions are vivid.

The dungeons are dark and scary. It is a maze down there. Only the rats and Gregory can find their way, and Gregory only because of the rope tied around his ankle. It is dark. It is dirty. It smells horribly. If one becomes lost down there, they are lost forever. It is horrid, but yes, it sparked my love of dungeon scenes.

This book, Reader, I assure you, is well worth your time. Do not judge this book by its movie, for the movie does not come anywhere close to doing it justice. Nothing can replace the brilliance of the writing. Nothing can convey the complexity and depth and light the way Kate DiCamillo did in the original book. Nothing can quite display the forgiveness.

" 'Stories are light,' Gregory the jailer told Despereaux.
"Reader, I hope you have found some light here."

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Movie Review: War Room

War Room

Recommended For: Ages 12 to Adult

Rating: PG (for thematic elements throughout)

Filled with heart, humor, and wit, War Room follows Tony and Elizabeth Jordan, a couple who seemingly have it all-great jobs, a beautiful daughter, their dream home. But appearances can be deceiving. In reality, their marriage has become a war zone and their daughter is collateral damage. With guidance from Miss Clara, an older, wiser woman, Elizabeth discovers she can start fighting for her family instead of against them. As the power of prayer and Elizabeth's newly energized faith transform her life, will Tony join the fight and become the man he knows he needs to be? Together, their real enemy doesn't have a prayer.

This was the first Kendrick Brothers movie I have ever seen in theaters. And it was entirely worth it.

Technology: 4.75/5

This movie was superbly done. The Kendrick Brothers have learned a lot since the making of Flywheel, which had a great story, but bad acting. This time, it was almost perfectly well-acted. My one complaint was the robber. He wasn't very well-acted. He wasn't mean enough or threatening enough. But they've improved greatly if they only have one instance of bad acting in the movie. As always with a Kendrick Brothers movie, the movie is chock-full of well-placed humor while having a dozen heartfelt moments as well, a couple of which I had tears in my eyes for. And since I almost never cry over fiction (Last of the Mohicans and an episode of BBC Sherlock), this is a big deal.

Setting: 5/5

This is the first Kendrick Brothers movie not to be filmed in Albany, Georgia! Instead, it was filmed in North Carolina. The place is never said in the movie, although it is obviously down South. It is just a typical normal-world environment, filmed on location in the real world. It's hard to go wrong with a setting like that.

Plot: 5/5

Wow. I mean wow. It's definitely not an evangelistic movie, geared more towards getting Christians to stand up and fight the right way: with prayer. That is something that is desperately needed in today's world. And it wasn't preached at you or thrown at your head, either. It was tastefully done in a way everyone can appreciate and woven into the plot with the skill of an expert craftsman. Superbly done.

Characters: 5/5

Thumbs up to the Kendrick Brothers for not making the mentor just a boring, preachy character. Miss Clara was amazingly done, full of wisdom, yet hilarious in a way only little old ladies can be. Elizabeth was well done. Her character arc was supreme, and Tony SPOILER turned around in a completely awesome and wholly believable way. END SPOILER I love Danielle, and Jennifer is hilarious. What Tony's boss did was rather predictable, but that was mainly because Alex Kendrick played him, and Alex Kendrick's characters always do the right thing in the end. 

In short, go see this movie right now. Parents be warned, Tony almost cheats on his wife, so use your discretion on that. Plus younger children are likely to find it boring. But everyone (and I mean everyone) should go see this movie. It was completely amazing, and also the first movie I've been to where the people watching applauded at the end. Entirely recommended.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Book Review: The Thrall of Leif the Lucky

The Thrall of Leif the Lucky by Ottilie A. Liljencrantz

Rating: PG (there is some violence but it is not too graphic)

Recommended for: Ages 12 and up

 THE Anglo-Saxon race was in its boyhood in the days when the Vikings lived. For every heroic vice, the Vikings laid upon the opposite scale an heroic virtue. They plundered and robbed, as most men did in the times when Might made Right. Yet the heaven-sent instinct of hospitality was in the marrow of their bones. No beggar went from their doors without alms; no traveller asked in vain for shelter. As cunningly false as they were to their foes, just so superbly true were they to their friends. Above all, they were a race of conquerors, whose knee bent only to its proved superior. Their allegiance was not given to the man who was king-born, but to the man who showed himself their leader in courage and their master in skill. Leif Ericsson, also known as "Leif the Lucky," was the second son of Erik the Red and certainly displayed the Viking spirit of adventure and exploration. As a young man Leif Ericsson visited Norway, where he converted to Christianity. He was charged with returning to Greenland to convert the populace, but instead sailed further west and is believed to have landed somewhere in Nova Scotia. He spent a year in North America before returning home to Greenland, where he served as governor. The film The Viking (1928) was based on this novel, which has, to some extent, been based on Viking history. 

 This story is about vikings, but not about how they destroyed parts of Europe. It was an interesting book and not too difficult to read.

Writing: 4/5

 This book did not start out exciting. As most older books, it started out with some boring descriptions and doesn't focus on the main character right away. It also did this at some of the beginnings of chapters. Other than those parts, it was mostly interesting and stuck to the story. The descriptions, as far as the actual story goes, were not too overbearing and gives you a good idea of what things were like. Though I was confused about one building. The reading level is more difficult than most things written today but I would say that it is much easier than Charles Dickens.

Setting: 4/5

 At the beginning of the story they are in Norway, in which nothing seemed out of place. They then sail to Greenland where it is cold and snowy. Greenland was named what it is to trick people into settling there because it was cold and snowy. They then visit North America but it is hard to know exactly where they landed. Some parts where more barren and other parts had lots of growth. I am not completely familiar with the plants that would grow in that area but I believe that the animals that they ran into were accurate. The historical aspects of the culture were accurate but as far as the characters go, I don't know how much is actual fact.

Plot: 4/5 

 The story is about a Saxon boy who was captured by vikings. He is then sold to become Leif's new thrall. Leif doesn't come into the actual story until several chapters in. King Olaf wants Leif to tell the people of Greenland about Christianity, so they go there, where Leif's family is hostile to Christianity. Leif becomes interested in a land that another viking had seen and plans an expedition. There is some mystery in this book, like why one man wants to kill the Saxon, Alwin, after seeing him once. The plot flows well.

Characters: 4/5

 Some of the characters are unique, but the main girl character, Helga, seemed pretty typical. She, like some other characters I've read, doesn't want to learn how to sew and completely despises things of that sort. The main character Alwin is a bit impulsive, but becomes friends with the vikings. His being able to read gains him favor and makes the thrall he replaces jealous. Alwin is willing to take the consequences of his actions even if could mean death. There is a romance part of the story. Something drastic happens to make the girl realize that she loves the boy. There are a couple other vikings that you get to know. 

 This book was very good and interesting, especially since they sailed to North America. It made me very interested in Norway, Greenland, and about what actually happened when Leif the Lucky went to North America. I would recommend this to anyone who loves historical fiction. This book takes place during the Dark Ages. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Movie Review: Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre

Recommended for: Ages 15 to Adult

Rating: NR (but, um, it's Jane Eyre. It's not a kids' story.)

After a wretched childhood, orphaned Jane Eyre yearns for new experiences. She accepts a governess position at Thornfield Hall, where she tutors a lively French girl named Adele. She soon finds herself falling in love with the brooding master of the house--the passionate Mr. Rochester. Jane gradually wins his heart, but they must overcome the dark secrets of the past before they can find happiness.

I've wanted to see this version of Jane Eyre ever since I read the book several years ago. The movie we saw just wasn't satisfactory, and while the old BBC one seemed promising, it went off Netflix before we finished. But this one, it's a good one. Friends had told me it was good, the librarian who checked it out for me said it was the best one she'd seen, and my mom had really liked it back when it was on PBS, when we were little and so not allowed to watch it. (Though I did manage to see spoilers then, and so the book wasn't as mysterious as I might have liked.) But this was very well done.

It's been years since I read the book, so I can't say exactly how closely it follows, but it seemed to me to be fairly faithful. They do condense a lot, particularly the beginning, but it was already four hours long (though Bleak House was eight...). It moved along at a good pace with no boring parts. Mr. Rochester's house party, which I thought dragged on too long in the book, was even well paced. I was also pleased that they didn't omit Jane's relationship to St. John Rivers and his sisters as the movie I watched did. That was important, don't cut it for time. I mean, really. There was a bit more to that section in the book, but there was a bit more to all the sections in the book. It's kind of to be expected. The book is better. The book has more in it. Now, they did tone down Mr. Rochester's disfiguration at the end. He just had a bit of a scar on his face and was blind. In the book, his face had been badly burned and one eye was permanently shut, plus the fact that he lost a hand. They also omitted the fact that after two years he got his sight somewhat back. But still, a pretty faithful adaptation.

As far as clean goes, Adele's past isn't exactly, but while it looks like it might go off into an inappropriate scene, it doesn't. There are a few kissing scenes I didn't appreciate, but it's easily solved by staring at the wall since I don't recall there being anything wrong with the dialogue. The big spoiler in the middle...Jane made the right decision, I'll leave it at that.

The settings are all so...perfect for the story. Charlotte Bronte was a master writer. The settings give the proper gloomy, dark, mysterious air to the story, and they captured it well onscreen.

These characters. I really like Jane. Poor mistreated girl. Unloved. Unwanted. Unattractive. You pity her, but she's not really the type who wants to be pitied. She makes her own way in life. And even when she falls in love, things can't go smoothly. Though I realized I have no idea why anyone would fall in love with a man like Mr. Rochester. He's rude, he's grumpy, and at times he's actually kind of scary. And it's not a Mr. Darcy proud kind of rude (though I don't understand why people love him so much either, I'd go more for characters like Gilbert Blythe, well, Teddy Kent, actually, or Kristoff), it's a dark, secretive, brooding rude. But he was the first person to treat Jane like an equal, like a real human being with feelings, so I suppose that's why. And I do like the ending, it's just...I still don't understand falling for dark, mysterious men like Mr. Rochester.

Jane Eyre. It's a classic story. It is well beloved. And this is an excellent screen adaptation of that story.