Wednesday, August 29, 2012

You Scorched Me


Expected Publication: September 25th, 2012
Scorch (Croak # 2)
Graphia
ISBN-13: 9780547624570

Sixteen-year-old Lex Bartleby is a teenage grim reaper with the bizarre ability to damn souls. That makes her pretty scary, even to fellow Grims. But after inadvertently transferring her ability to Zara, a murderous outlaw, Lex is a pariah in Croak, the little town she calls home.

To escape the townspeople’s wrath, she and her friends embark on a wild road trip to DeMyse. Though this sparkling desert oasis is full of luxuries and amusements, it feels like a prison to Lex. Her best chance at escape would be to stop Zara once and for all—but how can she do that from DeMyse, where the Grims seem mysteriously oblivious to Zara’s killing spree?

Review

   In the first novel in the series, Croak, Lex found out that she is a teenage grim reaper and thought she'd finally found where she belonged.  Until her twin sister Cordy was murdered by a fellow reaper-in-training, Zara, and she discovered she has the ability to damn souls.  Oh yeah, Zara also stole that ability and is now on a murderous rampage with an illegally obtained scythe!  Lex returns to Croak with her Uncle Mort after the devastation of her twin's funeral, only to find that Norwood and Heloise (who hate the junior reapers) have turned the wholed town against her and are trying to oust Uncle Mort as the town's Mayor and leader.  The town is attacked and bombed, Lex's abilities begin to get beyond her control, her Uncle is foiling her alone-time efforts with boyfriend Driggs and Zara threatens to kill innocent people every day until Lex gets Groton's notorious book for her.  A very dangerous and illegal book that could lead to the destruction of the Grim way of life.  Can Lex stop Zara before it's too late?  And will the biggest surprise of all end up being the greatest secret weapon yet?  I loved the humor in this book even more than the first one.  The fact that Cordy ends up hooking up with King Tut in the afterlife is absolutely priceless! :)  Uncle Mort's determination to cock-block Lex and Driggs made me laugh constantly.  But this book also has a very serious side to it as well.  I felt like some of the big reveals in the damning/Groton/Heloise & Norwood take over storyline were pretty obvious.  I didn't feel like I got too many surprises - except for the city of DeMyse and the death of someone that was accidental and very angering.  I also liked the addition of junior reaper Broomie from the aforesaid city.  Excited to see what part he'll have in the next book.  I did not like the over-villaining of Norwood and Heloise.  It felt almost cartoony to me at some points.  The way the situation with Lex's parents is left after a disastrous Thanksgiving dinner is pretty annoying to me as well.  Overall, a fun follow-up to Croak but it does suffer from sophmore syndrome and being the second book in a trilogy.  Recommended to fans of the first book for absolute sure! :)

VERDICT:  3.5/5  Stars

*I received this book as part of Around the World ARC Tours, run by the lovely Princess Bookie. No favors or money were exchanged for this review. It will be available for purchase on September 25th, 2012.*

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Breaking Lauren's Face, Y'all


Published: May 24th, 2012
Breaking Lauren (The Lauren Series # 1)
By: Jordan Deen
Black Rose Writing
ISBN-13: 9781612961101

Seventeen-year-old Danny Cummings' life is far from a fairytale, but that's okay since he doesn't believe in happy endings. After spending a year in juvenile hall for maliciously beating his sister's boyfriend, Danny embraces his badass image. Spending most nights drinking, fighting and collecting gambling debts for his Uncle, Danny's life is out of control. His addiction to the bad boy lifestyle won't let him do anything about it, even with his family begging him to go straight. But, when fifteen-year-old Lauren McIntosh stumbles into one of his nightly escapades, the self-proclaimed anti-romantic can't concentrate on anything except Lauren and the fact that she's on the same path his sister was on. Danny knows true love happening for the villain is as common as gamblers paying their debt on time, but he's never backed away from a challenge before and he hates the idea that history will repeat itself.

Growing old with the man she loves—in the small town where she was born—is the only dream Lauren McIntosh has ever had; that is until her family is practically run out of town amidst rumors of arson and adultery. So, when she meets Danny at her new school and hears the rumors about his activities from her new friends, she wants nothing to do with him or the gossip that seems to follow Danny everywhere. After a dangerous and ill-fated attempt at sneaking out, she develops unwelcomed feelings for Danny that he seems to reciprocate. But, Danny’s unrelenting pursuit makes Lauren nervous, especially since he's the only one that wants to know the secrets surrounding her family’s move. Lauren can't tell if Danny's intentions are true or if he has other plans for their newfound and unlikely friendship. The only way to figure out is to let him in and that could destroy everything, including the popularity and social acceptance she desperately seeks.


Review
 
  Considering how long the above summary from Goodreads is, I'm just going to skip straight to my very large and in charge opinions about this book (if you can even call it that).  I went into this book expecting a raw, thrilling romance like Between the Lines by Tammara Webber with main characters from different sides of life.  But what I got was a decent guy caught up in a truly bad situation, who is desperately trying to hold on and a popularity obsessed, spoiled, pouty, whiny, brat who is the source of an unimaginable obsession.  Seriously, what does Danny see in Lauren?  She is so melodramatic that I wanted to wring her neck at times.  Especially when she finds out that her supposedly perfect popular boyfriend Josh trashed the reputation of one of her friends - and still chooses to be with him!  She sticks her head in the sand a lot for someone who's family has so many issues.  Even with his drug and alcohol abuse, part in his Uncle John's bookie business and family issues with his Dad, Stepmom and Sister, Danny is still more down to Earth and good-natured than Lauren by about a mile.  She idolizes her parents, wanting to be a popular cheerleader like Mom and marry a guy like Dad.  You know, they're just perfect if you ignore the fact that Dad cheated and Mom burned down the house in the town they moved away from to retaliate.  Those two have the PERFECT MARRIAGE according to Lauren.  Danny spends the whole book chasing after Lauren and trying to sober up for her, while she flat out says to his face that she'd rather have her little girl fantasy (Josh) than try to have something real with him.  I practically CHEERED when Danny's sister Sara told Lauren that he was too good for her and not the other way around like everyone else seemed to think.  She repeatedly shoved herself in Danny's face while trying to act like she was better than him, plus when she mysteriously gets the $500 Homecoming Dress she wanted, the moron assumes her parents changed their minds!!! WTF?!!  Yeah right, her parents are going to buy a dress that costs that much for a high school dance!  I actually wasn't too far behind her parent's disbelief at her utter stupidity on that one (the dress was really from Danny).  Just what-the-hell-ever people.  Not a good book in the least.  Minus Lauren it could've been a decent book about a teenage guy with some serious issues, trying to clean up his life.  With her it was a poorly written, unintelligble mess that makes me want to hurl something breakable at the wall.  I'll give it ALMOST one star for Danny.  That's all I owe this book.
 
VERDICT:  0.75/5  Stars
 
*I received an Advanced Reading E-book Copy from the publisher, via NetGalley. No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book was published May 24th, 2012.*

I'll Have a Covenant With You...


Published: September 27th, 2011
The Mephisto Covenant: The Redemption of Ajax (Mephisto Covenant # 1)
By: Trinity Faegen
Egmont USA
ISBN-13: 9781606841709

Sasha is desperate to find out who murdered her father. When getting the answer means pledging her soul to Eryx, she unlocks a secret that puts her in grave danger--she is an Anabo, a daughter of Eve, and Eryx's biggest threat.
A son of Hell, immortal, and bound to Earth forever, Jax looks for redemption in the Mephisto Covenant--God's promise he will find peace in the love of an Anabo. After a thousand years, he's finally found the girl he's been searching for: Sasha.
With the threat of Eryx always looming, Jax knows he has to keep Sasha safe and win her over. But can he? Will Sasha love him and give up her mortal life?

Review
 
   Sasha was devastated when her Dad was murdered while on business in Russia.  She refuses to give up on trying to solve the mystery of who did it and why.  So when a girl from school tells her about a group that follows someone named Eryx and hints that he can give her whatever she wants, Sasha jumps at the chance to attend a meeting.  But what she doesn't know is that information will come at a steep price - her immortal soul.  While at the Ravens meeting, Sasha is savagely beaten and only saved by the interference of Jax, a Mephisto (son of Mephistopheles and an Anabo).  She also finds out that she is Anabo, a descendant of Adam and Eve's daughter Aurora who was born before the fall.  Because of this she has natural goodness and doesn't understand emotions like jealousy or rage.  After Sasha's Mom is deported back to Russia and she's forced to live with her Dad's hateful sister, messed up cousins and beleagured Uncle, Sasha also finds Jax again and is told that he's her soulmate.  Oh yeah, they're also on a mission to stop Eryx from stealing Hell from Lucifer!  Can Sasha reconcile herself to the fact that she has a purpose in life she never counted on?  Will she and Jax be able to connect the way they were meant to and garner redemption for his soul?  And when betrayl hits closer than Sasha ever though was possible, who will live and who will die?  I normally stay as FAR AWAY as possible from books that involve angels, heaven and hell.  It's nothing truly personal belief based, it's just most of those books do absolutely nothing for me.  But I had been curious about this one for awhile and had an ARC for the sequel.  So I figured I would give it a shot.  I read straight through pretty much and didn't want to put it down!  It was by no means perfect and the soulmate thing bothered me quite a bit.  But Sasha is a fairly strong heroine, who goes through some serious shit.  Basically everyone she cares about starts selling their souls to Eryx, she finds out her Dad was a CIA agent and that she is practically an Angel on Earth.  I liked Jax, but was more interested in his brothers by the middle of the book.  Especially Phoenix who has a tragic past and Key who seems pretty dark, but whose silence gives away next to nothing.  My favorite thing however, was that even though they were soulmates it wasn't a case of insta-love for Sasha and Jax.  They worked to fall in love.  That is something that's rare in YA paranormal romance, at least what I've read.  Overall it does drag at some points, there are cliches and some bad writing mixed in with the good.  But it was a mostly compelling read and I have no really major complaints.  Recommended to those who can get over the angelic overtones.
 
VERDICT:  3.75/5  Stars
 
*No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book is now available in stores and online.*

Friday, August 24, 2012

Disney Animated Film Critique # 3: Fantasia (1940)


   So my fellow book minions, I don't know about any of you but I have a serious obsession with animated films (whether they're Disney or not). But the most recognizable in my culture as an American citizen are the main 50 animated films produced by Walt Disney's film studio, in chronological order. I might do some side posts with critiques of live-action Disney films, animated sequels, Disney-Pixar films, or even ones like The Nightmare Before Christmas who have oddball status, with no specific categorization. But this is something that I have been considering for quite awhile and I finally decided to take the plunge. The criteria will be: plot, characters, music/songs/score, design/animation, and cultural/historical context and/or overall effect of the other elements. So take a seat, grab some popcorn and some soda and be prepared to find out the verdict.

PLOT

This film is revered in part because it has no plot whatsoever!  I tried to be objective, but this was a huge sticking point for me.  Yes, I understand that it's very experimental nature was genius at the time and still is.  It opened up the animate medium for people who have more creativity than just straight-as-a-line plots in there heads, ready for transcription.  So instead of a plot, here is the program, which will also double as the music section in part:

Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach
Nutcracker Suite by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Paul Dukas
The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky
Intermission/Meet the Soundtrack by Philadelphia Orchestra
The Pastoral Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven
Dance of the Hours by Amilcare Ponchielli
Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky
Ave Maria by Franz Schubert

*Critique:  It is an interesting interpretation of traditional classical music pieces.  It definitely wasn't the normal plot format that had been instituted for animated films already (by Disney himself and some others).  Fun to watch if you want someone else's ideas about what music would look like floating around in your head.  All it managed to do for me was put me to sleep.

CHARACTERS

The only real 'characters' that we even meet throughout this piece are the Sorcerer and his apprentice (a.k.a. Mickey Mouse).  Neither is very sympathetic.  Mickey just wants to take the easy way out, using magic to animate the broom and have it doe his work.  The Sorcerer ends up having to fix his mistakes, because Mickey can't control the magic that he's unleashed.  But the Sorcerer doesn't even really seem to bother telling Mickey WHY what he did was wrong, just scolding him slightly and genericly instead.  Also, another character that bothered me was Zeus in The Pastoral Symphony sequence.  He just appears and starts throwing around lightning bolts maniacally, for what appears to be no reason at all!  Yes Zeus is a volatile being, but I never thought that was synonymous with insanity and stupidity.  Maybe I was wrong.

*Critique:  Overall the lack of plot also means that there is a lack of fleshed out characters.  This is something that makes an enormous difference to me as a viewer.  I literally fell asleep while watching this Wednesday night.  I picked up where I left off last night - but I fell asleep again.  If my brain isn't actively engaged in some sort of way I am BORED.  This is something that became abundantly clear while trying to watch this film.

MUSIC

The music in this film was all classical work, written by a variety of composers over the centuries.  Most of it was also very famous and easily recognizable.  It was performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra and conducted by Leopold Stokowski.  Disney collaborated with RCA to get the illusion that the orchestra was in the theater with the audience.  They developed Fantasound, which used the first stereophonic surround sound system and innovated overdubbing, noise reduction and simultaneous mutli-track recording.  Fantasia has the longest running soundtrack of a Disney film, going for nearly two hours straight. 

*Critique:  It is very well played classical music and you can tell that musicians are having fun, especially during the intermission jam session.  If I sat up, with my eyes closed and didn't even watch the movie it would've been a singularly enjoyable experience for me.  But I had to judge this on all aspects, not just the music.

DESIGN/ANIMATION

Animation - While making Fantasia, over 1,000 artists and technicians were utilized.  The movie has over 500 characters that make an appearance.  The segments were color-keyed scene by scene, so they would mesh together well. There was an overall color scheme for each piece of music, that was patterned specifically for the individual subject matter that they developed.  3-D clay models were sculpted so the animators could see the characters from every angle while drawing.  It was a very intense process.

*Critique:  As a total Disneyphile, I can completely appreciate and respect how much time, effort and overall blood, sweat and tears went into the animation and design of this film.  It was not an easy process, using over a 1,000 people to get finished.  But the animation as a whole didn't do it for me personally.  It was very good, but still felt rudimentary in comparison to the earlier brilliance of Snow White.

CULTURAL/HISTORICAL CONTEXT AND OVERALL EFFECT

Fantasia, like Disney's previous film Pinochio,  marked a loss for the studio financially due to the cutoff from European markets, due to the onset of WWII.  Also, the initial costs of Fantasound also added to the debt of the Disney studios.  Like other Disney classics, Fantasia enjoyed numerous theatrical releases to generate more income.  It was re-released in 1942, 1946, 1956, 1963, 1969, 1977, 1982, 1985, 1990.  It has since been released in VHS, DVD and Blu-Ray formats for home viewing.  It's release was critically acclaimed as making film history by The New York Times, TIME, Art Digest, Variety, Dance Magazine, The Chicago Tribune and many other publications.  The film won two Honorary Acadmey Awards in 1942.  There has been a sequel called Fantasia 2000, the film has been featured in South Park and The Simpsons in parody sequences.  The Sorcerer's Hat is the icon of Disney's Hollywood Studios, and on the 20th anniversary of Disneyland Paris Mickey and his friends were wearing special versions of his Sorcerer's Apprentice outfit.  There have also been video games featuring Fantasia characters/sequences for the Sega Genesis, Playstation 2, Wii and Nintendo 3DS. 

OVERALL VERDICT:  3/5  Mickeys

 


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I Will Survive On My Own, Thankyouverymuch


Published:  August 2nd, 2012
Survive
By: Alex Morel
Razorbill
ISBN-13: 9781595145109

Hatchet meets Lost in this modern-day adventure tale of one girl's reawakening

Jane is on a plane on her way home to Montclair, New Jersey, from a mental hospital. She is about to kill herself. Just before she can swallow a lethal dose of pills, the plane hits turbulence and everything goes black. Jane wakes up amidst piles of wreckage and charred bodies on a snowy mountaintop. There is only one other survivor: a boy named Paul, who inspires Jane to want to fight for her life for the first time.

Jane and Paul scale icy slopes and huddle together for warmth at night, forging an intense emotional bond. But the wilderness is a vast and lethal force, and only one of them will survive.

Review

   Jane comes from a really dysfunctional family - both her Grandma and her Dad killed themselves because of mental illness.  Now Jane has attempted at least twice, so she's been packed off to the hospital where she has to convince the Doctors that she is well enough to go home again.  But Jane is just playing along, so that once she's out of there she manage to actually kill herself without any interference.  On the plane ride home for Christmas, Jane's in the bathroom with her pills getting ready when turbulence knocks her out.  Upon waking up Jane figures out that the plane has crashed and she and the guy next to her, Paul, were the only two that survived.  Now it's up to them to figure out a way to survive until the rescue crews can find them.  In the meantime will Jane figure out that she never really wanted to die and fight for her life for the first time ever?   I went into this book thinking that it was a winner for sure.  A survivalist fiction story, with a heroine who starts out like Charlie in LOST and ends up wanting to live?  If done right, it could have been phenomenal.  It was very sub-par in the way it turned out.  I was majorly disappointed that Jane wasn't really depressed and only treated suicide like a freaking family tradition.  That was very poorly done.  How can you sympathize as a reader with someone whose thought process is that ridiculously stupid???  Then there was the romance with Paul.  It got on my nerves that they barely knew each other, they were both pretty messed up (not to mention he was old enough that she was jailbait) and they ended up falling in 'love' and sleeping together.   Then one of them DIES.  What the hell?!!  The survivalist parts were few and far between compared to the boring build-up and this novel just didn't compare to the expectations that I had built up for it in my mind.  Not one I would recommend for fans of more hardcore books like the Hatchet series, or My Side of the Mountain (which I never considered hardcore per se before reading this piece of trash).  This is a romance masquerading as a survival story.  If you like that sort of thing, have at it by all means.  If not, avoid it like the plague.

VERDICT:  1.5/5  Stars

*  I received this book as part of Around the World ARC Tours, run by the lovely Princess Bookie. No favors or money were exchanged for this review.   This book became available for purchase on August 2nd, 2012.*

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

If I Took You Home It'd Be A Home Run


Expected Publication: October 1st, 2012
Amber House
By: Kelly Moore, Tucker Reed, & Larkin Reed
Arthur A. Levine Books
ISBN-13: 9780545434164

"I was sixteen the first time my grandmother died . . ."

Sarah Parsons has never seen Amber House, the grand Maryland estate that's been in her family for three centuries. She's never walked its hedge maze nor found its secret chambers; she's never glimpsed the shades that haunt it, nor hunted for lost diamonds in its walls.

But all of that is about to change. After her grandmother passes away, Sarah and her friend Jackson decide to search for the diamonds--and the house comes alive. She discovers that she can see visions of the house's past, like the eighteenth-century sea captain who hid the jewels, or the glamorous great-grandmother driven mad by grief. She grows closer to both Jackson and a young man named Richard Hathaway, whose family histories are each deeply entwined with her own. But when the visions start to threaten the person she holds most dear, Sarah must do everything she can to get to the bottom of the house's secrets, and stop the course of history before it is cemented forever.


Review

   Sarah Parsons is not really excited when she is forced to travel to Maryland with her feuding parents and little brother to attend her estranged Grandmother's funeral.  But once she's there, Sarah and her little brother Sammy both feel some sort of intrinsic connection to the family's ancestral home, Amber House, that neither can explain.  So they manipulate their Mom into staying for a few weeks until they can sell the house and everything in it.  During that time Sarah discovers that there might be a hidden fortune in diamonds and decides to find it with the help of Jackson, who is a distant cousin and the grandson of her Grandma's housekeeper Rose.  She also finds herself falling into the world of Richard Hathaway, the son of a Senator (who is her Mom's old boyfriend), as her Mom gets ready to throw her a lavish sixteenth birthday party that will double as an open house.  But as the day of the party draws near, more and more family secrets become exposed leaving Sarah to wonder if perhaps there is a sinister presence in the house after all.  And if there is, can she save herself and her family from it before it's too late?  So I was not really expecting to be drawn into this book as much as I was.  Then again, as a reader I can never resist a good family secret.  I loved Sarah because she was a very realistic, average teenager.  She never knew quite how to feel about either of her parents due to her Mom's cold tactless behavior and her Dad's infidelity.  As the constant caretaker of her autistic little brother Sammy, Sarah also feels like it's her responsibility to protect him no matter what, because she has an unexplainable psychic connection to him and always knows where he is.  She does find out that there are reasons behind her Mom's seemingly unexplainably mean behavior and that she has suffered a lot in her life.  Sarah gets to discover that nothing is black and white in the real world, which fleshes out the side characters very nicely.  There is a love triangle that is not quite a love triangle, a search for lost family treasure that turns into something much more dangerous and the possiblity of changing the past.  Sarah inherits the ability to see and be part of echos of the past that haunt the house.  She is privy to the actual happenings of her ancestors in a way that makes me geek out cause I'm a total history nerd.  I loved that the house was almost alive with the energy of the past.  The ending was perfect in my opinion and seriously made me want to cry because I found it beautiful.  Overall, one of the best books I've read so far this year and I highly recommend it to fans of romance, Gothic novels, ghosts, time travel and history.

VERDICT:  5/5  Stars

*I received an Advanced Reading E-book Copy from the publisher, via NetGalley. No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book's expected publication date is October 1st, 2012.*

Friday, August 17, 2012

Disney Animated Film Critique # 2: Pinocchio (1940)


   So my fellow book minions, I don't know about any of you but I have a serious obsession with animated films (whether they're Disney or not).  But the most recognizable in my culture as an American citizen are the main 50 animated films produced by Walt Disney's film studio, in chronological order.  I might do some side posts with critiques of live-action Disney films, animated sequels, Disney-Pixar films, or even ones like The Nightmare Before Christmas who have oddball status, with no specific categorization.  But this is something that I have been considering for quite awhile and I finally decided to take the plunge.  The criteria will be: plot, characters, music/songs/score, design/animation, and cultural/historical context and/or overall effect of the other elements.  So take a seat, grab some popcorn and some soda and be prepared to find out the verdict.

PLOT

This movie is the story of woodcarver Gepetto, who longs for a child.  One evening he wishes that a creation of his, wooden marionetter Pinocchio, could be a real boy.  The Blue Fairy brings Pinocchio to life, but tells him that to become a real boy he needs to prove that he's brave, truthful and unselfish and that he can listen to his conscience (a.k.a Jiminy Cricket who agrees to be his conscience).  Pinocchio is led astray when Gepetto sends him to school and goes on a host of adventures to try and become a real boy.  Eventually he, Gepetto and Jiminy Cricket are rewarded for their good deeds, which outweigh their bad ones.

*Critique: Pinocchio is very sympathetic as a puppet who wants to become a real boy, in Disney's version of the 1883 Italian children's book by Carlo Collodi.  I have personally not read the original book, so I can't really be a good judge of how close this version follows it.  But I can say that it is not really surprising that Pinocchio's main struggle centers around right and wrong, learning to use his conscience.  That's something that all young children (and even adults) struggle with and it's very identifiable.  All of his adventures are alternately fun, scary and heartrending because he honestly has a very simple goal.  I like his perseverance throughout the film.

CHARACTERS
*There are quite a few important characters in this one: Gepetto, Pinocchio, The Blue Fairy, Jiminy Cricket, Honest John & Gideon, Stromboli, The Coachman, Lampwick and Monstro. 

Gepetto - He is an honest man, who does woodcarving for a living.  But he is very lonely and wishes for a child to fill his life, hence his carving the puppet Pinocchio to fill that void.  Gepetto is a wonderful character, one of the Disney parents who escapes what seems to be the infamous curse of death, lackadaisical parenting or absence/eccentricity.  He's one of the few who cares and is normal about it.  All he wants is for Pinocchio to grow up honest and happy, plus he's willing to get swallowed by a whale to save him from his own dumb choices!  Definitely a commendable Father.

Pinocchio - A puppet carved by Gepetto and animated by the Blue Fairy, all he wants is to become a real boy.  But he has lots of trouble being honest, knowing what's right and wrong, or resisting the temptations of the outside world that are less than good natured.  Basically, he is just like any other 8 or 9 year old boy except he's a puppet trying to become a real one and needs to be an EXEMPLARY little boy to do it.  You can't help but feel sorry for him and cheer him on, even as you're cursing the stupidity of his actions.  
  Seriously dude, listen to Jiminy once in a while!

The Blue Fairy - She is not really in the story for the most part, except as the granter of much desired wishes.  Plus she's Jiminy Cricket's boss and holds his career in her hands.  She seems benevolent, and of good intentions.  But what can I really say about her that isn't already obvious, considering how little screen time she has? 

Jiminy Cricket -   The most long-suffering cricket in all of animation most-likely.  A lot of the time he comes across as a killjoy, but you know he has nothing but the best in his heart.  He really does save Pinocchio from himself and the evils of the world around him quite a bit.  He has a sarcastic streak and is always honest, whether you want to hear it or not.  He is the precursor to the sidekick in animated films like Mulan, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast.  Definitely adds a lot to the story! :)

Honest John & Gideon - I group these cat and fox companions together, because they work like a single entity to trick Pinocchio into ditching school and going to work for the evil Stromboli's puppet show.  The irony of the name 'Honest' John isn't lost on me, but the fact that they manage to also trick Pinocchio into going to Pleasure Island after escaping the puppet show is only a testament to their slyness and lying abilities.  They are like the big bullies on the grade school playground, only they get to you without using physical force.

Stromboli - Is the robust, bearded puppet maker who is lacking the talent of Gepetto.  He forces Pinocchio to become his star attraction, as the magic puppet without strings.  He shows just how evil he is when Pinocchio wants to go home and he locks him in a FREAKING BIRDCAGE!  P's dumb butt is saved by the Blue Fairy (he also learns at this point that his nose grows when he lies).  Stromboli is left to sink back into obscurity as far as we know, with no resolution ever forthcoming.  But if I was a puppet he would definitely scare the shizz out of me.  

The Coachman - He is a sadistic coach driver who operates a place called Pleasure Island.  It is basically a little boy's dream, with candy and an amusement park plus no parents or supervision.  However, they are also gambling, smoking, getting drunk and otherwise trashing the place!   The only drawback is that this guy turns the little boys into donkeys and sells them to work in salt mines and circuses.  With the help of Jiminy he escapes, but Pinocchio's destructive friend Lampwick is not as lucky.  The idea of the Coachman kind of reminds me of Greek mythology's Circe only slightly scarier in my opinion.

Monstro - He really does not speak or do anything important other than eat, which leads to him swallowing Gepetto and later on Pinocchio.  Seeing as he doesn't reason or actively plan villainous acts (he's just a whale for chrissakes!) I don't find him all that scary.  He's really just a big blue plot device.  

*Critique:  Overall the characters in this movie are very well drawn for an animated film.  In real life there are many villains, not just one.  And people make stupid choices that cost them greatly.  But since it's a Disney movie, at least the main characters get some sort of happy ending.  Which is just the way I like it, because it's a movie - not real life.  If I wanted reality I'd watch a documentary.  These characters are pretty sophisticated (one of them being the embodiment of a conscience) but they are always easy to relate to.

MUSIC, SONGS/SCORE

Score - The incidental music score was composed by Leigh Harline (who also did the score for Snow White) and Paul J. Smith.  Honestly, other than the parts scored with Monstro and the Blue Fairy, most of the instrumentals were very forgettable to me personally.  Nothing really stood out as very beautiful or haunting and none of the pieces had me listening to them over and over again.  I have the feeling that most of the focus was on the songs for this particular film.

Songs - The songs in this film were composed by Leigh Harline, with lyrics by Ned Washington.  They are When You Wish Upon a Star, Little Wooden Head, Give a Little Whistle, Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee (An Actor's Life for Me), I've Got Not Strings, Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee (An Actor's Life for Me) [reprise], and When You Wish Upon a Star [reprise].  There were actually six other songs written for the film that weren't used, but two of them ended up in other incarnations.  One was sung by Jiminy Cricket in Fun and Fancy Free, and the other appeared on the 70th Anniversary Edition Platinum Blu-ray and DVD.  When the songs were originally released in album/single form, only the ones sung by Jiminy Cricket were done by the actor from the film.  The true soundtrack wasn't released until years afterward, with the music as it was in the film.

*Critique:  Overall, the songs from the film are for more lasting than the score.  Unlike other Disney films with distinctive and recognizable scores, I feel like this score is below par in comparison.  The songs however, such as When You Wish Upon a Star, have become an entrenched part of our American cultural history.  The fact that there were so many songs written for this film that weren't used only makes me wonder if as a society we are missing something that could be even more crucial to our childhood experiences.

DESIGN/ANIMATION

Animation - Unlike in Snow White, there were far more locales that needed drawing by the animators of this film.  With so many different places that the action took place and no computer to do the groundwork for them, nowadays we'd find it to be an impossible task.  It is amazing how detailed each scene of this film is, especially the ones that take place inside Monstro.  The inside of his stomach, throat, etc. are very well-drawn and more anatomically correct that you would think for a supposed children's film.  Pleasure Island was another example of extreme attention to detail that really makes you believe that Pinocchio's world exists somewhere and the animators visited it beforehand.  

*Critique:  Overall the animation was one of the high points of this film for me.  As a child this was one of the Disney movies that I never watched, because I hated it.  I had no appreciation for the things that I can see now as an adult and find extraordinary.  This film (like most other early Disney films) deserves our appreciation as an audience for the animation alone, not including the other major aspects of the film that we could critique based on their individual worth.

CULTURAL/HISTORICAL CONTEXT AND OVERALL EFFECT

This film was supposed to be released after Bambi, but due to animating difficulty it made it out before the other film instead.  Walt Disney was really excited about the story, but it underwent numerous changes while in development and production from the original script and storyboards.  This film also was the first animated movie to use celebrity voice actors.  This was also groundbreaking in its use of effects animation (separate animators for the special effects and the characters, respectively).  It was a film that gained mostly positive critical reviews, won the Academy Awards for Best Original Song (When You Wish Upon a Star) and Best Original Score.  It was the first Disney film to win either award and both at the same time.  This has since only happened with Mary Poppins (1964) and The Little Mermaid (1989).  Pinocchio did NOT make as much money at the box office as Snow White, because of the loss of international markets to the onset of WWII.  Re-released in theaters over the decades to rake in more money, it premiered again in 1945, 1954, 1962, 1971, 1978, 1984, and 1992.  Pinocchio and many other characters from the film have a major presence at the Disney theme parks, plus Pinocchio himself has made cameos in other films: Who Framed Roger Rabbit (with Jiminy Cricket), Aladdin, Teacher's Pet (with the Blue Fairy) and Tangled.  Characters and worlds from Pinocchio have also made appearances in Sega Genesis, Gameboy, SuperNintendo, Playstation 2, PSP and Nintendo 3DS.  This is a film with a very large cultural impact.  Could you imagine animated fims withouth celebrity voice actors for instance?  (including almost all of the Disney catalog in recent years!)  Just think about the symbolic value of this film, which I know a lot of people (including myself) have never really warmed up to before.  Well, I think I can appreciate it now, can you?

OVERALL VERDICT:  4/5  Mickeys




Thursday, August 16, 2012

I'm A Fighter, Even Without You


Expected Publication: September 25th, 2012
Covet (The Clann # 2)
By: Melissa Darnell
Harlequin Teen
ISBN-13: 9780373210565

Dangerous to be together. Painful to be apart.

Savannah Colbert knows she broke up with Tristan Coleman for the right reasons. Most of all, to keep from killing him with her new vampire abilities. But try telling her heart. Now, lost in a sea of hostile Clann faces, Sav tries to come to terms with what she's becoming and what that means for her future. And that someone is doing their best to bully her into making a terrible mistake.

Tristan can't believe Sav won't even talk to him. If being apart is her decision, fine. Just don't expect him to honor it. But even as he prepares to fight for the girl he loves, forces beyond their control take them both in directions neither could have foreseen or prepared for.

A reckoning is coming… and not everyone will survive.

Review

   Savannah thought that once they got Tristan back from the Council everything would go back to normal.  But then she was forced to promise that she would stop seeing him and she found out that the Clann had kidnapped her Grandma because of Tristan's disappearance.  But by the time she, her Dad and Tristan make it home it's too late for Sav's Grandma - she's died.  Now the bloodlust-dampening spell that she used to cast on Savannah has also died with her, which means that she has to live with her Dad now and her Mom is going on the road in an RV purchased from selling their house.  To add to Savannah's misery and guilt, it turns out that the spell her Grandma was casting for her bloodlust requires a sacrifice and damaged her heart severly - it's possibly what killed her.  Now to prevent a war between vampires and the Clann, Savannah must keep away from Tristan and not let anyone know that she's secretly teaching herself magic (which is against the rules).  But will it be enough when murders of Clann members seemingly caused by vampires come to light?  And what does Anne's ex-boyfriend Ron have to do with the Clann?  This began right where the first book left off and for that I was grateful.  It helped me remember what had been going on when it ended.  I loved that Savannah was strong enough to keep her promise and truly understood the danger of her and Tristan being together.  It gave me a lot of respect for her as a character that she understood the consequences of her actions and took responsibility for them.  Tristan on the other hand, acted like a spoiled brat for half of the book.  While Savannah was trying to deal with her growing bloodlust, friendship problems with balancing both Anne and Ron's time, dealing with her Grandma's death and losing her Mom to the road, she also has to deal with Tristan making things even harder for her.  He is constantly shoving thoughts into her head once he realizes she can read his mind (memories of them, mental images of him with other girls, etc.) constantly begging her and trying to tempt her into getting back together with him.  Plus he's stringing along another girl through almost the entire book and supposedly doesn't realize he's doing it...YEAH RIGHT.  What a douche!  He can't take no for an answer and even asks Sav's Dad to make him into a vamp, knowing it might cause a war.  I loved the development of Savannah's kick-ass BFF Anne and her unfairly dumped boyfriend Ron, who has a supernatural secret of his own (with all the hints that are dropped, it wasn't a shock AT ALL).  They really became characters in their own right in this book more so than the first one, especially once Savannah tells Anne her secret.  The ending of this book was kind of obvious to who the murderer was, plus the whole subplot with Tristan's sister was unnecessary and I couldn't believe how dense her family was to the reality of the situation.  I enjoyed seeing Mr. Colbert's interactions with his maker and Sav dealing with her vampire development.  But the way the book ended, and what happened to Tristan really made me mad.  It's the reason I deducted an extra half star from my rating.  I now quite hate him and wish he meets a horrible end.

VERDICT:  3.5/5  Stars

*I received an Advanced Reading E-book Copy from the publisher, via NetGalley. No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book's expected publication date is September 25th, 2012.*

We Are Young, Let's Set the World on Fire


Expected Publication: October 2nd, 2012
The Assassin's Curse (The Assassin's Curse # 1)
Strange Chemistry
ISBN-13: 9781908844019

Ananna of the Tanarau abandons ship whenever parents try to marry her off to an allying pirate clan: she wants to captain her own boat, not serve as second-in-command to her handsome yet clueless fiance. But her escape has dire consequences when she learns the scorned clan has sent an assassin after her. 

And when the assassin, Naji, finally catches up with her, things get even worse. Ananna inadvertently triggers a nasty curse — with a life-altering result. Now Ananna and Naji are forced to become uneasy allies as they work together to break the curse and return their lives back to normal. Or at least as normal as the lives of a pirate and an assassin can be.

Review

   Ananna has much bigger plans for her life than her parents do.  So when they arrange a marriage with a fellow pirate captain's son, she makes a break for it.  Planning on eventually becoming the captain of her own ship, she's willing to take the risk of striking out on her own - even if it means that her fiance, Tarrin of the Hariri, and his parents will send an assassin after her for the insult.  Which of course they do and when Ananna finds herself on the end of Naji's blade she thinks her death is certain.  But then she saves his life from a deadly snake and they are bound by an impossible curse that appoints him as her protector, however unwilling.  Is there a way to break an impossible curse, or will the pirate and the assassin be stuck together forever?  Also, are the Hariri clan the only enemies on their trail or does a secret in Naji's past hold a far deadlier resolution?  I thought that this book would end up disappointing me like the last assassin book I read, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, did.  I however was pleasantly surprised by this one.  It has a lot more action and adventure than I expected, with only a slight hint of unrequited romance near the very end.  This book was ride, starting with the prison break of Ananna at the beginning from her arranged marriage to a man she knows won't treat her as an equal.  I love that she is such a strong character, very honest and witty in a normal sort of way.  She never hesitates to say what she's thinking or to do what she believes is right.  Plus, she has a lot more common sense than a lot of YA heroines do.  And she freaking USES IT!!!  How rare is that?  Naji is a kick-ass assassin, but he's also a sensitive and oblivious young guy who doesn't understand friendship and leads a really messed up life.  The two of them together are absolutely hilarious and the side characters like the bitchy Leila were a great addition to the sometimes slowly moving pace of the plot.  The authentic speech on the part of Ananna surprised me - not a lot of authors throw in that particular detail and it was nice addition that a girl raised by pirate parents actually talked like one too.  Overall this was a fairly satisfying book, even if the majority of it was setup and world-building without a dramatic cliffhanger or climax at the ending.  I am looking forward to what should be non-stop action and adventure in the sequel.  Highly recommended to fantasy, pirate and adventure fans who want a book where romance IS NOT the driving force for once! :)

VERDICT:  4.35/5  Stars

*I received an Advanced Reading E-book Copy from the publisher, via NetGalley. No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book's expected publication date is October 2nd, 2012.*

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Our Love Is Elemental


Published: March 27th, 2012
Elemental (Elemental # 0.5)
By: Brigid Kemmerer
Kensington Teen
ASIN:  B006MLKZAG

Earth, Fire, Air, Water – they are more than you dream.

As an air Elemental, 17-year-old Emily Morgan doesn’t have much power. That’s okay—she knows what happens to kids who do.

Like Michael Merrick. He’s an earth Elemental, one with enough power to level cities. Which makes him sexy. Dangerous. And completely off limits. At least according to Emily’s family.

But her summer job puts her in close contact with Michael, and neither of them can help the attraction they feel. When forces of nature like theirs collide, one misstep could get someone killed. Because Emily’s family doesn’t just want her to stay away from him.

They want him dead.


Review

   In a world that harbors people with power linked to the elements, Michael Merrick shouldn't be that unusual.  But given that he has enough power to probably level the entire town if his emotions get out of control, he's different from the other earth Elementals.  His parents have made a deal with the rest of the Elemental community that as long as he doesn't use his powers, they'll allow him to stay alive - but that doesn't mean they're going to stop trying to provoke him into slipping up.  Emily Morgan is an air Elemental from a wealthy family and has been told her entire life that Michael is dangerous and off-limits.  She never questioned it, until her brother came home with a black eye and she found out that he got it from jumping one of Michael's younger brothers.  Now, working at the batting cages/driving range where he goes twice a week after work, Emily is frightened at first to be around him.  But soon he has her questioning the truth of her life, her family and the very definition of danger.  Can they bridge the gap that hate has caused between their families?  Or will their story have a tragic ending?  I have been hearing so much about this series lately, about 99% of it glowing praise, that I decided to take the plunge into reading it sooner rather than later.  I absolutely loved this short story!  I don't usually read them, but after hearing that it made Michael seem more sympathetic than book # 1 (Storm), I chose to read in sequence including the short stories.  I like that the story manages to showcase the differences between Michael and Emily's family lives in such a short period of time.  He loves his family and they want the best for him, trying to protect him at every turn.  Her family is more distant and cold, stiffling in their protectiveness.  I appreciated that Emily, as much as she was desperate to escape her life, had never realized until meeting Michael just how sheltered and inclusive she really was.  Emily thought she was so different, but had instinctively believed eveything her parents and brother Tyler told her.  When Michael and Emily truly begin to interact it turns intense pretty fast.  I love the initial standoff with Em wielding the golf club.  It made me crack up.  My main complaint is that Brigid got my heart racing and my mind going crazy, only to end on a cliffhanger!  Then book # 1 picked up years later, with a different brother as the focal point!  What the h-e-double hockeysticks HAPPENED???  Now I have to read all of them just to find out!  I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys paranormal romance with some snarky attitude and awesome characters - but do yourself a favor, and have the next one on hand to read immediately afterwards!

VERDICT:  4.25/5  Stars

*No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book is now available online.  I purchased my copy at Amazon.com*

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

It's All Been Done Before


Published: March 27th, 2012 (Originallly Published: May 22nd, 1998)
Titanic: The Long Night
Open Road Young Readers
ISBN-13: 9781453248188

Two teenagers discover true love aboard the doomed ocean liner
Elizabeth Farr never wanted to return to America. During her family’s vacation abroad, she has fallen in love with England, and is despondent when her father refuses to let her stay. Returning to New York means having her debut into society, and that means a swiftly arranged marriage. Elizabeth will never go to college, never learn to be a reporter—as she sees it, her life is over as soon as the Titanic reaches port. Of course, if she’s unlucky, her life will be over far sooner than that. As Elizabeth and her family settle into their first-class cabins, Katie Hanrahan, a young Irish girl with dreams of finding fortune in America, makes her way to a steerage berth. Both girls have plans for the future, but love and death are about to intervene. 

This ebook features an illustrated biography of Diane Hoh including rare photos and never-before-seen documents from the author’s personal collection.

Review

   Elizabeth Farr is an heiress who has never wanted for anything in her life - except the freedom to make her own decisions.  Now she is stuck on the Titanic with her parents, who plan on marrying her off to a man she doesn't love when they reach America again and refuse to listen to her pleas for a college education.  Elizabeth is prepared to spend most of the voyage in arguments and misery, but then she meets fellow passenger Max Whittaker, who is dressed like a third-class passenger, but comes from her own level of society.  He has been studying art in Paris against his family's wishes and plans to return to New York and study some more, without the support of the family money.  Elizabeth is intrigued by him and the life he's made for himself, by striking out without his family's support.  Although her Mother tries to separate them at every opportunity, she finds herself falling in love with him slowly, as much as she is infuriated by him.  Third-class passenger Katie Hanrahan is a young Irish girl, with dreams of becoming a famous singer in the big cities of America.  Traveling alongside her are brothers Patrick "Paddy" and Brian Kelleher, who respectively dream of being a writer and going west to own their own land.  The three young people have a complicated relationship, with Paddy assuming romance between Katie and Brian, but Katie falling in love with Paddy and Brian befriending a Dutch girl on board.  As both girls struggle to figure out what they will do with their lives once they reach the shores of America, everything around them changes in an instant.  When tragedy befalls the Titanic, who will survive and who will be consigned to a watery grave?  This book had me intrigued, because of the fact that it is actually is a republication of a novel written in the late '90s.  I have been meaning to read it and I finally managed to get around to it.  This was a book with some decently written characters, but I found myself annoyed at the cliched approach to the disaster, with a split narrative focused on a first class girl and a third class girl.  I was happy that it wasn't one of those horrid, cross-class romances that seem to pop-up constantly for the Titanic (I support intra-class romance, but it is unlikely it happened quite as much as portrayed).  I found Elizabeth annoying in her bratty approach to getting her parents to see her side of things and her complete indecision about breaking away.  Max came across as a smug, arrogant jerk with occasional moments of nicety.  Katie was a well drawn character and I loved the fact that she wasn't afraid to speak her mind, especially when the first class passengers toured third class and gawked like it was a zoo.  I enjoyed the fact that a majority of this book focused on the panic, frantic action and overall sadness of the disaster itself - as it was happening.  But one thing that TRULY irked me into leaving off a star and a half (at least) was the fact that four out of five of the main teen characters survived.  How likely is that?  Not very and it really bugged me a lot, during and afterwards.  Overall a decent novel, but not one I would recommend to anyone who will be bothered by the unrealistic survival rate of the characters.

VERDICT:  3.25/5  Stars

*I received an Advanced Reading E-book Copy from the publisher, via NetGalley. No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book was published March 27th, 2012.*

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Wishing Spell (The Land of Stories # 1) by: Chris Colfer


Published: July 17th, 2012
The Wishing Spell (The Land of Stories # 1)
Written By: Chris Colfer, Illustrated by: Brandon Dorman
Little, Brown Young Readers
ISBN-13:  9780316201575

Alex and Conner Bailey’s world is about to change, in this fast-paced adventure that uniquely combines our modern day world with the enchanting realm of classic fairytales.

The Land of Stories tells the tale of twins Alex and Conner. Through the mysterious powers of a cherished book of stories, they leave their world behind and find themselves in a foreign land full of wonder and magic where they come face-to-face with the fairy tale characters they grew up reading about.

But after a series of encounters with witches, wolves, goblins, and trolls alike, getting back home is going to be harder than they thought.

Review

   Twins Alex and Conner Bailey are having a rough time since they lost their Dad.  As much as they're trying to do their best, Conner is falling asleep in class and getting in trouble and Alex is retreating even further into herself and her books.  When their Mom has to work on their twelfth birthday, their Grandma comes to stay the night with them and celebrate.  She brings their childhood storybook, The Land of Stories, with her to give to them as a present.  Alex is especially excited, until the book starts reacting weirdly to her.  Determined to explain it through science, Alex begins investigating.  But when Conner confronts her and they both  fall INTO the book, they have bigger problems than who was right or wrong.  Such as the fact that magic is real in this world and so are fairy tales.  But things aren't like our world thinks they are and the twins have to deal with homicidal witches, gangs of wolves and a Frog-man who may be hiding something important.  And when their only way home might be something called the Wishing Spell, Alex and Conner must race to beat the Evil Queen to the ingredients so they can return home.  Will they be stuck in the Land of Stories for good, or will they make it back to their Mom?  Are the twins connected to the magical world even more than they know?  And why does the Evil Queen need the wishing spell?  This was definitely an interesting book.  I didn't even realize until I read the author bio that it was written by the guy who is Kurt on Glee.  I just picked it up because of the major fairy tale elements involved in it.  Goldilocks is a fugitive, Red Riding Hood is vain nitwit whose Grandma runs her kingdom which is being terrorized by a vicious pack of wolves, there are three King Charmings (brothers) and Snow White's stepmother, the Evil Queen, has escaped from the dungeon.  Oh yeah, and there's a frog-man who used to be a Prince! :)  I thought it was fun that Colfer explained the multiple Prince Charmings (Snow White's, Sleeping Beauty's, and Cinderella's) as being brothers.  The hardships the characters faced after their happily ever afters are spotlighted and it makes them more realistic as characters, more fleshed out than in the original stories.  I absolutely fell in love with the Evil Queen's backstory and thought it was wonderful!  I liked the quest the twins went on and thought the plot was well-paced and had a good, cohesive beginning and ending.  Alex is a smart, bookworm know it all, whose starstruck emotions at seeing the fairy tale characters I could identify with.  Conner is a sarcastic, wisecracking kid who is insecure about his lack of book-smarts, but knows a lot more common sense then his sister.  They were very well-drawn characters for such a short book.  The twist that connected Goldilocks, Red Riding Hood and Jack (from the Jack & the Beanstalk story) was absolute genius.  But this book was very middle grade, which means that it was quite below my reading level and not my normal reading material.  I liked it, but it was overly simplistic at certain points and it did just make me a little more ambivalent than I might have been.  The family revelation that the twins discovered wasn't completely unexpected, but it was well written.  I am curious to read the next book in the series and I truly enjoyed this one very much.  I would recommend it to readers who love fairy tales and don't mind reading middle-grade fiction.

VERDICT:  3.95/5  Stars

*I received this book as part of Around the World ARC Tours, run by the lovely Princess Bookie. No favors or money were exchanged for this review.   This book became available for purchase on July 17th, 2012.*