Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Delicious Mystery

Summertime has finally arrived in Lake Eden, Minnesota, and Hannah Swensen, owner of The Cookie Jar bakery, is looking forward to warm, lazy days, eating ice cream, and sharing picnics with friends. But when a family reunion takes a deadly turn, it's up to Hannah to find a killer... Between baking up a storm for The Cookie Jar and unraveling the mystery of her cat Moishe's recent strange behavior, Hannah Swensen has a lot on her plate. But she'll always make time for her business partner, Lisa, who's in the midst of preparing for a big family reunion. Everyone is delighted when Lisa's long-lost uncle makes a surprise appearance. No one has heard from Gus in twenty-five years--and his arrival has everyone buzzing with excitement.

Uncle Gus is immediately the hit of the reunion, telling tales of his great success and flashing money for all to see. He's almost as popular as Hannah's scrumptious carrot cake, which is also Gus's favorite dessert. But the next morning, as the whole family gathers for the group photo, one person is missing. Hannah offers to track down Uncle Gus, but her search leads to a shocking find. Over by the bar at the pavilion, she spots two slices of her infamous carrot cake, frosting-side down on the floor--and Gus's corpse with an ice pick jutting out of his chest!

A little snooping reveals that not everyone was celebrating Gus's return. And when Hannah unearths more secrets from Gus's past, she discovers even more people with an axe to grind. Now Hannah's got to sift through a long list of suspects to find a killer--even if it could mean a recipe for her own demise...

Includes 12 original dessert recipes for you to try!
Title: Carrot Cake Murder
Author: Joanne Fluke
Series: Hannah Swensen, Book
Start & Finished: 6/5/08-6/6/08
Published: 2008
Publisher: Thorndike
Pages: 288
Genre: Mystery

Like many cozy mystery writers, Joanne Fluke started off writing romance and eventually moved on to thrillers but having always loved baking; she wanted to do a cookie cookbook with little stories based on towns and people from her home state of Minnesota. Thanks to a suggestion from her editor, she instead started writing a culinary cozy mystery series that includes delicious recipes and has recently reached the tenth book with Carrot Cake Murder, though there are many more on the horizon.

I’ve been reading Fluke’s Hannah Swensen series for almost three years now and I still get just as excited when a new one comes out. They’re some of my favorite cozy culinary mysteries… actually; her books introduced me to this wonderful genre! Mysteries good, food great, what’s not to love? Hannah is a really strong character and while most of the time I could care less about finding the killer, I love the sleuthing Hannah has to go through (and the dangerous situations she faces).

Despite how much I do love this series, the old-fashioned courting of Hannah by her two love interests Mike and Norman has started to get old. I’m certainly not alone in this either with reader support for each guy drawn right down the middle (personally, I think Norman is a better match). Ms. Fluke, we’re ten books in (not counting those short stories in the Sugar in Spice and Candy Cane Murder anthologies) so please PICK ONE ALREADY!

I seriously wish that I had a local bakery like Hannah’s Cookie Jar but since I don’t, I’m so glad that there are tons of great recipes in every book. I think out of all the recipes from this series that I’ve tried, only two didn’t come out good but the others were scrumptious! The titled Special Carrot Cake looks oh, so, yummy but I'm the only one who would eat it so now I’ve got to decide which one of these to make: the Viking Cookies, the Cocoa Fudge Cake, or the Red Velvet Cookies. All of them sound so yummy!

Hannah Swensen
1. Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder (2000)
2. Strawberry Shortcake Murder (2001)
3. Blueberry Muffin Murder (2002)
4. Lemon Meringue Pie Murder (2003)
5. Fudge Cupcake Murder (2004)
6. Sugar Cookie Murder (2004)
7. Peach Cobbler Murder (2005)
8. Cherry Cheesecake Murder (2006)
9. Key Lime Pie Murder (2007)
10. Carrot Cake Murder (2008)
11. Candy Cane Murder (2008) (in Candy Cane Murder)
12. Cream Puff Murder (2009)
13. Plum Pudding Murder (2009)
14. Apple Turnover Murder (2010)

Links: Author (Wikipedia), Hannah Swensen Mysteries (Wikipedia)
Interview: Batter Chatter (Cake Spy)

Picture Explanations
Frog: the only living creature found in Gus' cabin
Water Lily Garden: Eden Lake's water lily garden that Norman takes Hannah to see
Carrot Cake: Hannah's Special Carrot cake!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Bloody Musical

Set in an imaginative world that only Tim Burton and Johnny Depp could capture, Sweeney Todd has been hailed as a masterpiece by critics and audiences everywhere. Supported by a stellar cast including Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen. Depp's "spellbinding" (NY Magazine) performance as Sweeney brilliantly elevates Burton's dark vision of a wronged man obsessed with revenge. Sweeney Todd is "mighty entertainment" (NY Post) that will win your heart with a vengeance.
Title: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Release: December 21, 2007
Genre: Musical/ Horror
MPAA Rating: R
Writer: Stephen Sondheim, Hugh Wheeler, Christopher Bond, & John Logan
Director: Tim Burton
Music By: Stephen Sondheim
Produced By: Richard D. Zanuck, John Logan, & Walter F. Parkes
Distributed By: DreamWorks & Warner Brothers
Run Time: 116 minutes
Official Site

The story of Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street has been around since Victorian times when it was first introduced in a penny dreadful serial and evolved over the years into a popular Broadway musical by Stephen Sondheim, two films, and even a ballet. Using the Sondheim musical as his main inspiration, Tim Burton adapted it into a film starring his two favorite people: actor Johnny Depp, with whom he had worked with in five other films and Helena Bonham-Carter, the mother of his children.

Johnny Depp may not be his usual gorgeous self as Sweeney Todd but he certainly can sing! I’d go as far to say that he can sing almost better than he can act, and that’s really saying something since he is one of my favorite present-day actors. Surprisingly, he was given the part of Sweeney Todd without anyone (including him) knowing whether or not he could sing while Bonham-Carter had to audition many times before she was given the role of Mrs. Lovett. Actually, everyone in the movie sings at one point. From the odd but not bad-sounding, bad guys Sacha Baron Cohen (who plays Signor Adolfo Pirelli) and Alan Rickman (who plays the hated Judge Turpin) to the startlingly, beautiful voices of Jayne Wisener (Johanna) and Helena Bonham-Carter.

I thought the film was a bit odd at first but I quickly began to like it and even if there were some slow and gross parts I didn’t really care for, I knew all the bad reviews I had read simply had to be wrong because to me, Johnny Depp and Tim Burton don’t make bad movies… especially together! True, it’s a strange little movie because it’s most certainly a musical but it’s also a horror movie too. There is still humor, beauty, and with the younger actors- a bit of purity to it, but the movie is most definitely a Burton film and has his signature dark look and feel. Okay, I’ll also concede that it was maybe a bit too gruesome but I’m not sure how much is Burton and how much is trying to be a faithful adaptation of the stage version.

What I am sure about is Mrs. Lovett completely stole the show and one of the best characters I have ever seen Ms. Bonham-Carter play. Sweeney Todd was nominated for, and in some cases, won literally dozens of awards, everything the Oscars (one win, one nomination), the Saturn (two wins, six nominations), and 20 other major awards. This movie is rated R for a very good reason.

Links: Imdb.com, character (Wikipedia), movie (Wikipedia), musical (Wikipedia), ReelzChannel (behind the scenes, interview, clips, etc.), Hollywood.com (interviews)




Friday, September 26, 2008

Sookie #8

The supernatural community in Bon Temps, Louisiana, is reeling from two hard blows- the supernatural disaster of Hurricane Katrina and the man-made horror of the explosion at the vampire summit the month before in the up-north city of Rhodes. Sookie Stackhouse is safe but dazed, yearning for things to get back to normal. But that’s just not happening. Too many vampires- some friends, some not- were killed or injured, and her weretiger boyfriend, Quinn, is among the missing.

It’s clear that things are changing, whether the Weres and vamps of her corner of Louisiana like it or not. And Sookie -friend of the pack and blood-bonded to Eric Northman, the leader of the local vampire community- is caught up in the changes.

In the ensuing battles, Sookie faces danger, death... and, once more, betrayal by someone she loves. And when the fur has finished flying and the cold blood flowing, her world will be forever altered...

Title: From Dead to Worse
Author: Charlaine Harris
Series: Sookie Stackhouse, Book 8
Start & Finished: 6/3/08- 6/4/08
Published: 2008
Publisher: Berkley
Pages: 359
Genre: Paranormal Mystery

The Southern Vampire Mysteries, an extremely popular paranormal series by author Charlaine Harris, has finally reached the eighth book in what will hopefully be a very long-lasting series. From Dead to Worse sees Louisiana barmaid, and telepath Sookie Stackhouse a lot less naïve, a lot more interesting, and also, even more popular in both her world and ours.

I discovered Charlaine Harris a couple of years ago and have since then read one of her completed series, and am caught up with the current books released in two others. While the Aurora Teagarden’s and the Harper Connelly books are remarkably good in their own way, no one will ever replace Sookie Stackhouse, my first Harris heroine. Not only is she the most appealing character, she’s also witty and interesting too. Plus, she has really yummy taste in guys!

After discovering how well-loved this heroine and her world is, Alan Ball (Six Feet Under) teamed up with HBO to bring Sookie to the small screen (TV) in True Blood which, judging by the fact it has already been green-lighted for a second season, seems like a pretty wise decision. It’s starting from the beginning so I’m not sure when or if anything from this book will make it into the adaptation but the war between the werewolves (with Sam and Sookie caught in the crossfire helping) was such a cool battle! What I wouldn’t give to see that filmed, so hopefully True Blood will last awhile. I really hope the few things that annoy me about the show (the main one is that the vampire’s fangs look like toothpicks among other things) either I’ll get used to or will eventually iron themselves out though.

Besides the Were fight, there are a few more skirmishes before the book is over. Oh and Sookie meets a couple of relatives she didn’t know she had too. From Dead to Worse is just as funny as ever and oh, so good! I seriously can’t wait for the next one since although a few problems were cleared up, there are always more that take their places. I saw the dwindling pages and I was so sad that it ended, Charlaine Harris just can’t write fast enough for me.

Southern Vampire Mysteries: Dead Until Dark, Living Dead in Dallas, Club Dead, Dead to the World, Dead as a Doornail, Definitely Dead, All Together Dead, From Dead to Worse

Other Charlaine Harris Related: Grave Surprise, An Ice Cold Grave, Aurora Teagarden #1-4 & #5-8

Links: Author (Wikipedia), True Blood Wikia
Interview: Author Q&A with Mighty Ganesha (slight spoilers), Star News Online

Picture Explanations
Chain: In Sookie's world, vampires and Weres can be subdued completely by silver chains
Lion: Sam is a rare type of shapeshifter and although he prefers the form of a dog, he can shift to just about anything.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Bewildering Mystery

And Then There Were None is the signature novel of Agatha Christie, the most beloved work of the world's bestselling novelist. It is a masterpiece of mystery and suspense that has been a fixture in popular literature for more than sixty years, a brilliant tale that remains as compelling today as ever.

First, there were ten- a curious assortment of strangers summoned as weekend guests to a private island off the coast of Devon. Their host, an eccentric millionaire unknown to any of them, is nowhere to be found. All that the guests have in common is a wicked past they're unwilling to reveal- and a secret that will seal their fate. For each has been marked for murder, and one by one they begin to fall prey to an unseen hand. As the only people on the island, unable to leave and unable to call for help, they know that the only possible suspects are among their number. And only the dead are above suspicion.
Title: And Then There Were None
Author: Dame Agatha Christie
Start & Finished: 6/1/08-6/2/08
Published: 1939
Publisher: G. P. Putnum
Pages: 204
Genre: Mystery

Agatha Christie’s most popular and most adapted stand-alone mystery, And Then There Were None has gone through a few re-writes and name changes over the years after the original title was deemed socially unacceptable. Like several of her other novels, this was partly inspired by a nursery rhyme by Septimus Winner called Ten Little Indians (the second name the story was published under) and then re-written to suit the purpose of the novel but it was also inspired by the real life Burgh Island too.

Recently I read my first Agatha Christie novel, Murder on the Orient Express who’s ending truly surprised me, so you would think I would be at least a little more prepared to read this one, but I never saw this ending coming either! Like Murder on the Orient Express, there were quite a few characters (10 to be exact) and for the first 100 pages I had to have a sheet of names reminding me who was who but as the “less guilty” parties died, the strong personalities of the others shined through. However, I never spared any sympathy for the Indian Island inhabitants; I just wanted to know who would die next! The unusual method of a killer’s interpretation of a poem is what makes this story so unique because of the effect it had on the characters. It made them even more tense to realize that they were dealing with a madman who could hide his madness by making everyone around him insane too.

Lest I seem unnecessarily bloodthirsty, let me explain: all and I mean all, of the guests of Mr. U.N. Owen are guilty of murder or lead to the death of a person- it just can’t be proven. For example, someone perjured their self on the witness stand and because of their testimony, an innocent person was sent to prison where he died, another person purposefully sent their spouse’s lover on a suicide mission, etc. Once Christie discovered that this book was to be adapted to the stage and that the ending and some of the reasons why the people are on the island would be re-written for a less shocking ending, she decided to re-write it herself and although not as dramatic or as interesting, it is the most commonly used form in other movie and stage adaptations. I know that there is a graphic novel being released soon based on this mystery but I would love it if a new film were made.

I think that by violating the standard mystery “rules” is what made the author such a success… rules were made to be broken after all. And Then There Were None or whatever you want to call it is a thoroughly puzzling mystery that Christie herself deemed “near-impossible” to solve. She has claimed it was one of her favorites and one which she was, understandably, proud of.

Other Agatha Christie Related: Murder on the Orient Express (book & movie)

Links: Book (Wikipedia), Author (Wikipedia), Burgh Island (Official Site)

Picture Explanations
Gramaphone: Near the beginning of the novel, a record is played condemning the guests of their crimes.
Island: This is Burgh Island, the inspiration of Indian Island from the book
Bumblebee: "Six little Indian boys playing with a hive; A bumblebee stung one and then there were five"

Monday, September 22, 2008

A History Mystery

Join Nicolas Cage on a heart-pounding adventure that will have you on the edge of your seat in a race to find the Lost City of Gold. Grounded in history, imbued with myth and mystery, Disney's National Treasure: Book Of Secrets takes you on a globe-trotting quest full of adrenaline-pumping twists and turns - all leading to the final clue in a mysterious and highly guarded book containing centuries of secrets. But there's only one way to find it - Ben Gates must kidnap the President. With heart-pounding chases, close calls, and crackling humor, this high-stakes crime caper is the most exciting treasure hunt you've ever experienced
Title: National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets
Release: December 21, 2007
Genre: Adventure
MPAA Rating: PG
Writer: Gregory Poirier, Terry Rossio, Ted Elliott, Marianne & Cormac Wibberley
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Music By: Trevor Rabin
Produced By: Jon Turteltaub & Jerry Bruckheimer
Distributed By: Walt Disney Pictures
Run Time: 125 minutes
Official Site

History and it’s mysteries come alive again in Jerry Bruckheimer’s sequel National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets. Unlike the first film, which concentrated on America and was filmed mainly in America, NT2 is more of an international story in which the characters (and the crew) visit places like Buckingham Palace, Mount Rushmore, and even Paris. All in search of the truth behind John Wilkes Booth’s missing diary pages.

What makes this movie (and the whole National Treasure franchise) really interesting is that a lot of the “clues” and things have a real life basis. For example, John Wilkes Booth really did have a diary and it really does have several pages missing from it. Well, of course it doesn’t hurt that there are car chase and other action scenes either!

To me, Jerry Bruckheimer is the king of great movies. I have honestly never seen a bad movie (or TV show) that he has produced that wasn’t fun, exciting, and had great actors attached to it. Speaking of great actors, National Treasure 2 has some new ones like Ed Harris (as Mitch Wilkenson) and Helen Mirren (as Ben’s mother Emily) but almost all of the previous veterans return too. My favorite character from these films is Riley Poole (played by Justin Bartha) because not only is he really cute, he’s also hilarious! Nicholas Cage and the rest of the crew were great too.

The first National Treasure blew me away because I’ve always found history intriguing but like many people, can’t stand the dryness of real history books and prefer to read historical fiction so seeing such a funny, action packed story was incredible. I’m so glad to say that not only is the sequel just as funny and action packed, it also keeps the same overall “tone” while still providing a new experience. I just wish that there were more films like this one but since the third National Treasure (complete title and subject still unknown) isn’t due out for a few years, I guess I’ll just have to continue to read about history through fiction until then. Matter of fact, there is a series of young adult books about the Gates family through the ages by Catherine Hapka

Links: Wikipedia, Imdb.com, ReelzChannel, Hollywood.com

Teaser Trailer:

Theatrical Trailer:

Sunday, September 21, 2008

"Fairy" Tale Romance

From world-renowned animator Don Bluth (An American Tail, Titan A.E.) and award-winning composer Barry Manilow comes Hans Christian Andersen's Thumbelina - a magical story that reminds us that if we follow our hearts, nothing is impossible. When Thumbelina, a tiny little girl- no bigger than her mother‘s thumb, meets Prince Cornelius, she is sure she's found her heart's desire. But before their romance can blossom, she is kidnapped by a family of show business toads and detained by a scheming beetle when all she wants is to go home and be reunited with Cornelius.
Title: Thumbelina
Release: March 30, 1994
Genre: Animated
MPAA Rating: G
Based On: Thumbelina by Hans Christian Anderson
Writer: Don Bluth
Director: Don Bluth & Gary Goldman
Music By: Barry Manilow, William Ross, Mark Isham
Produced By: Don Bluth & Gary Goldman
Distributed By: Warner Bros. Family Entertainment & 20th Century Fox
Run Time: 86 minutes

Making an animated film is always a major challenge, especially ones that are based upon Hans Christian Anderson’s beloved fairy tales. Outside of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, there are few that are even remarkable and although it was considered a flop at the time, Don Bluth’s Thumbelina but has developed a bit of a fan following over the years.

Almost all companies have gone bankrupt at one time or another due to a “flop” and very few are ever able to recover, Don Bluth’s studio is one of these. During Disney’s period of making “just okay” films, he quit their studio in order to make animation the way it should be. After the success of his An American Tale and The Land Before Time, the Disney Company started to feel threatened and stepped up their work. Thus, The Little Mermaid was created and Bluth’s All Dogs Go to Heaven; released the same year, suffered (although of course since it’s such a great movie the video sales were good). That little nudge Bluth gave the sleeping Disney giant is partly the reason we got all of those great Disney films in the early 90s. It’s also part of the reason Mr. Bluth’s studio went bankrupt.

Other than starting off as a fairy tale written by the same man, Thumbelina has something else in common with Disney’s The Little Mermaid: three characters provide voices in both films! Kenneth Mars (King Colbert) was King Triton, Will Ryan (the dog Hero and Reverend Rat) was a sea horse, and Jodi Benson was both Ariel and Thumbelina. Which is why the songs are the best part of this film and why I can’t understand how it was the only animated film to receive a Razzie for Worst Original Song (Marry the Mole).

While I won’t say I’m a fan of the movie even though I generally love Don Bluth (and have done so before I was old enough to know the difference between, I do like it. Maybe not as much as I did when my grandmother took me to see it in theaters as a kid, but I still enjoy it. Mr. Don Bluth can tell a story very well and Jodi Benson has the voice of an angel… or at least that of a fairy!

Related Don Bluth Reviews: The Land Before Time, Banjo the Woodpile Cat, Xanadu, The Secret of NIMH, An American Tale, The Animated Films of Don Bluth by John Cawley

Links: Don Bluth's Official Site, Imdb.com, Thumbelina fairy tale (Wikipedia), Thumbelina movie (Wikipedia), Thumbelina Storyboards, Fan Site

Trailer #1:

Trailer #2:

Original Siskel & Ebert's Review:

Friday, September 19, 2008

An Intelligent Monster Story

Just days before a massive exhibition opens at the popular New York Museum of Natural History, visitors are being savagely murdered in the museum’s dark hallways and secret rooms. Autopsies indicate that the killer cannot be human…

But the museum’s directors plan to go ahead with a big bash to celebrate the new exhibition, in spite of the murders.

Museum researcher Margo Green must find out who- or what- is doing the killing. But can she do it in time to stop the massacre?

Title: Relic
Author: Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Start & Finished: 5/30/08-6/1/08
Published: 1995
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates Book
Pages: 382
Genre: Techno-Thriller/ Horror

Techno-thriller, horror author duo Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have written numerous novels together. They’ve actually collaborated on more novels with one another than they have created solo and have even written a best-selling series together in which FBI agent Aloysius Pendergast plays a main character. Pendergast’s original appearance was in these authors’ debut novel The Relic.

This incredibly talented team of writers impressed me the first time I read one of their novels several years ago called Thunderhead and I was amazed to find that their first collaboration was just as effortless and seamlessly written too. Some of the evolution talk went over my head and there were a lot of characters to keep track of but I really enjoyed reading this story. If it wasn’t for my online reading groups I doubt I would ever have had the pleasure of reading Lincoln & Child’s books since they are so far outside my comfort genre zone but I’m glad I gave it a chance.

My favorite character was Pendergast because he has this quiet “Sherlock Holmes”-ish attitude and he is the epitome of a Southern gentleman but at the same time, he can play hardball too. Certainly the most intriguing character I’ve come across in awhile and I plan on reading the other books in which he is featured eventually, especially Reliquary; the sequel to this book. I did like a few other characters but he was most definitely the best one, so I dumbfounded that he doesn’t appear in the 1997 film adaptation of the book. Actually to tell the truth, there was a whole lot of things that bothered me about the movie but I digress.

The Relic is essentially a sophisticated monster story (my first one actually) with an adventure, mystery, and science fiction thrown in but the story never became cluttered. What I love more than anything else is that not only was the story creepy and well-written, it was written in such a way that the Mbwn and the events of its creation is presented in almost a plausible fashion. It gives me the chills!

Pengergast Series: The Relic, Reliquary, The Cabinet of Curiosities, Still Life With Crows, Brimstone, The Dance of Death, The Book of the Dead, The Wheel of Darkness, Cemetery Dance

Links: Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child, Agent Pengergast, The Relic (all Wikipedia), Pengergast Fan Page
Interview: Q&A with the Authors (a must-read)

Picture Explanations
Ladder- The museum is putting together a superstition exibit
Museum- The story is set in a fictionalized version of the American Museum of Natural History
Storage- Every museum has an incredible amount of artifacts just lying around in storage, including dinosaur bones just like these and anything could be hiding there

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A True Storyteller

At the request of her beloved grandmother, war widow Kat Herrick returns to the idyllic English countryside and the tiny thatched dwelling of her childhood, Rose Cottage, where she must retrieve some valuable papers hidden in a secret safe. Yet Kate is intrigued to discover the mysterious documents have been stolen.

While eccentric villagers buzz with sightings of strange lights and ghostly apparitions around Rose Cottage, Kate uncovers a web of family resentment, jealousy, and revenge as tangled as the rambling vines in its garden. The twisted trail leads to a stunning revelation that opens the door to her own shrouded past- and an unexpected chance at love...

Title: Rose Cottage
Author: Mary Stewart
Start & Finished: 5/27/08-5/29/08
Published: 1997
Publisher: Fawcett Crest
Pages: 264
Genre: Fiction

Best known for her Mythopoeic award-winning, historical/ fantasy Arthurian series, author Mary Stewart also specialized in the romantic suspense genre, usually with beautiful European locations. She is actually considered by some to be one of the founders of this genre. Her last published story was Rose Cottage in 1997.

Mrs. Stewart was a very popular author during the 60s and 70s and two of her books were even adapted into films. Fans of her work are still promoting her novels till this day, which is how I learned of her and came to read Rose Cottage. I wasn’t at all sure what to think of her book at first but I liked the characters and the descriptive imagery was very beautiful. So were the little illustrations by the author at the beginning of each chapter!

There were a few problems that I noticed though, such as how the plot slows almost to a crawl at some points and while reading it I felt like it had been heavily edited and in doing so, parts seemed to be almost missing! Normally I would have stopped reading the book but there was just something about the writing that compelled me to finish it- even though I had figured out the mystery aspect (the why was still unclear to me so I still had a good reason for finishing) early in the novel.

So whether through the fault of the publisher or the author (she was 81 when this was released), I’m not sure but I wasn’t able to enjoy this as thoroughly as I thought I would but it was a good introduction to Mary Stewart for me nonetheless. I have recently picked up one of her earlier books The Moon-Spinners too.

Links: Wikipedia, Fantastic Fiction (complete bibliography & author recommendations), Fan Blog

Picture Explanations:
Cottage- The Rose Cottage that the heroine grew up in and is visiting for her grandmother.
Bible- The family Bible was also a bit of a scrapbook
The Safe- A hidden safe that few people knew about has been broken into. This is the crux of the mystery in the story.

Monday, September 15, 2008

By the Pricking of My Thumbs…

The carnival rolls in sometime after midnight, ushering in Halloween a week early. The shrill siren song of a calliope beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. And two boys will discover the secret of its smoke, mazes, and mirrors; two friends will soon know all too well the heavy cost of wishes... and the stuff of nightmare.

Title: Something Wicked This Way Comes
Author: Ray Bradbury
Start & Finished: 5/20/08-5/27/08
Published: 1962
Publisher: Avon
Pages: 290
Genre: Fantasy/ Horror

Good versus evil, dark versus light are the themes to one of Ray Bradbury’s most popular novels Something Wicked This Way Comes. A semi-autobiographical story that has places and people that the author knew, and in some cases, Bradbury himself can be seen in the pages. In several interviews, Mr. Bradbury has claimed that he got the idea for this story when he encountered a carnival run by a man named Mr. Electrico who told him to “live forever” and so he became a writer. A man whose writings have influenced many authors today and probably will continue to do so forever.

Fahrenheit 451 was the first time I read anything by this author but it wasn’t until I read The Halloween Tree that I fell in love with the semi-poetic prose combined with his spooky tale. Sure, Fahrenheit was wonderful, better than a lot of books but when it comes to reading something that embraces childhood so fondly but from a slightly different angle than most would view it, Something Wicked This Way Comes is one of the best. I think Stephen King describes this novel best in his nonfiction book Danse Macabre: “a darkly poetic tall tale set in the half-real, half-mythical community of Green Town, Illinois … [for the most part] Bradbury carries his story off with guts and beauty and panache.” (pg, 324)

Originally meant to be a short story entitled Black Ferris, Bradbury developed it into a full-length novel in the hopes that his friend Gene Kelly would direct it. Unfortunately, because of lack of funding that never did happen but there was a Disney movie adaptation made in 1983 with the author himself as the screenwriter. In an interview, he has claimed it was one of the better adaptations out of all his works. This book is dedicated to Gene Kelly.

Links: Ray Bradbury (Wikipedia), Something Wicked This Way Comes (Wikipedia),
Interview: In His Words

Picture Explanations
Ferris Wheel- A carnival comes to town
Carousel- Plays an integral part in the book
Electric Chair- Mr. Electrico's chair of choice

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Return to Narnia

The magical world of C.S. Lewis' beloved fantasy comes to life once again in Prince Caspian, the second installment of The Chronicles Of Narnia series. Join Peter, Susan, Edmund Lucy, the mighty and majestic Aslan, new Narnian creatures and Prince Caspian as they lead the Narnians on a remarkable journey to restore peace and glory to their enchanted land.
Title: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Release: May 16, 2008
Genre: Fantasy
MPAA Rating: PG
Based On: Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia by C. S. Lewis
Writer: Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Director: Andrew Adamson
Music By: Harry Gregson-Williams
Produced By: Andrew Adamson, Cary Granat, Mark Johnson, Perry Moore, Douglas Gresham, Philip Steuer
Distributed By: Walt Disney Pictures & Buena Vista Pictures
Run Time: 140 minutes
Official Website

The adaptations of C. S. Lewis’ world famous Chronicles of Narnia series continue with Prince Caspian, the second published story (but considered the fourth in chronological order). Released nearly three years after the first Narnia movie The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, this follow-up has everything the first film had multiplied. There is a darker tone, more character depth, bigger and more elaborate battle sequences, a wonderful music score, absolutely amazing special effects, and many more gorgeous film locations.

Fantastical movies set in imaginary worlds that first captured imaginations in books have recently become some of the most anxiously awaited films of that year. Once J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series were adapted to the screen by New Line Cinema and Warner Brothers, it was only natural that the Walt Disney Company would want to produce a movie series just as iconic and what better material than C. S. Lewis’ beloved Narnian novels? That’s not to say that this is the first time anyone has tried to adapt this series, the BBC made an attempt with a TV serial in 1989-1990 but it can’t compete with Disney and the thousands of people who helped make this film.

Somehow, I had never read any of the Narnia books growing up and it wasn’t until the first movie came out that I had any interest in doing so. I actually watched The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe before reading the book but I enjoyed both formats so much that I decided to read the rest of the series. Unfortunately although I enjoyed Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia, I thought the previous novel was much better and put off reading the rest of the books for a while. Then I saw the movie and was blown away! Although some scenes were added and a few weren’t used, I thought the final film was based as faithfully as possible to Mr. Lewis’ original story.

One of the reasons I didn’t enjoy the novel version of Prince Caspian as much as the previous book was because my favorite Narnian Mr. Tumnus wasn’t in the story. There were plenty of new and interesting Narnians though like Trufflehunter, Trumpkin, and of course the ever adorable Reepicheep! It is partly because of these characters that I’ve come to love Walt Disney’s Prince Caspian as much (if not more) than their first journey into the world of Narnia. Now I can hardly wait to read (and see!) the rest of this amazing series. The third film The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is scheduled for release in 2010.

Related Narnia Reviews By Me:
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe & Prince Caspian: Return to Narnia
Movie- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Links: Imdb.com, Wikipedia, Reelz Channel (tons of video interviews, etc.), Fan Site (Fanpop), Narnia Web
Interviews: Hollywood.com (text and video interviews)


New York Premiere:

The Snow White Story Continues...

What ever happened to Snow White? Find out in this feature-length musical adventure brought delightfully to life by an all-star voice cast and breathtaking animated magic! Snow White and her Prince are busily planning their wedding when the evil Queen's wizard brother, Lord Maliss, kidnaps the Prince! Embarking on a thrilling quest to rescue her true love, Snow White enlists the help of the Dwarfelles: seven tiny, magical comical ladies. It's one thrill after another as Snow White and her courageous companions face off against the sinister Maliss and his castle-full of outrageously off beat creatures in this song-filled fairy tale that the whole family will love.

Title: Happily Ever After
Release: May 28, 1993
Genre: Animated
MPAA Rating: G
Writer: Robby London & Martha Moran
Director: John Howley
Music By: Frank Becker
Produced By: Lou Scheimer
Distributed By: First National Pictures
Run Time: 75 minutes

Creating an animated film takes a lot of hard work and dedication, especially when you’re thwarted at every turn. Completed in 1988, Filmation’s Happily Ever After didn’t actually make it into theaters for five more years because of a Disney lawsuit (that resulted in much of the film being changed including the title) and also a licensing dispute with the distributor. It also probably didn’t help that the original Walt Disney Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was re-issued theatrically that year either.

Magic, especially nature-type magic has always fascinated me in movies and one of the reasons why can probably be contributed to this film. It came out in the spring of 1993 a few months after I had turned 6 years old. By this time, I had seen just about every animated movie that our local rental place owned. What did I care if it had an all-star cast or that it wasn’t very well received? All I knew was that it was animated (or as I didn’t know what that word was, cartoon), it was about Snow White and instead of the Seven Dwarfs, there were now Seven “Dwarfelles”. Now 15 years later, somehow I stumbled across an interview with Irene Cara (voice of Snow White) about the movie and it made me want to see it again… especially since I could hardly remember anything at all about it.

My first thought was “please don’t let this be some corny, cheesy, badly animated film,” and unfortunately it was. That’s not to say that there weren’t a few good parts like some of the cute songs and certain parts of the story, not to mention the spectacular cast of voice actors like Dom DeLuise, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Phyllis Diller, Carol Channing, Edward Asner and more. This movie should have succeeded on their talent alone but thanks to a few badly animated scenes (Snow White changes skin tone a LOT and facial expressions not often enough plus The Prince looks a lot like He-Man), some storyline that doesn’t make sense, and a few flat, one-dimensional characters, it was received badly by the critics at the time and actually resulted in Filmation declaring bankruptcy and closing down for good.

We all know how marketable movies aimed primarily at children can be so with the other animated films being released that year like The Halloween Tree (based on the Ray Bradbury story), Once Upon a Forest, Steven Spielberg’s We’re Back: A Dinosaur Story, and Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas competition was fierce. However, despite the Dwarfelles and Snow White dolls, the soundtrack, and even the video game, this movie has managed to be forgotten over time.

Links: Wikipedia (film), Imdb.com, Song Lyrics, Interview (with Filmation Co-Founder)

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