Friday, January 30, 2015

Friday Favorites: Little House: The Caroline Years

Little House: The Caroline Years by Maria D. Wilkes and Celia Wilkins

Rating: G

Recommended for: All Ages 

Meet Caroline Quiner, the little girl who would grow up to be Laura Ingall's mother. "Little House in Brookfield" is the first in an ongoing series about the adventures of another girl from America's favorite pioneer family. It's 1845 in the bustling frontier town of Brookfield, Wisconsin. Five-year-old Caroline lives in a frame house at the edge of town with her mother, her grandmother, and her five brothers and sisters. Caroline's father was lost at sea the year before, and the close-knit family is struggling to cope without him. Each day brings Caroline new responsibilities and new adventures as she strives to help Mother all she can. And though this first year on their own also brings Caroline and her family great hardship, they survive with courage and love.

Little House was a literary staple of my childhood. Naturally the Laura books were first. I have vague but good memories of my dad reading about Pa's encounter with the "bear" that turned out to be a tree stump. But the books that were my favorites were The Caroline Years about Ma as a little girl. It's a little hard to see in the picture (yes, that is my set, not quite complete, which I'll explain later), but especially the first two books are well worn. I read them so much that, even not having touched them except to make more room on my bookshelf in years, when I reread them in the summer of 2012 (the same summer I wrote The Experiment) they were as familiar to me as if I had only just read them.

The first two were the most read. I unfortunately haven't been able to confirm how old I was when I got my first one, but I think I was about five because I seem to remember being Caroline's age. I'm pretty sure I started my collection in the house we moved from when I was six and a half, because I'm fairly certain that it was in that house that I danced around singing, "Martha and Charlie, the new Carpenters," after my mom looked it up and discovered that Martha Quiner did indeed marry Charlie Carpenter.

The series is based on letters written to Laura by Caroline's sister Martha. Ma apparently didn't talk much about her childhood, so Laura wrote her aunt asking her to "tell the story of those days." It is historical fiction, but closely based on Martha's memories.

I did also particularly like On Top of Concord Hill, I admit, probably because they all came down with cholera in the second half of the book. There are a lot of struggles, particularly with Henry, at their mother's marriage to Mr. Holbrook. I do have a theological caution with this book, though. In the chapter "Secrets," Caroline is bothered by the camp meeting preacher, a major fire and brimstone preacher. She confesses to her mother that she accidentally overheard a conversation between her mother and Mr. Holbrook and was afraid she is doomed to Hell because of it. Mother assures her that it's okay, because she didn't mean to. (This is the context of the issue I have.) This is the issue. Caroline is afraid she is a sinner. Rather than telling her that, yes, she is, we all are, but Jesus died to save us from our sins, Mother tells her that she is not sinful and she is a good girl, thus banishing all Caroline's fears about sin and Hell. So I would recommend having a conversation about that with your child/younger sibling to ensure they do not develop a works based view of salvation.

You might notice Little City by the Lake looks brand new. Well, that's because I only read it twice. Know why? Caroline is 15! And then she turns 16! When I was younger, I couldn't stand for characters to grow up, and apparently 15 was my limit. When I read it when I was 16, I really enjoyed it. But it wasn't until then I discovered there was a seventh book in the series: A Little House of Their Own. It's the only one I don't have, though I want it. I discovered it at the library looking for books for my sister. It takes things from Caroline's schoolteaching through her courtship with Charles Ingalls. I can't remember when the story itself stops, but it contains an epilogue which takes the events up to the beginning of Little House in the Big Woods. At age 16, I really, really loved that book, though I doubt I would have at a younger age. I did have two quibbles with it. First, Caroline told her students that America is a democracy when really we are a representative republic. Pet peeve. The other one I forgot, so it must not have been too important.

The Caroline Years are an excellent supplement to the original Little House books, and a great standalone series as well. The tales of pioneer life are both heartbreaking and inspiring, with a good dash of humor as well. An excellent series for readers of all ages.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

TV Show Review: Sherlock


Recommended for: Ages 14 and up

Rating: TV-14 (For crime scenes and suggestive situations)

1. A Study in Pink

A woman in pink lies dead in a derelict house. She is the fourth in a series of seemingly impossible suicides. DI Lestrade is the best Scotland Yard has got, but even he knows that there's only one man who can help. Elsewhere in London, a war hero, invalided home from Afghanistan, meets a strange but charismatic genius who is looking for a flatmate; Dr John Watson and Sherlock Holmes are meeting for the first time. 

I am doing a review on a TV show because we haven't been watching any movies.

Technical 4/5

The special effects and the acting are all done very well, though sometimes the injuries can be a little graphic. Most of the time the story is told very well. It can be a little confusing at times but usually everything is explained and tied together some how. There are also some parts that I think are supposed to be sad but they don't really seem all that sad.

Setting 5/5

The setting is very different from the books, since they modernized it for the TV show. There were some locations in The Hound of the Baskervilles that I thought were faithful to the book, even though the plot was not. For most of the show, they are in modern day London. Sherlock does still live in 221b Baker St. which is a mess. There really isn't much to say about the settings but that they are good.

Plot 4/5

I have only read three of the books but the ones that are based off the books that I have read only had a couple of elements from the books. The plots can get confusing but they will usually connect. Also if there was a previous scene that had something important in it , they will usually play the important part again. The show is about Sherlock solving crimes in which there is usually a murder involved. There is one episode that does not start out with a crime.

Characters 4/5

Watson is still my favorite character but he was a better man in the books. The Watson in the show does act a lot like young Bilbo. Sherlock is very smart and weird and he picks up little details and remembers them. He can also be rude sometimes. I'm not happy that he doesn't play the violin in the same position as in the books. Sherlock is a pretty well developed character, although he does act a lot like the eleventh doctor, especially in season 1. There are some minor characters who I recognize from another BBC shows.

Even though I don't like all of the things that are changed from the books, which I think are  better, I still enjoy the show and I am looking forward to the next season.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Book Reviews: The Insider

Kingdom Keepers: The Insider by Ridley Pearson

Recommended For: Ages 10 and Up

Rating: PG for violence

The Kingdom Keepers' senior year in high school is almost over. For more than three years, things have been quiet. Their battles are long behind them, they agree, the threat to the Disney realm silenced albeit at great cost. But inside the catacombs of the Aztec temple where Finn Whitman faced down his nemesis, the monstrous Chernabog, a new threat brews.

Deception and betrayal rock the Kingdom Keepers as the merciless group of Disney villains known as the Overtakers stage an unexpected comeback. But a discovery by the Keepers provides them with one hope of victory-a lost icon. It was believed to be gone forever. The Keepers have one last chance to preserve the heart of the Kingdom-Disneyland-from a terrifying destruction decades in the making. 

I devoured the books before this one in the series. They were really good. So I was highly anticipating the next one. However, when I picked it up, I had a few big disappointments in for me.

Writing: 3.7/5
The first disappointment was that the book was in present tense. Given that the first six books in the series were in past tense and that the excerpt on the back of the book was also in past tense, this threw me off more than a little. I spent a fourth of the book trying to get used to it, way more than I should have. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against present tense, when it is in the right place and well-done. For instance, in the Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins pulls off present tense extremely well (probably because she was a screenwriter before she became an author). I forgot The Hunger Games was in present tense within the first few pages. The Insider, however, took me a fourth of the book or longer. What's more, the sentences weren't very cohesive, were choppy, and didn't seem to fit together at times. This may be due to the fact that Ridley Pearson crowd-sourced the writing of this book, something he really shouldn't have done at all. The first half of the book felt choppy and awkward, especially the beginning. And where Ridley Pearson credited the parts where random strangers wrote their parts of the book according to Ridley's outline: I'm sorry, I understand that he wanted to give them credit for their (unnecessary and uncalled-for) work, but it was just too distracting, especially when I was having a hard time getting into the story in the first place. This got better as I went on, but it never got as good as the others, especially the first four.

Setting: 5/5
Although I'm hesitant to give anything in this book 5 out of 5, there was nothing bad about the setting of this book. Not that I would know. Disney freak that I am, I know next to nothing about Disneyland, and even less about California itself. But it seemed real to me, and from what I could tell from my very limited knowledge, accurate. This may be one of the only things Ridley Pearson did five stars on in this book.

Plot: 4/5
I enjoyed the second half of this book, although not as much as I enjoyed the others. The plot in that part seemed pretty well done. But in the first half, and especially more towards the beginning...I don't know. I'm not exactly sure how to describe it, didn't fit well together. It was awkward. It felt a little contrived and unrealistic. It felt like Ridley Pearson was striving for imaginative straws on what was going on.  An appearance of an important character that may or may not have been a betrayal was never explained. And at the end, when there was a way more than subtle hint that the series would go on, I didn't feel excited, intrigued, or annoyed at not getting more. I wanted to bash Ridley Pearson's head with the book for trying to drag this series out more (undoubtedly for more money; I can't think of any other conceivable reason why he would want to drag this tired series out more when obviously it's begging to be finished). And I felt tired. Tired of the series, tired of his inability to make the characters change, tired of his growing head with his fame (or something; it's not the same as it was at the beginning). The rest of my explanation of why I didn't enjoy this installment so much goes in the character development section.

Characters: 3.65/5
One thing I do have to say for this series is the characters haven't changed. No one can complain about them "not being the same characters as they were in the beginning". But that is the whole point of a story. No story is good, or at least good enough, if the characters don't change. Events change people. Especially events of the type that are in this series. I mean, for example, one of Finn's friends gets killed accidentally by Finn and Finn feels responsible and blames himself. But Ridley Pearson doesn't really show this. He doesn't let the reader feel Finn's remorse and guilt. I know this isn't impossible, or even extremely hard. One of my favorite authors, Jaye L. Knight, or as she was previously known, Molly Evangeline, does an extremely good job of this. Her character Jace has a ton of remorse and you feel it a lot. I myself am putting my own character's regrets (huge ones, I might add) into not the dialogue, but the narrative via character voice. It would've been easy for Ridley Pearson to put this in. *cue sarcastic voice* I know, I know, it probably wouldn't have fit in with the crowd-sourcing. *end sarcastic voice* But seriously, Ridley Pearson should have written the book himself instead of giving it to strangers that probably haven't read all of the books. I already knew that he couldn't show what the characters were physically feeling very well (I had to use my imagination to a very great extent when it said "pain"), but I thought he was good at internal feelings (and he's pretty good about a quarter to half-way through). A bigger issue I have with it is the romance. Not the presence of it, the lack of it (this'll shock my sister. She still hasn't gotten over the fact that I skipped the wedding vows in Trust ). I mean seriously, Finn has been showing interest in Amanda since before the first book! Which, I might add was five years ago! They should be past this do-I-say-something-do-I-not-say-something hesitant stage. The other sort-of romances with the side characters (I hesitate to call them romances when they are so under-developed as they are) even go farther, even though emotionally they are pretty much the same (as in, non-existent), and all the side characters do is mime "I love you". But Finn and Amanda don't go past the holding-hands and not saying anything even slightly romantic past "You're a good friend" and reluctance to be parted because heck, they could get killed. Seriously, they're eighteen, they've graduated, they can be romantic!!!

All that being said, I still enjoyed the second half of the book, and the (FINALLY) appearance of MICKEY MOUSE!!! *happy dance* Although I was disappointed that he couldn't speak except through other characters (e.g., Violet from The Incredibles). To anyone who has read the rest of the books in this series, I recommend reading this book. Push through to the good parts. I know you can, especially if you've read Lord of the Rings. And you should. The ending really is spectacular (sort of. As spectacular as it could be). And to anyone who hasn't read the rest of the Kingdom Keepers series, either go and read the rest of the series first, or just don't bother. You can't read this book on its own.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday Favorites: Doctor Who

Doctor Who

Recommended For: Ages 10 to Adult

Rating: NR

The adventures of an alien that travels through time and space in a time machine that's bigger on the inside disguised as a police box. 

It is really hard to describe Doctor Who and why I like it. But for the sake of all you non-Whovians out there, I'll give it a go.

My best friend (outside the family) recommended this show to us. More than once, I think. She was a Whovian, and since she liked it, and it was popular, and we knew someone else who was big into it, we decided to give it a try. Despite my misgivings, we started on the first Classic Who episode they had on Netflix (which we found out later wasn't the first episode of the Classic series. It was cheesy and weird. We didn't finish the episode. My advice to people out there, don't start on the Classic Doctor Who. I like it now, but that's after watching almost all of the new series. You kind of have to like the show already and then get used to the older show and the slight hokiness and, to be honest, the clothes (it was the sixties and seventies, what more can I say?).

After that disaster, our Whovian friends told us you can't start with the Classic Series and told us to try the new ones. So we did, starting out with the Ninth Doctor. 
We didn't fall in love with it right at first, but we were told you have to watch at least five before you really get into it, and if you don't like it by episode nine, you're sunk. We liked it pretty well at first, but it wasn't something we really loved.

Then we hit episode nine. It's called The Empty Child. And it's really the episode that got us hooked. It's scary and funny and exciting and interesting (like most Doctor Who episodes). And on top of that, it was a two-part episode, and we couldn't watch the next one for a few days. I couldn't stop thinking about it. 
By the end of the first season, I wasn't quite ready to call myself a Whovian, but I loved the show. Then I heard that the Doctor periodically changed his face (and consequently, his personality) every few seasons on this show. They wrote it into the story as well, saying that his species of alien can regenerate their bodies when they're about to die. I wasn't ready to give up the Ninth Doctor; he was the only Doctor I'd known.

And then Nine regenerated into this crazy fellow.
My first reaction to him was, "He's weird!" Sadly, everything in Doctor Who is weird. And Nine's buzz cut made Ten's reportedly awesome hair look incredibly long. But by the end of his first real episode, I liked him better than Nine. He was just cooler. And he was the most caring Doctor (most of them are oblivious). Plus, you could tell the actor, David Tennant, really loved the part. It was his life-long dream to play the Doctor.

The Tenth Doctor's first season was the best, I think. Mainly because he had Rose with him, whom I think is the best companion (the people that travel with the Doctor are called companions). He and Rose were great together.
Then at the end of the season he lost her (not saying how).

The next season he spent mostly mourning Rose while going on those same adventures. This season also starred the first episode with Weeping Angels, about the creepiest thing on the show.
These statues actually move. But you never see them do it.

The fourth season featured the Doctor with the fiery Donna Noble. Unlike with Rose and Martha before her, there was no relationship whatsoever. They were just really good friends. I appreciated this. After Martha falling in love with the Doctor when both the viewers and the Doctor knew there could be no one for him but Rose (and River, but...spoilers), this was a huge relief. This season also introduced River Song, a mystery I sincerely hope is fully explained by now.
Yes, yes, I know I'm putting a lot of pictures in here. Doctor Who is a visual show.

Then it was time to say goodbye to the Tenth Doctor and say hello to the Eleventh.
Eleven is just about the goofiest Doctor yet. Even in his first few minutes, I liked him and was laughing. I like Eleven almost as much as I like Ten, although Matt Smith was too young to be a life-long fan like David Tennant was. This was the youngest-looking Doctor yet.

The fifth season is not my favorite. Matt Smith was still figuring out his Doctor, and Rory Williams wasn't in it enough. That was remedied, however, in the sixth season. Rory, the second-best companion and the most awesome one, was in it just as much as his now-wife Amy was, and Eleven was finally figured out and awesome.
Then came the seventh season. This one was a little disjointed and displaced, but, although some of the episodes, and especially Amy and Rory's farewell, could have been better, it was still just as good as before. And Eleven was better than ever. Another thing that made this series good (or season for you Americans who don't know how British people talk) was the additional mystery of Clara Oswin Oswald, who died in her first episode.
And then died again in her second.
Don't worry, it all resolves by the end of the series.

After this came the 50th Anniversary Special, with both the Tenth and the Eleventh Doctors together.
And introduced the War Doctor.
Then came the episode where we had to say goodbye to Eleven. He got old. It was heartbreaking. But still a good episode. And it introduced Twelve, the Doctor of the references.
And then came Series Eight.

People are divided about Series Eight. Some think it's bad and not half as good as the others, and others think it's just fine. I think it's just fine. Granted, it's not as good as the other seasons, but it is Peter Capaldi's first series as the Doctor. The first series of the Doctor are always the worst. It was for Ten and Eleven, and it obviously is for Twelve. For this series, the Doctor and Clara were arguing a lot. Once they stopped, it was good. This series also introduced Danny Pink, the former soldier.
Sorry, but I had to put him in. I like Danny Pink.

At the end of the series, Peter Capaldi got the Doctor down. I have the feeling Series Nine is going to be a doozy.

Some people aren't liking Twelve as much because he's old, or he's not acting like the other Doctors, but honestly, after watching the Classic series, I'm perfectly fine with it. Yes, he's not acting like the other Doctors from the new series; he's acting more like the Classic Doctors. More like this guy, the Third Doctor.
He was old and no one had a problem with it.

I hear there's a Christmas special, but I haven't watched it yet. I just don't have the ability at this time.

And once you're hooked on the show, go ahead and watch Classic. I like them just fine.

Sorry for such a long post, but it takes a while to tell about Doctor Who. I congratulate those who made it to the end. give yourselves a big round of applause!

Adios, fare well, and go watch Doctor Who!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Movie Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

 Recommended for: 13 and up

Rating: PG-13 (for violence)

Bilbo and Company are forced to be embraced in a war against an armed flock of combatants and the terrifying Smaug from acquiring a kingdom of treasure and obliterating all of Middle-Earth.

I actually liked this movie better than I thought I would. I don't really like books or movies to have big battles,so I wasn't very excited about a whole movie about a battle that was hardly in the book.

Technical: 5/5

The special effects were all done well and none of the dwarves or Bilbo's height seemed to change. The creatures seemed lifelike and the acting seemed well done (I didn't notice that the acting was bad). It is the only movie out of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit that didn't have a prologue, which was good because it didn't need one.

Setting: 5/5

The setting is pretty much the same as the last movie with the places of Laketown, the Lonely Mountain and the surrounding area, and the ruins of Dale. There were also some scenes in the Shire and some places that weren't in the book. The story takes place during the winter, so it does snow during the movie. I thought that the settings were all well done.

Plot: 4/5

This movie begins right after the last one ends and a good bit of the beginning was about some of the characters trying to prevent a battle. There was a lot that was faithful to the book and there was a lot added. I liked all the added parts with Bard and his children and the parts with Legolas. Much of the battle was added, since there was hardly any of it in the book. Some parts of the battle dragged but the battle was different from what I thought it would be. When the battle started, it mainly focused on the individual characters. I expected the battle to be like the battles in The Return of the King but it was different and I'm not exactly sure why. I think that the elves' reason to fight should've been explained better. There really wasn't a good reason for fighting until the fourth army arrived and the reason the fourth army came was added (and the fourth army was switched from goblins to orcs) There were additions to tie it to The Lord of the Rings which I don't fully understand. There were some parts that I wish had a better conclusion. The very end was different from the book but I loved the way they did it. Because of the way it ended, it made me want to watch The Fellowship of the Ring.

Characters 4/5 

I love many of the characters and I am glad that they added Legolas to this story and that Bard was more than just a minor character that is hardly in it. In the book there wasn't really any focus on any specific dwarves, other than Thorin, so I liked some of the focus was on Kili and a little bit on Balin. There were also the parts with Thorin and how he acted as king. It was like the book and well done. I liked the parts with Bilbo and how you can see the struggle that he is going through. I didn't like what they did with Radagast. He was hardly in the books but the impression that I got was nothing like what is in the movies. 

There are some parts that I wish they hadn't cut from these movies but I have enjoyed going to see The Hobbit movies. I would recommend these movies despite the fact that it is not exactly like the books.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Book Review: Supervillain of the Day Season One

Supervillain of the Day Season One by Katie Lynn Daniels (Omnibus Edition)

Recommended for: Ages 10 to Adult

Rating: PG (mild action violence, supervillains, and one instance of brief mild language)

All six novellas and two short stories now combined in a beautiful collector's volume with never-before-seen illustrations! Supervillain of the Day: Supervillains are wreaking havoc all over the world except in England, and Floyd must figure out why before he loses his job as a reporter. Fire and Ashes: While a human torch devastates London Floyd deals with sideshow villains and struggles to accept that he's become the city's superhero. Inspector Floyd: When a string of murders goes unsolved Floyd accuses the police of not doing their job, only to discover a master of hypnosis is behind the crimes. Supervillain Hunters, International: All the villains are leaving London for an unknown reason. Fearing a dangerous coalition Floyd and Adams pursue them all the way to the Middle-of-Nowhere, which happens to be located in Kansas, USA. Mister and the Kid: Floyd meets his match in a sixteen-year-old kid who has been assigned to keep him out of trouble. Dreams and Shadows: Floyd wakes up in the dark, alone and a prisoner, with no memory of the events leading to his capture. Supervillains of London: In the aftermath of London's most devastating supervillain attack, Adams tries to keep order while searching for Floyd. Silent Night: It's been two months since Tower Bridge, and Floyd is still having nightmares. Even Kate's return to London, just in time for Christmas, is not enough.

I'd seen stuff about Supervillain of the Day about the homeschool author community for awhile, and been interested by the popularity of it, and how much people loved Jeffry Lewis Floyd. Supervillain is written sort of as if it is a TV show, with short stories as episodes making up a season. I got the omnibus edition on kindle, so I had them all at once. It's superhero fiction that makes fun of superhero fiction without any actual superheros but plenty of supervillains and specially trained alien Jeffry Lewis Floyd to stop them. And we loves it. (Sorry, I've been in a Gollum-speech thinking mood lately.) Because of the series nature of Supervillain of the Day, I've opted to ditch our regular review structure in favor of writing a bit about each story.

Supervillain of the Day
This one sort of introduces what the series is about. It explains the supervillain outbreak on Earth, the failure to create superheroes, and then the lack of supervillains in London. Floyd, who is working as a reporter, is sent to find out the reason for the lack of supervillains. It thus introduces Sergeant Joseph Adams of Scotland Yard. Floyd's investigations reveal that there are indeed still supervillains, they're just under the control of a mastermind. Most of this one can actually be read in the Amazon preview of the omnibus edition. It's not the best of the stories, but absolutely necessary because, well, it introduces Floyd, Adams, masterminds, supervillains, and henchmen, and what you should expect from Supervillain of the Day.

Fire and Ashes
The beginning of this is what got me to really like Floyd...because it made me feel sorry for him. It explains a bit of Floyd's backstory, how he became a supervillain hunter in the first place, and how he ended up on Earth. Floyd is by this point friends with Adams, and Adams is the only one on Earth who knows who he really is, and that he is an alien, and about his regenerative nanobots, and such. The character development is deepened. Floyd is revealed to read superhero comics, though he scoffs at the unrealistic portrayal of superpowers. I especially enjoyed his comments about the Incredible Hulk. Floyd is told to write a story about superheroes when they don't exist, and strange fires keep happening about London. Floyd has a lot to do to foil Ashes, and Adams has a lot to do to deal with Floyd's odd personality.

Inspector Floyd
People keep getting murdered and there are dampening fields, which create a psychic projection that presents you with a pointless and impossible task, appearing all over. Naturally Floyd assumes supervillains. Reluctantly, Scotland Yard works with him. He's the only one who really knows what he's doing when it comes to supervillains, but even he is not immune to their powers. Inspector Floyd introduces Adams's sister Kate. I really like Kate. And she likes Floyd. Which I like. Kate adds another dimension to the blend of action and satire, and furthers the development of Floyd and Adams.

Supervillain Hunters, International
This one doesn't have as exciting a plot as the previous few, but it was still good. Sergeant Adams is on suspension because he lost important papers. It shows more of Floyd's friendship with him, what he will do to help his one friend. They have to go to the Middle-of-Nowhere, it's an actual place. And, in the process, they investigate why the supervillains are mysteriously leaving London. It wasn't what I was expecting, and was an...interesting...explanation. Did I mention it's a superhero satire? And they're in America for a significant portion of the story. I love the London setting, but I did like seeing them in America.

Mister and the Kid
An extra short story, Mister and the Kid sees Adams getting Floyd a babysitter because he thinks he's suffering a nervous breakdown. And, of course, Floyd drags his teenage babysitter into supervillain hunting. This one was interesting because it questioned the morality of Floyd thoughtlessly killing supervillains. And it sees Floyd becoming the official Supervillain Consultant of Scotland Yard. I very much enjoyed it.

Dreams and Shadows
This is where the two part finale begins. It goes back and forth between Floyd apparently captured and tortured and the events that led there. The timeline was slightly confusing, but it was a great finale, bigger than the other stories. Floyd believes Adams to be dead. Adams believes Floyd to be dead. The Telepath has Floyd, and is intent on convincing him death is his only escape and he can only have death by serving her. It felt more emotional and less satirical than past installments. It builds towards a cliffhanger, with Floyd determined to defeat an extreme supervillain himself.

Supervillains of London
I would probably say this is the best of the season. Floyd is found, but he's not the same. Kate comes back in, and is an important part of the story. It's so hard to see Floyd as he is. It is Kate who uses the brief, mild language (as I say, the word that's perfectly ordinary minus a silent letter and used in connection with beavers), but despite being very sensitive to such things, it didn't really bother me that much because of the circumstances. The ending was epic and awful and wonderful and I won't spoil it, but it was the perfect finale for the season.

Silent Night
The Supervillain Christmas special. Floyd is still dealing with the aftermath of the finale. The story is slightly disjointed, but it is written for fans of the series and who cares what the story is if we get more Floyd? As Floyd knows nothing of Christmas, it actually explains the true meaning of Christmas with a Gospel message. And with more Floyd/Kate stuff, I loved it. It left me very badly wanting more Floyd, but there is a second season...

So I've become a fan of Supervillain of the Day. I really enjoyed season one, and highly recommend it.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Friday Favorites: The Silver Chalice

The Silver Chalice by Thomas Costain

Rating: PG

Recommended for: 12 and up

 The Silver Chalice is an English language historical novel by Thomas B. Costain. It's the fictional story of the making of a silver chalice to hold the Holy Grail (itself here conflated with the Holy Chalice) & includes 1st century biblical & historical figures: Luke, Peter, Joseph of Arimathea, Simon Magus & his companion Helena.

 The story was inspired by the archeological discovery of a 1st-century silver chalice in Antioch. It's in effect a prequel to the Arthurian Legend, where the search for the Holy Grail plays a conspicuous part. Two years after publication, Warner Bros. released a feature adaptation of the book. The film starred Paul Newman, in his 1st studio role, as Basil the craftsman.

 First published in 1952, this classic recounts the story of Basil, a young silversmith, who's commissioned by the apostle Luke to fashion a holder for the cup Jesus used at the Last Supper.

I read this book for school and it was definitely my favorite book that I read for school that year. 

I don't remember the writing being bad (though I've been told that it isn't the greatest) because I was so into the story. The story is set in the Roman empire in early A.D. and part of it during the reign of Nero. The story starts with a prologue when Basil is a boy. It then follows Basil, a sculptor, who gets commissioned to make a silver chalice with the pictures of Jesus and twelve of the Apostles. The story follows Basil as he travels around the empire so he can sculpt the apostles faces. The third book (part) was my favorite part of this book and is the part where he travels to Rome. It was exciting and suspenseful, especially because I had to wait to read the next chapter. The fourth book wasn't as good as the first three but it ties everything up in a mostly satisfying way. I loved the characters in this story. There were also some personal story lines along with the main story line. There were several villains in this story, which since some were real people or acted like real people, were believable. 

I saw the movie first and was very confused, so I was happy to finally understand the story. The movie did change the best part of the book. I really enjoyed this book and I have wanted to read it again, though I haven't. One reason I may have liked this book is because I like learning about this period of history. This book gives you a look at what the early Christians had to go through.

I would definitely recommend this book to people who like historical fiction.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Movie Review: God's Not Dead

God's Not Dead

Recommended For: 10 to Adult

Rating: PG (for thematic material, brief violence and an accident scene)

 A story of intersecting lives, each on a different path but all on the same journey - an atheist Philosophy professor, a converted Muslim, a callous businessman, a desperate reporter, an anxious pastor and an abused girlfriend - weaving together in a journey of faith, denial, doubt, and trust leading to a decision that will change all their lives. College philosophy professor Mr. Radisson's curriculum is challenged by his new student, Josh, who believes God exists.

I've been half-wanting to watch this movie for a while. I first heard it was cheesy, then had a few friends text my mom saying God's not dead. They said the movie was worth seeing. Then, a week ago, when me and fifty-one of my "closest friends" were on a bus to Washington, D. C., for Barry Loudermilk's swearing-in, we watched God's Not Dead. My general opinion was that it was good, although I didn't love it. I'm glad I watched it, but it's not a movie I would want to watch again and again (unlike Captain America 2). One thing that detracted from the enjoyment of the movie was that the people that wrote it were obviously Arminian, whereas I'm Reformed. Their "free-will" stuff bothered me. But it was only in one small part where it became clear the writers felt that way. There wasn't anything really wrong with this movie, it just didn't stand out as great. I would probably rate this movie an over-all four stars.

Technical: 4.5/5
Again, nothing really stood out. All the technical aspects seemed overall good, just not great. And then there were the famous people that couldn't act (thankfully they weren't in much of the movie. They weren't there to act). I think that they should've had a scene with Josh's parents talking to Josh about what he should do about the professor's challenge. I wouldn't say this unless Josh hadn't mentioned how his parents felt, but he did, so... SPOILERS One thing my sister pointed out later was that when the main character, Josh, loses his girlfriend, he doesn't really seem that upset. He's just like, "ok, if that's how you feel," and they've been going together for five years and planning their future together and everything. END SPOILERS And now that I think about it, they could've spent a little more time on what he had to lose if he lost the challenge. I mean, it was just like "he could lose his major, which would mean say goodbye to his career" and I just didn't really connect with Josh's internal conflict. Maybe it had something to do with I knew what he was going to choose to do, but that's never held me back before.

Setting: 5/5
The setting was not really much of anything. It's set in a town and a college near it. For what I saw, it seemed pretty much accurate. (I mean, it was set in an unnamed town with a college in it that was probably a nearby town they picked to film in. It wasn't that spectacular at all.) But it really didn't need a spectacular setting (unlike some movies and books I could mention: Lord of the Rings, for instance...) Overall, the setting was good.

Plot: 5/5
The plot was of a young college student defending his faith to a very cynical and demanding professor and a few other people's lives as they tie in. Again, nothing spectacular, but it was well-done. The arguments were well-put and well-written (although there were a few times I wanted to butt in with some fact I knew that Josh didn't and would've helped his argument). It was well-done, and a good plot especially for new Christians, ones who don't know how to defend their faith, atheists, and agnostics.

Character Development: 4.5/5
There wasn't exactly anything bad about the characters or anything, I just don't feel like they were as good as they could have been. They didn't really stand out that much. I did like the Muslim girl. And Josh. The pastor was okay. He wasn't anything that stood out.

Basically, you should watch this movie, but don't expect it to be awesome. It's way better done than most Christian films, but it isn't quite up to par as most Hollywood movies. Expect good, but not the best. And don't show it to young children, especially not without parental previewing first.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Book Review: Counted Worthy

Counted Worthy by Leah E. Good

Rating: PG (for some violence and dangerous situations)

Recommended for: Ages 10 to Adult

Heather Stone lives in fear of repeating the past, yet she continues doing the one thing that could trigger another disaster. When the police trace an illegal Bible to her house, Heather’s world begins to crumble.

Her father’s life hangs in the balance. No one with the power to help knows or cares. If she tries to save him, she could lead her friends to their deaths. If she does nothing, her father’s fate is certain. Can she evade a hostile police force and win public sympathy before it’s too late?

I started following Leah's blog after meeting her on Goodreads, and when I first heard about Counted Worthy, I was interested. After reading the first chapter online, I was even more interested. So I was glad when I got it for Christmas. It is fiction with a purpose, and I really enjoyed it.

Writing: 5/5

Counted Worthy is certainly well written. Written in first person, it is told from Heather's point of view. Leah has a good grasp on character voice, and knows how to keep a story moving along at a good pace. I felt like I was with the characters. Honestly, it was better written than some traditionally published books.

I only noticed three typos in the book, two where a word was pluralized with an apostrophe (sorry, pet peeve), but in all other instances they were correct. I don't remember what the other one was. The text did not always end evenly on opposite pages, but other than that, it was very well formatted. And the cover is excellent and very professional, besides looking very cool.

Setting: 4/5

This book is set in the future, when it is illegal to be a Christian and to be found with a Bible is a crime punishable by death. Many other books, Christian books, for example (it mentions that C. S. Lewis has quite a few books on the banned list), are also banned. Still, there is a strong underground church, and Christianity is spreading. Bibles are spreading, as dangerous as it is. The world Heather lives in is pretty well developed, but I wasn't quite clear on how controlled things were and how ordinary people lived. I believe it was a fascist society, but the worldbuilding was pretty localized to Heather's immediate surroundings.

Plot: 4/5

Counted Worthy is about Heather's quest to free her father after a Bible is tracked to their house. No one cares except their immediate friends, and they have no power to do anything. Besides that, Heather is afraid of repeating the past. Still, she is determined to do something for her father. But things keep getting bigger and more dangerous. It took me awhile to understand just what Heather's plan was, but I read it when I was recovering from being sick, so it's probably just me. There was also less action than I was expecting, but there still was some, and it was certainly exciting. The ending wasn't exactly what I was expecting, and it almost made me cry. There actually were tears in my eyes. Considering I have only cried over one book in my life, that's pretty big. Leah is writing a sequel, so I'm looking forward to further plot developments.

Character Development: 5/5

At first, I was a little uncertain about Heather because of her Goth disguise, but as I got to know the real Heather, all my uncertainty melted away. She is a strong Christian, but she is not without faults. She is determined to save her father, but she is scared to do it. I could identify with her, and I came to like her quite a bit. I also really liked Bryce. He is a gentleman, a really good friend to Heather (they have a brother/sister relationship, though some people think one day it will develop into something more, which I wouldn't complain about), very protective of her, and determined to do what's right. On top of that, his father is the governor and one of the primary antagonists. Makes me like Bryce even more. I just love characters like that. Miss Lucy was the perfect mentor character. I don't really feel like I know Carmen or Ansley that well, but I definitely know Heather and Bryce.

Counted Worthy is a worthy read about Christian persecution, and standing up for what's right even if it could cost you your life. I highly recommend it.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Friday Favorites: The Westing Game

 The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

Rating: PG

Recommended for: Ages 8 to Adult

Sixteen people were invited to the reading of the very strange will of the very rich Samuel W. Westing. They could become millionaires, depending upon how they played the game.

The not-quite-perfect heirs were paired, and each pair was given $10,000 and a set of clues (no two set of clues were alike). All they had to do was find the answer, but the answer to what?

The Westing game was tricky and dangerous, but the heirs played on, through blizzards and burglaries and bombs bursting in air. And one of them won!

With her own special blend of intricacy, humor, and upside-down perceptions, Ellen Raskin has entangled a remarkable cast of characters in a puzzle-knotted, word-twisting plot. She then deftly unravels it again in a surprising (but fair) and highly satisfying ending.

I first read The Westing Game for school when I was probably about seven or eight and I've read it many times since. Despite that, I'm still not sure my brain has every little detail sorted properly. Most of it, but it's so complex. Turtle Wexler, the ignored younger sister, is the main protagonist, but it's really the sort of book that jumps to wherever the action is, and tells whatever part of the story is most relevant at the time. You don't find such complexity very often in a children's book, but The Westing Game has it, and it won a Newbery.

There's not much I can say without giving spoilers, it's that sort of book. It's a mystery. Sam Westing has died and left a very strange will, with clues such as "for," "plain," "grain," and "shed." The clues are to lead to his supposed murderer. But it's not what you have, it's what you don't have that counts. People turn against each other as they play the game. And things just keep getting more and more complicated. Like when Sandy McSouthers is limping, but Turtle, who kicks anyone who touches her hair in the shin, would never kick Sandy. And there's the bomb in one of the gifts at Angela Wexler's bridal shower. Are they connected? Do they have anything to do with the game? Are they even playing the right game?

The cast of characters is very diverse and well drawn. From Madame Hoo to Chris Theodorakis, not one is the same. "Some are not who they say they are, and some are not who they seem to be. Whoever you are, it's time to go home. God bless you all and remember this: Buy Westing Paper Products!"

The Westing Game is a fabulous book. If you're looking for a mystery, a good Newbery, or just a great read, The Westing Game fits the bill. Read it. You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Movie Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Recommended For: Ages 13 to Adult

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence, gunplay and action throughout)

For Steve Rogers, awakening after decades of suspended animation involves more than catching up on pop culture; it also means that this old school idealist must face a world of subtler threats and difficult moral complexities. That comes clear when Director Nick Fury is killed by the mysterious assassin, the Winter Soldier, but not before warning Rogers that SHIELD has been subverted by its enemies. When Rogers acts on Fury's warning to trust no one there, he is branded as a traitor by the organization. Now a fugitive, Captain America must get to the bottom of this deadly mystery with the help of the Black Widow and his new friend, The Falcon. However, the battle will be costly for the Sentinel of Liberty, with Rogers finding enemies where he least expects them while learning that the Winter Soldier looks disturbingly familiar.

I think this was the best Marvel movie yet. After seeing this, I can't wait for Avengers: Age of Ultron to come out. And it was awesome. Captain America (Steve Rogers) hasn't changed in the least, which was a huge relief. He still has the beliefs and standards of the 1940s. And he's still all about freedom. Which is cool. Because freedom is cool.

Technical: 5/5
I think it's safe to say all the Marvel movies are incredibly cool when it comes to the technical stuff. I mean, wow. Some of the special effects are astounding (especially the explosions). And the acting was great as well. Everything was very well done.

Setting: 5/5
This movie is set in modern-day, as far as I can tell, and mainly takes part in Washington, D.C. For all I could tell, it seemed accurate, although I doubt you could really find the Captain America display in the Smithsonian. But it would be cool if you did.

Plot: 5/5
Ah, the plot. This was the best part (besides Captain America himself). I loved how you never could be sure who was on the good side and who was on the bad side (or who was really dead). And I loved how the writers didn't shy away from making Steve human with feelings and how they didn't shy away from wounding him. And the Winter Soldier...How dare they? How dare they be so mean? Those who have seen the movie will know what I mean. There was a good mix of action and character time. And the ever-standing values of truth, honor, justice, friendship, and sacrifice that are always present when Steve is on-screen (and should be present all the other times as well).

Character Development: 5/5
The characters are the best part of this movie: mainly, Steve. Seriously, I would have watched the movie just for more about Captain America if it had had no plot at all. And the other characters were good as well, namely the Black Widow, the Falcon, Peggy, the Winter Soldier, and Nick Fury. I can never figure Nick Fury out. I don't especially like him, but he is well-developed.

All in all, this movie is awesome and totally worth your time. Even though a ton of cars get destroyed in this movie, there wasn't as much full-scale destruction as in most superhero movies (except to the bad guy's stuff) which was a relief. Parents with younger children should probably watch it first before showing in to younger or sensitive children, but that is my only caution. This movie was great.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Book Review: Kingdom Keepers Disney after Dark

Kingdom Keepers: Disney after Dark by Ridley Pearson

Recommended for: ages 10 and up

Rating: PG (scary situations)

In this fantastical novel, Disney's Magic Kingdom suddenly becomes a bit eerie. Finn Whitman and four other teens have been hired as Disney World guides, but with an odd twist: With cutting-edge technology, they have been transformed into hologram projections capable of leading guests around the park. What begins as an exciting theme park job turns into a virtual nightmare as Finn and his pals attempt to thwart an uprising by a menacing group of Disney villains.  

My family has seen these books at Disney World several times and after the last trip, my sister got the first two books from the library.

Writing: 3/5

Over all the story was well written. It  was exciting and suspenseful and I wanted to read more, which doesn't happen too often. The book could've had a higher reading. There were some parts of dialogue where it didn't put the names of who was speaking and it wasn't obvious about who was speaking. I would have to go back and figure out who was speaking. I don't remember there being much description but I had a pretty clear idea of what was going on.


 The setting is the whole reason that I read this book. The story takes place in the early 2000s in Orlando Florida and much of the book takes place in the Magic Kingdom. The setting of the Magic Kingdom is accurate for when it was written, for example, there is a reference to Mickey's Toontown Fair which is now Storybook Circus in New Fantasyland. The characters also visit several of the attractions. They seemed pretty accurate, but there were some details that I couldn't remember, such as a huge sun in It's a Small World. They also visit MGM (now Hollywood Studios) and places not seen by the public. There are several other places that they go, such as several of the characters' homes, Disney's Wide World of Sports, some schools and other places in Orlando.

Plot: 4/5

The story is about kids who wind up at Disney World when they go to sleep. It is a little confusing on how they end up at Disney World. It is mostly explained but the main characters don't even fully understand it. It is a fantasy story so there are things that don't totally make sense. I can't think of any plot holes and everything in the plot worked out. There were some things that weren't explained but will probably be explained in another book. I liked the way the fantasy mixed with the real world.

Characters: 4/5

Although they weren't the best developed characters, they were believable, especially the way that some of them reacted to the situations they were in. There were several characters, but not too many to keep up with. I liked how the main character Finn did not want to lie and eventually told the truth, even though his mother didn't believe him. There was another character who was the type that knows a lot of facts. He wasn't too unrealistically smart and had just studied up on the things that he knew all about. The villain was scary, which was another thing that I liked about this story.

I enjoyed reading this book and I am looking forward to reading the rest of the series, even though it makes Disney World a little scary. If you like fantasy and Disney World, you will probably enjoy this book.