Saturday, May 13, 2017

An Ode to Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time, ABC's fairy tale fantasy drama, is, and will always be, one of my favorite TV shows. My love affair with the show started with the promo's advertising the premiere. A fan of "genre" shows, Once Upon a Time looked right up my alley.

Its colorful premise stood out among the endless cycle of police and medical procedurals. How could a show about a cool 28 year old woman who finds herself in Storybrooke, Maine, a town where fairy tale characters have been cursed to forget who they are by the evil queen, not be amazingly entertaining, especially to a Disney fan like me?

The pilot aired and happily, I was right. Once Upon a Time caught my attention from the first moment to the last. The show was the breathe of fresh air that I needed. It was a show filled with hope. It was (and still is) escapism at its best.

We're running up on nearly six complete seasons of Once Upon a Time with a "rebooted" seventh season on the way. Along the way, there have been a few shake ups, with last minute plot changes made to accommodate new character additions, dropping ratings and, most recently, the loss of half of the original cast (some by choice, others not so much). Among the lows, however, there have been many highs. That is what this post is going to celebrate: the best of Once Upon a Time.

Life is made up of moments, as Prince Charming aka David Nolan, has been known to say. There have been so many moments in Once Upon a Time that have touched me in some way, whether they made me laugh, cry or smile. Below are a few of my favorites.

Episode 01x02, The Thing You Love Most:
Regina, who has yet to embrace her good side, isn't too happy that Emma is looking at staying in Storybrooke. After attempting to run her out of town, Emma takes issue with Regina's tactics and takes a chainsaw to one of the Evil Queen's apple trees. The apple tree scene is a great example of how good showrunners Adam Horowitz and Eddie Kitsis are. This one scene gives us so much insight into Emma (and Regina's) characters and is great fun to watch.

Episode 01x7, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
Remember Sheriff Graham, played by Jamie Dornan? Regina's one time casual lover and Storybrooke's original Sheriff? Well, this death was devastating. Once Upon a Time surprised all of us with the death of this fan favorite character so early into the season. For a show about hope, this scene was shocking. I still miss him! (Also notice Emma's curly princess hair. That only lasted a season, I think!)

Episode 01x17, Hat Trick
Jefferson, oh Jefferson. Jefferson, played by the Sebastian Stan, was used a handful of times in season 1 of Once Upon a Time before he hit it big in the Marvel films. Hat Trick is the best Hatter themed episode and features a moment that I love. In this episode, Jefferson, aka the Mad Hatter, kidnaps Emma in order to have her recreate the magical hat he used in the Enchanted Forest to jump realms. Jefferson represented the only character to actually remember his fairy tale past. In this scene, he tries to convince Emma that magic is real, that it exists. Besides seeing some progression on the idea that Emma might one day believe Henry's story about the origin of the town and its inhabitants, it also has a bit of (unintentional) romantic tension (though this angle was never explored in the show).

Episode 1x22, A Land Without Magic
Raise your hand if you were shocked to see Emma break the curse so early into the series. I was, too! My favorite moment of that episode wasn't the kiss in the hospital or the 'what the heck just happened' expression on Emma's face. It was Snow, played by Ginny Goodwin, and Charming, played by Josh Dallas, seeing each other on the street, running to each other and embracing.

Episode 2x06, Tallahassee
Holy Shipping, Batman, Emma and Hook forever! This episode had so many moments for me. Hook, played by Colin O'Donohue, and Emma's natural chemistry was clearly on display in this episode. On top of that, we got to learn about Neal, who would eventually play a huge roll in Emma's growth as an adult (and, of course, helped spawn Henry). This episode started me on the path of shipping my beloved Captain Swan.

Episode 2x14, Manhattan
Sometimes, just due to the nature of the show, our band of heroes has been forced to say, well, really weird lines. Manhattan has one of the weirdest and best delivered lines of all time. Emma finds Neal, the man who left her to rot in jail for a robbery he committed and who just so happens to be Rumple's long lost son. In the bar, after Emma chases him down and hears his story, Emma has to make this doozy of a line believable: You left me (beat) and let me go to prison because Pinocchio told you to? Jennifer Morrison deserves an Emmy for her delivery of that line.

Episode 3x03, Quite a Common Fairy
By season 3, we'd seen a lot of backstory on Regina, aka the Evil Queen, but this is one of my favorite Regina episodes. Watching Regina, played by Lana Parrilla, stand outside the bar where her true love sits, seeing her as she faces a huge fear, the fear of 'what do you do once you've found the one', was relatable on so many levels. I felt for her in that moment.

Episode 3x06, Ariel
In Ariel, the Scooby gang found themselves in the Echo caves. The only way to save Neal, who had been kidnapped by Pan, was to share a secret no one knew. Big secrets were shared, but the biggest came from Emma. Learning that Emma wanted Neal to be dead was dark, especially for a show thats through line is hope.

Episode 4x11, Shattered Sight
While I really do enjoy the Frozen arc and Elsa's relationship with Emma, there aren't many moments in it that stand out. As an arc, I think everything flowed nicely. However, this moment, the moment the Snow Queen's curse of Shattered Sight took effect and the aftereffect it had on Snow and Charming (who locked themselves in the sheriff's station as to not hurt one another) was great. Adding to the hilarity was Anna, who was trying so hard to help the situation, but failing. (Kristoff wasn't helping matters much!)

Episode 5x08, Birth
Talk about a sucker punch to the gut, Killian dying in Camelot was unexpected and heartbreaking. Emma turning him into a Dark One to save him was equally unexpected.

Episode 5x12, Souls of the Departed
One thing I enjoyed about the Underworld arc was that it felt somewhat reminiscent of the first season. In Souls of the Departed, Regina gets a chance to see her father, Henry, again and make up for the darkness her father saw her do. The most touching aspect of this reunion is when she introduces her father to young Henry, his namesake.

Episode 5x19, Sisters:
Regina and her half sister Zelena's relationship wasn't always handled well, in my opinion, but Sisters, as an episode was amazingly touching. The scene with Cora meeting Zelena and then saying goodbye to her girls was heartbreaking and beautiful.

Episode 6x20, The Song In Your Heart
To be fair, I should probably rewatch season 6 before picking out my favorite bits, but for the moment, the entire season has been eclipsed by one of the most fun episodes of the entire series, the musical episode! The songs were spot on. Nothing seemed out of place. It was practically perfect.

While we are getting a seventh season of Once Upon a Time, the story of the Charmings and their daughter Emma seems complete. With their departure from the show, along with (not so) little Henry, Zelena and Belle, season seven's reboot will surely be a new and exciting frontier. One that, I hope, brings us as much hope and joy as the first six seasons did.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Review: The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell

Title: The Princess Curse
Author: Merrie Haskell
Genre: YA, Juvi, fairy tale, light romance
Star Rating: 4/5 stars

Taken from Goodreads, "Twelve princesses suffer from a puzzling (if silly) curse, and anyone who ends it will win a reward. Reveka, a sharp-witted and irreverent apprentice herbalist, wants that reward. But her investigations lead to deeper mysteries and a daunting choice--will she break the curse at the peril of her own soul?"

Well, this is a tough one. 'The Princess Curse' is a solid read, but is tarnished by the fact that it clearly reads like the first book in a series and not a standalone. If a sequel were being published, this wouldn't be a problem, but as there is no planned sequel... Storylines are tied up to a point, but there's a ton of things hinted at throughout the novel that are left open (and not all of those things are small, inconsequential things!).

The beginning of the novel was a little slow for me. I wasn't hooked until I was about 1/3rd into the story. Other than that, the storytelling was filled with some great lines, some of which gave me a laugh. The main character in this novel is only 13, so while romance is discussed, we don't see much of it. Honestly, though, it would have been a little weird for me if they'd gone further into the romance storyline, with the main character being so young. The final chapters (epilogue, if you will) seemed a little rushed, but the pacing over all wasn't too bad.

Speaking of the characters, I quite liked them. They weren't all developed to the extent they could have been (like the Gardners apprentice), but overall, the main leads seemed pretty solid.

The main problem with this novel is that it just isn't complete. There is a complete story that is told, but it's clear to me that this is just the first of what should be at least two novels. However, I think I still may recommend 'The Princess Curse' to young readers looking for a solid read. (At the very least, maybe it will help get us a sequel!)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Review: 'Stravaganza: City of Swords' by Mary Hoffman

Title: Stravaganza: City of Swords 
Author: Mary Hoffman 
Genre: YA, Juvi, fantasy, coming of age, friendship, 6th in series 
Star Rating: 3/5 stars 

 Borrowed from Goodreads, "Desperately unhappy, Laura has resorted to secretly self-harming. But Laura is a Stravagante, somebody who can travel in time and space. When she finds her talisman, a small silver dagger, she stravagates with it to sixteenth-century Fortezza, a town similar to Lucca in Italy, where she meets her Stravagante, who is a swordsmith. But Laura also meets the charming and attractive Ludo, and falls for him. Their love for each other is tested when Ludo lays claim to the crown of Fortezza, and Laura finds herself fighting on the side of the Stravaganti opposing him." 

'City of Swords', what to say... Let me start with this: I really do love the Stravaganza series as a whole. Everything from the characters to the settings to the overall concept-- I love it. 'City of Swords' is the sixth and final book in this under appreciated series by Mary Hoffman. I'll miss jumping into Talia with the Stravaganti for many reasons, most of all because every time I opened a Stravaganza book, it felt like I was back in Italy!

On to 'City of Swords'... Is it my favorite of the series? No. Is it as engaging and entertaining as other Stravaganza books? No. Is it a good read for those who have read the books before it? Yes. Is it a fitting close to a fantastic series? Minus a few loose ends, I think so. The writing style used in '...Swords' seemed different to me than the books before it.

The downsides of the novel? The majority of the story was spent in the real world, rather than Talia. Also, we learned what was going on through long paragraphs of explanation, as opposed to seeing the action or learning it through dialogue. I didn't find Laura's character to be as fleshed out as the rest and her story, strangely enough, didn't hold as much as importance as I would have expected. The romance was between Laura and a certain someone was a nice addition to the story, but we, as readers, didn't get to see it develop enough to care as much as we should about it, I think.

Besides those concerns (that mostly had to do with Laura's plotline), I loved the interaction between the past stravaganti and loved, loved, loved everything that had to do with Luciano! His parts made me smile! Do I wish this had been a more solid read? Of course. However, I'm glad I've taken these trips to Talia, seeing such wonderful places and meeting fun, interesting characters. While the future of the series is uncertain at the moment, one thing is for sure; I'll truly miss following new Stavaganti into the beautiful cities of Talia.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Review: Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger

Title: Keeper of the Lost Cities
Author: Shannon Messenger
Genre: Juvi, fantasy, coming of age, first in series
Star Rating: 5/5 stars

'Fablehaven' by Brandon Mull. 'The Emerald Atlas' by John Stephens. 'Vampirates' by Justin Somper. 'Harry Potter' by JK Rowling. 'Knightley Academy' by Violet Haberdasher. These are all great juvi (middle grade) titles that entertain kids 8 to 108. After sailing through this amazing read, I must add 'Keeper of the Lost Cities' to that list!

'Keeper of the Lost Cities' by Shannon Messenger is a fantastic book. You don't want to miss out on the pure enjoyment found in this debut novel.  'Keeper of the Lost Cities' follows Sophie, a 12 year old girl with incredible smarts and the ability to hear peoples thoughts. She's a bit of an outsider, being a 12 year old high school senior and never really feeling like she fit in completely with her family, either. Until, that is, she meets a mysterious boy who tells her that she is far more than an ordinary human.

I won't lie-- I loved reading 'Keeper of the Lost Cities'. It was the most enjoyable read I've had in a long time. Everything from beginning to end was perfect. 'Keeper of the Lost Cities' literally had a little of everything-- awesome characters, a well paced plot, inklings of future romance, a very cool world and an addicting writing style.

The plot's pacing was perfect. I've found since starting this blog that one of my biggest pet peeves is when the plot is uneven (fast here, slow here, etc), but 'Keeper of the Lost Cities' was perfectly paced.

Another great thing about pacing? There is a complete story told in 'Keeper of the Lost Cities', even though it is the first of three novels. While there are still unanswered questions and there is clearly something happening in Sophie's new world we don't know about, there are other ideas and themes that do come full circle within the 500 pages of this debut novel.

The characters? Love them. Sophie was a 12 year old lead with a voice that was completely readable to readers of all ages. The secondary characters are equally as fantatic as Sophie. Fitz and Keefe, two of the three guys who may or may not find love in future volumes, made my favorite characters list almost instantly after they were introduced. And the good doctor (whose name I am forgetting at the moment)? I found myself looking forward to Sophie getting hurt just so we could have some of that quick witted dialogue between her and him. He might just be one of my favorite adult characters in a juvi novel!

I have no complaints about 'Keeper of the Lost Cities'. It deserves high honors.  I guarantee you'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll fall in love, and you'll have a blast while reading.  It's a fantastic read!

'Keeper of the Lost Cities' gets five stars from me (surprise, surprise!).  If you like contemporary fantasy tales with heartfelt characters and great plots, you need to add 'Keeper of the Lost Cities' to your 'to read' list. You won't regret it!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Review: Angel Eyes by Shannon Dittemore

Title: Angel Eyes
Author: Shannon Dittemore
Genre: YA, Supernatural, Romance, Coming of Age, Religious undertones
Star Rating: 2/5

Taken from Goodreads, "Brielle’s a ballerina who went to the city to chase her dreams and found tragedy instead. She’s come home to shabby little Stratus, Oregon, to live with her grief and her guilt . . . and the incredible, numbing cold she can’t seem to shake. Jake’s the new guy at school. The boy next door with burning hands and an unbelievable gift that targets him for corruption. 

Something more than fate has brought them together. An evil bigger than both of them lurks in the shadows nearby, hiding in plain sight. Two angels stand guard, unsure what’s going to happen. And a beauty brighter than Jake or Brielle has ever seen is calling them to join the battle in a realm where all human choices start. A realm that only angels and demons—and Brielle—can perceive."

'Angel Eyes' by Shannon Dittemore is a supernatural, angel themed YA read with religious undertones.  While I didn't love this novel, there were some aspects I really did enjoy.  Jumping right to the point, I liked that Brielle wasn't your typical heroine.  Normally, our female leads are in a 'fish out of water' position.  In this case, Brielle was coming back from her 'fish out of water' experience.  She had lived and grown before the novel even started.  We are introduced to her when she's at a bit of a low point in her life, coming back from this big, life changing event.  I loved that.

Brielle, as a character, was a solid main character.  Her reactions and thoughts seemed natural and she was a pretty relatable character.  The other characters were also engaging.  Jake, the love interest, seemed to have more of a role in the story than most male leads in past angel themed novels.

The reason I didn't rate this novel higher mostly falls on pacing. The beginning and end were fine, but the middle dragged a bit.  I had to push through it, because I didn't want to give up on 'Angel Eyes' when I liked the characters and the overall storyline.  That being said, it took some skimming through the middle bits to get back to a point where I felt I should read word for word, page by page.

This novel isn't for everyone.  If you don't like books with slight religious undertones, 'Angel Eyes' might not be your cup of tea.  However, the characters and the overall storyline are worth giving this a looksie otherwise!  'Angel Eyes' gets 2 out of 5 stars and is available wherever books are sold.

Review: Starters by Lissa Price

Title: Starters 
Author: Lissa Price 
Genre: YA, Dystopian, Sci-fi 
Star Rating: 3/5 Stars 

Taken from Goodreads, "Callie lost her parents when the Spore Wars wiped out everyone between the ages of twenty and sixty. She and her little brother, Tyler, go on the run, living as squatters with their friend Michael and fighting off renegades who would kill them for a cookie. Callie's only hope is Prime Destinations, a disturbing place in Beverly Hills run by a mysterious figure known as the Old Man.

He hires teens to rent their bodies to Enders—seniors who want to be young again. Callie, desperate for the money that will keep her, Tyler, and Michael alive, agrees to be a donor. But the neurochip they place in Callie's head malfunctions and she wakes up in the life of her renter, living in her mansion, driving her cars, and going out with a senator's grandson. It feels almost like a fairy tale, until Callie discovers that her renter intends to do more than party—and that Prime Destinations' plans are more evil than Callie could ever have imagined. . . ."

'Starters' had a lot of hype attached to it. It was being toted as the the next 'big' thing. Admittedly, I may have bought into that hype a bit, because I expected a little more than I got with this novel, 'Starters'. The concept is pretty cool-- the idea that people 'rent' bodies or lifestyles is intriguing and something I wouldn't put past people actually doing if the technology were really there.

As far as pro's, I liked the characters. Callie seemed like your typical 'protector' type. The book is told from her perspective and, while it does get a bit tiring being 'in her head' for so long, she's a pretty good lead character. Her supporting characters, enders in borrowed bodies, were, surprisingly great characters. With the first third of the book taking place in Callie's head, these supporting characters were totally welcome, in my opinion! The 'love interest', Blake, turned out to be pretty shallow in terms of characterization, but I think that might have something to do with the twist revealed later in the novel.

Despite the characters, I found issue with a few things in 'Starters'. While I finished the book pretty quickly, I found myself thinking 'where is this story going and when will we get there' a lot more than usual. The storytelling stalled a bit there in the middle, but thankfully picked up towards the end to a good conclusion with a surprising twist. The other con, I'd have to say, dealt with the world and history. I get that there was a war and that a large chunk of the middle aged population died, but everything else was a bit fuzzy. For example, why do people live so long in her society? The enders aren't just in their 80's or 90's, but in their hundreds. Also, it seemed like the world went downhill pretty quickly after this spore war, which I don't find completely believable.

All in all, 'Starters' was a decent novel with a good concept and some interesting characters, but fell short a bit. Was it a good enough novel for me to continue on with the series? I think so. Would I recommend it to others looking for a dystopian tale? Again, I think so. 'Starters' receives 3 out of 5 stars and is available everywhere books are sold.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Review: The Hunt by Andrew Fukuda

Title: The Hunt
Author: Andrew Fukuda
Genre: YA, dystopian, action, slight romance
Star Rating: 2/5 stars

Taken from 'Goodreads', "Gene is different from everyone else around him. He can’t run with lightning speed, sunlight doesn’t hurt him and he doesn’t have an unquenchable lust for blood. Gene is a human, and he knows the rules. Keep the truth a secret. It’s the only way to stay alive in a world of night—a world where humans are considered a delicacy and hunted for their blood. 

When he’s chosen for a once in a lifetime opportunity to hunt the last remaining humans, Gene’s carefully constructed life begins to crumble around him. He’s thrust into the path of a girl who makes him feel things he never thought possible—and into a ruthless pack of hunters whose suspicions about his true nature are growing. Now that Gene has finally found something worth fighting for, his need to survive is stronger than ever—but is it worth the cost of his humanity?"

'The Hunt' is a quick read with a slightly similar storyline to the Hunger Games.  The idea behind the 'human hunt' is that the human population be controlled through means of a battle royale (of sorts) between the thriving alien species and the remaining human population.

As far as covers go, I like the cover design on 'The Hunt'.  It's an engaging cover with some fun elements.  I love the ripped cut out showing the two lead characters.

In all honesty, it's not my favorite dystopian read.  The pacing was off through the entire novel.  The beginning felt slow and the ending felt rushed.  I wasn't surprised at the big reveal 200 pages in, either.  I had it pegged very early on.

The world was crafted well enough and, unlike some dystopian worlds, I had no problem figuring it out.  The world has some unique bits that separate it from other dystopian titles, but also suffers from having too much backstory.

The long and short of it?  While the idea was an interesting one, for me, 'The Hunt' just didn't hold up.  'The Hunt' wasn't my cup of tea and gets 2 out of 5 stars from this little blog.

Review: Meet Samantha by Susan Adler

Title: Meet Samantha
Author: Susan Adler
Genre: Juvi, historical fiction, friendship, growing up
Star Rating: 5/5 stars

Taken from Amazon, "Samantha Parkington is an orpan who lives with her rich grandmother in 1904. There are many servants in Grandmary's busy, bustling household, but there is no one for Samantha to play with. That's why she's so excited when Nellie moves in next door. Nellie has come to work so that she can send money back to her family in the city. Even though their lives are different, the two girls become good friends. One day Samantha discovers that Jessie, the seamstress, is leaving. No one will tell her why. So she and Nellie plan a secret midnight adventure to find out."

It is rare that two hobbies of mine collide, but that is exactly the case with 'Meet Samantha'. An avid doll collector, Samantha is one of my favorite American Girl dolls. Like many, I read this book series back in the early 90's when I was scrimping and saving my pennies for Pleasant Company's American Girl dolls. 2012, it seems, has been a year of re-reading for me, and I thought what better to re-read than Samantha's story?

Set in 1904, 'Meet Samantha' introduces us to 9 year old Samantha. Rich and upper class, Samantha is far from your typical socialite. She's full of spunk and not afraid to get dirty or speak her mind. This first book in this six book series is, for the most part, an introduction to the characters and settings. That's not to say there isn't a story, because there is, but a lot of this book concentrates on relationships.

What I love most about Samantha's story is the setting. 1904 was a time where you could realistically see cars and horse drawn carriages sharing roads. New things were being invented every day. Can you imagine?

I will forever recommend the Samantha book series to young readers.  They are great stories with great themes (ie: friendship, confidence, etc).  Even after all these years, I had a blast reading 'Meet Samantha' and your young reader will, too!  Because of that, this blog gives 'Meet Samantha' 5 out of 5 stars.

You can find 'Meet Samantha' at your local bookstore or library.