Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Impossible Dream ~ album review

Genre: classical crossover
Released: July 29, 2013

"The Impossible Dream" is the debut album of Welsh classical duo Richard (tenor) & Adam (baritone).  It became a #1 in the UK and went gold in August on the British charts. The album starts off with a swelling rendition of "The Impossible Dream". Next is a beautiful cover of Les Miserables' "Bring Him Home". The album continues with other classic songs such as "The Winner Takes It All (ABBA) and "Amazing Grace". These two boys have rich, pure voices that are worth gold. I'm definitely looking forward to their next album, and I believe I may put these two artists on my top classical artists list, along with the likes of Il Volo and Jonathan & Charlotte.

Alyianna's rating: 10 out of 10

Fun fact: Richard and Adam were sandwich makers until their break in the show Britain's Got Talent, in which they received third place in 2013.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Downton Abbey ~ a TV show review (Series 1-4)

Creator and Writer: Julian Fellowes
Main 'Upstairs' Cast: (top from left to right) Penelope Wilton (Isobel Crawley), Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary), Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley), Maggie Smith (Dowager Countess), Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham), Elizabeth McGovern (Lady Grantham), Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith), Jessica Brown Findlay (Lady Sybil); not included - Allen Leech (Tom Branson); Lily James (Lady Rose)
Main 'Downstairs' Cast: (bottom from left to right) Lesley Nicol (Mrs. Patmore), Thomas Howes (William), Joanne Froggatt (Anna), Brendan Coyle (Mr. Bates), Jim Carter (Mr. Carson), Phyllis Logan (Mrs. Hughes), Siobhan Finneran (Mrs. O'Brien), Rob James-Collier (Thomas), Sophie McShera (Daisy); not included - Kevin Doyle (Mr. Molesley), Matt Milne (Alfred), Ed Speleers (Jimmy), Raquel Cassidy (Mrs. Baxter)
Composer: John Lunn
Run: September 2010 - December 2013

Downton Abbey is a fairly new period drama that focuses on the lives of the Crawley family - the Earl of Grantham, his wife Cora, their daughters Mary, Edith, and Sybil (the people 'upstairs') and their servants (the people living 'downstairs'). Episodes 1-4 cover the years 1912-1923, skipping some time in between. Since I prefer to offer the choice of spoiling the plot lines or not when I can, here are links to where you can read a quick summary of each season.

Series 1 | Series 2 | Series 3 | Series 4 | Synopsis of each episode

Lady Grantham and the Dowager Countess have tea on the lawn
I fell in love with Downton Abbey as soon as I started watching it. I would definitely give this show a rating of high-quality period drama - and other people seem to agree with me since it is one of the most successful new dramas. The little details providing a reflection of the period's atmosphere are meticulously perfected down to the badges that a soldier during World War I would wear. The costumes, sets, scenery, and music are gorgeous. While the episodes can be a little melodramatic at times, I find Downton Abbey interesting as well as intellectual stimulating.  Besides a few minor morality issues which I am going to go into depth in a moment, the only problem I had with Downton Abbey is that it took me a few episodes to tell who was who - there are so many characters! But I have grown to love all of them (or most of them) now.

Mr. Carson, Mrs. Hughes, and Mary's baby
The characters have a good sense of morality, and there are a few characters whom I hold in very high esteem for this (e.g. Mrs. Hughes, the housekeeper). I love Mrs. Hughes' kindness, Mr. Carson's (the butler) soft spot for Mary, and the faithful and dedicated husbands and wives in the series (BIG SPOILER e.g. Anna & Mr. Bates END BIG SPOILER). I just only have a couple of issues on morality (which I can't say for most television shows nowadays). Actually, most of these issues are resolved within the show, but I thought I would mention them below in case for anyone who wants to know before they start watching.

Thomas Barrow
Thomas Barrow (SPOILERS)
Thomas is one of the staff, who has served at different positions for ten years at Downton. He is also homosexual. There is one short questionable scene with Thomas and the Duke of Crowborough near the end of the first episode of series one. In series three, one of the staff, Mrs. O'Brien, tricks Thomas into believing that the new footman James is also homosexual. Thomas tries to make an advance on James, and James is horrified and disgusted. Later, Thomas apologizes to James and the two become friends. Thomas also has a malicious and conniving attitude, but he does have some character development throughout the seasons. It is mostly for this as well as the homosexual elements being so very minor that I am willing to let this matter drop. However, this does not stop me disliking Thomas because he still enjoys plotting to get other people, both downstairs and upstairs, in trouble.

Lord Grantham and Jane
Other Issues Here & There (SPOILERS GALORE)
In episode three of series one, Mary has a one-night affair with a Turkish diplomat, Mr. Pamuk. This leads into many problems throughout the show. Mary realizes that what she has done is wrong, so I don't have too much of an issue with this; we also don't really see anything. In series two, one of the short-term servants has an affair and gets pregnant; Lord Grantham almost has an affair with another of the short-term servants (I still kind of hate him for this). In series four, one of the downstairs staff, Anna, is raped (which we don't see). Her husband kills (okay, it's not proven, but I'm almost certain) the guilty man for what he did to Anna (and I don't blame him for it). In the same season, Edith has a 'night' with her fiancé; he goes missing (he still is at the moment) and Edith discovers that she is pregnant. She almost aborts the baby until she hears the anguished cry of a woman who has just had an abortion at the 'clinic'.

Alyianna's rating: 9.5 out of 10
Audience: 16+ (depends on maturity)

Images and quotes!! :)

The business of life is the acquisition of memories. In the end that's all there is.
Carson (S4E4)
Preparing  the house in the morning (S1E1)

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Are you without sin, Alfred, because I most certainly am not.
Robert (S3E6)
Thomas approaches the Dowager Countess Violet
at the Servant's Ball (S2E9)

About an Ouija board (S2E9):
Daisy: Don't you believe in spirits then?

Mrs. Hughes: Well, I don't believe they play board games.

Edith asks Sybil how she can help when Downton is turned
into a convalescent home (S2E3?)

If you're turning American on me, then I'll go downstairs.
Robert (S2E6)

Lady Mary proves she isn't a complete snob by pitching
in when their pigs are dying of thirst. (S4E6)

About a telephone:

Is this an instrument of communication or torture?
Violet (S2E4)

Ethel gives up her son to his grandparents so that he
has a better chance in life. (S3E4)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

New Design, New Blogging

By now, I'm sure you have all had time to notice that this blog has had a complete makeover - not only the design, but the pages ("Music I Love"? "Books I Love"? Ring any bells?) have also been rewritten (except the quotes page, but that had changes to it, too). I will still be tweaking some things and here, such as the gadgets on the side, but nothing too drastic should happen. So this is it! Here is the new blog design that you will be seeing for the next year or two. How do you like it? Let me know on the poll on the side. :)

Now that business is dealt with, I'll get onto the other topic I want to cover in the post - new blogging methods. As I am now out of college until September, this blog will be updated regularly. I am hoping to stick with at least 2-3 posts per week. Some of this depends on how much material I have to review (I don't have a whole lot of time to read because writing reviews takes time, and I'm also doing a course in French over these four months), but I will be writing posts ahead of time to try to keep the posts coming. There may be some quiet moments when I go on a couple of day's vacation, but I will try to prepare my own posts or get some people to guest post before then.

What kind of reviews can you expect? I've got one stack of books that I haven't had time to review yet, and another stack of books on my to-read pile that will be reviewed when I have to do so. I'm watching movies or tv shows with my younger sister all the time, so there will be reviews of kid-friendly media. My mother and I love to borrow stacks upon stacks of CDs from our local library, so there will definitely be music reviews.

But what about that poll that I posted at the beginning of the year? The one where I asked all of you what kind of posts you want to see? Never fear - I am about to address that, as well! Here are the results of the poll:

What would you like to see on this blog?

Jane Austen reviews
  0 (0%)
Lord of the Rings reviews
  1 (14%)
More "special" posts (like 'books of my childhood' or 'songs I like')
  4 (57%)
More music reviews
  4 (57%)
More book reviews
  4 (57%)
More movie reviews
  5 (71%)
Something different - like fanfiction, app, website, or game reviews
  3 (42%)
Reviews of children's books
  0 (0%)
Narnia reviews
  2 (28%)
Reviews of recent books/movies/music
  3 (42%)
Reviews of older books/movies/music
  2 (28%)
Other (comment on any post)

Therefore, I will be paying special attention to make sure I post more MOVIE, BOOK, MUSIC, and "SPECIAL POSTS". I will also make sure I do some "different" posts and reviews of current books/movies/music....and lastly (and not so much), reviews of older books/movies/music and Narnia/LOTR reviews. 

I am going to end this post right now and start on a list of things to review. :) Until next time!

Nanny McPhee ~ a movie review

Mr. Brown (Colin Firth) has seven very naughty children (Thomas Sangster etc.). They are so naughty, in fact, that they have driven out seventeen nannies. The only person who seems to truly love them is the scullery maid Evangeline (Kelly Macdonald). But when Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson) arrives at the Brown house, the children find that their behaviour now has magical and terrible consequences. Meanwhile, Mr. Brown is terrorized into finding a new wife by the children's Great-Aunt Adelaide (Angela Lansbury).

This movie was highly enjoyable and humorous. It is definitely one of those keep-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat movies, which is not what I'd expect in a family movie. It is clean and has good messages. I'd definitely recommend it to anyone.

Alyianna's rating: 10 out of 10
Audience: G

Movie stills

Emma Thompson as Nanny McPhee

Colin Firth as Mr. Brown

Thomas Sangster as Simon

Monday, May 19, 2014

REPOST American Honey ~ a book review

Hello all,

So I got some review on my American Honey review, and I realized that it might be a good idea to point out where the spoilers are in my review and/or remove some of them. As well, I have received some information about the book that changes some of my perspective on the book --- and I realize that I may have been a little more negative than was needed (I admit that blowing out emotions is one of my faults).

After graduating high school, Olivia “Ollie” McKenna leaves her small town roots in Summerville, Georgia, to pursue her dream of becoming a professional singer. With her best friend and older sister in tow, wholesome Ollie travels to the big city to compete in singing contest Atlanta Idol. There she meets nineteen-year-old Jack Bradley, a fellow country singer who quickly becomes a close friend. The connection between them is magnetic and an opportunity to sing together could change their lives forever. But what about Ollie's mama's fear of the music business? She's been burned by the lures of the bright lights before and doesn't want Ollie anywhere near that world. And Ollie's growing feelings for Jack as more than just a pal could ruin everything. Despite her own doubts, Ollie is determined to win. Can she make her dream come true or will she return to her hometown empty-handed and brokenhearted?

This book was a quick and easy read. Overall, it wasn't a bad book. However, I do have a couple of problems with this book.

The singing contest
The main reason I picked up this book is because I am a big fan of singing contests/shows like the X Factor and the Voice. However, this book's portrayal of the 'Atlanta Idol' disappointed me. Besides Ollie and Jack, no other contestants are mentioned (besides two contestants who are leaving the competition). This left me with a feeling that there was no competition whatsoever, which was soon backed up when (SPOILERS) Ollie and Jack got first and second place (END SPOILERS - more on that later). We don't get to hear of any training (but perhaps this contest didn't provide vocal training). The only parts of the contest that we hear about are Ollie going out to dinner, getting ready in the morning, practicing just before she has to go on stage, and the result. The first half of the book was somewhat of a let-down for me. However, the one thing I really did like was the description of the songs that Ollie chose to sing. The country songs gave me a sudden urge to listen to country music...and I feel like I need to go back to the book and check out each song that I've never heard before.

The main characters
One thing that I did enjoy was the different manner of speech and lifestyle (country-ish) of the characters. 

However, I did have some issues with Ollie McKenna as I got annoyed with her very quickly. She starts crushing on another contestant starting page one, and when she thinks about kissing this said contestant (Jack) later on, she comments that she's kissed other guys a few times, and had one make-out session. I got a little uncomfortable with this. And then she meets another guy and dates him because she's bored of Jack not making any moves with her (and makes out with him). In addition, Ollie annoyed me with her I'm-here-to-win-nothing-else-is-good-enough attitude. She gets extremely disappointed when she doesn't get first place (I can take some disappointment, but her attitude bugs me).

Then there's Jack. He seems a pretty decent guy. However, there is this one part of the book when the Bradley and McKenna families are discussing a proposal given by Ollie and Jack's (executives? I don't know what they're called...they're helping these two young people get a record deal) - that they will share a house to save expenses when they move to Nashville. Ollie and Jack's parents get concerned (which they should be!). Ollie responds something along the lines of, "We're mature adults, and, plus, we're only business partners, nothing else". (At this point, we have nothing really going on between these two.) Jack's response? He gets extremely angry and snaps out, "Ollie and I will have sex if we want to!"

There's another morality issue when (SPOILERS) Ollie's sister getting pregnant after being with one of Jack's friends (END SPOILERS). We only hear about it second-hand, which is good. The thing that bugged me was when she tells Ollie, she says that it was because she was bored. I'm sort of wondering what is up with these McKenna sisters. However, the morality issues are actually only a very minor part of the story. I appreciate this as there are so many books there that are definitely inappropriate. I'm sure these issues will be resolved through the series, anyhow.

The romance thread leads to....nothing?
So there's the whole thing with Ollie and Jack. We get a couple of moments when Jack acts pretty cute toward Ollie. Then there's a few times when he seems about to kiss her, but doesn't. Then Ollie, bored, gets into another relationship with some other random guy sorry, but that's how I saw him). Almost at the end of the story, Ollie leaves a party with her sort-of boyfriend. Jack follows to comfort her along with two of his and Ollie's friends. (SPOILERS) We end the story with Ollie wondering what the future will bring for her and Jack's record deal. The end. We have no idea if Ollie is going to finally realize that Jack is the one she should be with. (END SPOILERS) *LE DRAMATIC SIGH* HOWEVER, I have been informed by a reliable source that Nancy has intended for American Honey to be the first book of a series. Therefore, while I thought this was bad writing, Nancy is actually ending just like one of my favourite authors, Rick Riordan...on a cliff-hanger. (To you authors who do this, I both love and hate you for it.)

I would have been surprised to hear myself say this this morning, but I'm actually looking forward to Nancy's next novel in this series. :) Especially after seeing this promise from Nancy in one of her interviews:

"My books will never have any graphic sex scenes or any overly detailed intimate moments between characters. I don’t write romance novels. I write women’s fiction (chick lit), and I don’t foresee ever writing the really racy stuff. I think it’s good to leave some things to the readers’ imaginations. Less is more. One of the big differences between chick lit and romance novels is that chick lit has the sweet, romantic scenes and romance novels have the steamy, intense love scenes." (Source)

Alyianna's rating: 8 out of 10
Audience: Christian/Catholic teens

Fun fact: This book was inspired by winner Scotty McCreery and runner-up Lauren Alaina (cue fangirl squeal). (Source)

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Captive Maiden ~ a book review

Gisela's childhood was filled with laughter and visits from nobles such as the duke and his young son. But since her father's death, each day has been filled with nothing but servitude to her stepmother. So when Gisela meets the duke's son, Valten--the boy she has daydreamed about for years--and learns he is throwing a ball, she vows to attend, even if it's only for a taste of a life she'll never have.

I thoroughly enjoyed this retelling of Cinderella. I am a big fan of adaptations of fairy tales, but I think Ms. Dickerson's book tops all of the books in this category that I have read so far (except those perhaps of Regina Doman). I liked that this book deviated from the original story by adding and changing some things, but not enough to be completely different than the usual story. The addition of a Christianity worldview throughout the book was a pleasant surprise. The romance was sweet, and while it was a little "kissy" in parts towards the end, it was still within bounds and nowhere as close to some stuff I have read. I highly recommend this book and I am looking forward to reading all of Ms. Dickerson's other fairy-tale retellings.

Alyianna's rating: 10 out of 10
Audience: teen

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"Snow Drifts" ~ a Once Upon a Time episode reaction

So. "Snow Falls" has been out for almost two days. You've had time to form your own opinions about what has why not read about my reactions?


Well, okay...let's be a little more specific.

Travelling to the past, creating catastrophe, and having to fix that
This part of the episode was beyond amazing. From Emma's gorgeous princess makeover to the rewriting of the Snow/Charming story to the usage of various past-Enchanted Forest elements (such as Red's ability/curse of being able to change into a wolf) to Emma's decision to remain in Storybrooke, I was left feeling that Horowitz and Kitsis have outdone themselves this time. This is pretty much the best thing that has been done the entire show, in my opinion.

Freaking gorgeous dress!!!!!
And Hook. Man, you've changed. From that moment that past Hook shot Belle oh so long ago, I hated him. But I see a completely changed man here...a decent man. Hook really has changed way more than any other character in this show...because Regina and Rumple still have some of their evil sides. But I don't see any of that with Hook. So just a little comment I saw on Tumblr that describes my new feelings towards Hook/Killian perfectly:

No but do you know how significant it is that Killian punched Past!Hook when he was making out with Emma? Because in other shows, when that happens, the present version of the character always cheers themselves on like ‘Go past me!’. But Killian didn’t do that, because he looked at Past!Hook and he didn’t identify with him. He saw a stranger, someone he wasn’t proud of and someone who wasn’t worthy of Emma’s attention. 

That is how you character development.

It was SO nice to have the old Rumple with us again with his Dark One mannerisms and little laugh...especially since I am furious with present Mr. Gold. He is (was?) my favourite character, but what a sneaky, selfish, cowardly thing to do...! (Last episode.) I refuse to forgive him.

The ending love scenes

Happy family :) :) :)

So Kitsis and Crew spoiled Rumple and Belle's wedding for me...and when I've been waiting so long for a thing like this to happen! (Whose evil and cruel idea was this, anyway?) I couldn't enjoy a single moment of it. (By the way, who came up with the idea for Belle's wedding clothes? The choice was horrific!)

Can't stop heart melting...
Okay, fine. The look on Rumple's face as he sees his bride won me over. For the moment.

Emma and Hook kiss - FINALLY. Though that kiss went on for WAY too long. Regina and Robin with Robin's little boy? Not only absolutely adorable, but also sweet and beautiful.

Regina's happy family?

The actual ending
So, Emma. You ruined everything. Poor Regina...she has every right to hate you after this. And just when my heart is breaking, we find out that Emma and Hook inadvertently brought another unwelcome guest back to Storybrooke in addition to Marian...something magical that even the Dark One himself was afraid to experiment with. Just as I think 'here we go again...', ELSA pops up. And I'm left with déjà-vu as the feeling of heartbreak turning into reluctant laughter happens (like sometimes happens after a Moffat Doctor-Who episode).

So there you have it, folks. Season 3 of OUAT is officially over. Let the hiatus begin!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Reawakened: a Once Upon a Time tale ~ Book Review

Emma Swan's life has been anything but a fairy tale. She's been on her own since she was abandoned as a baby--that is, until the night of her twenty-eighth birthday, when Henry, a ten-year-old boy, shows up on her doorstep. He's the son Emma gave up for adoption, and this surprise visit turns her life upside down.

Henry takes Emma back to his home in Storybrooke, Maine, where, Henry claims, all the residents are actually fairy tale characters who can't remember their true identities. And if Henry's right, that means that his sweet-natured, lonely schoolteacher Mary Margaret Blanchard is really Snow White, the iconic princess ... and also Emma's long-lost mother.

The closer Emma comes to Henry in Storybrooke, the harder it is for her to ignore the dark curse that haunts this small New England town and binds her to Mary Margaret. If Emma can learn to accept her destiny as Storybrooke's savior and break the curse, she just might get the family reunion she's dreamed about her entire life.

I love the show Once Upon a Time, so I snatched up this book right away when I found it at my local library. I've only watched about half of the first season, so I was expecting this book to be an enjoyable read for the first half, and more exciting in the second half. The read turned out mostly that way...but it was a little bit of a disappointment.

The book focuses mainly on Emma and Mary Margaret's (Snow White's) point of view, with barely any attention paid to other characters - such as Mr. Gold/Rumpelstiltskin, who is undeniably one of the most interesting characters (so I was obviously very disappointed by the glossing over of the "Skin Deep" episode). The focus on solely Emma's point of view also severely downplays several incidents (e.g. the death of a certain character). Some stories, such as that of Hansel and Gretel, are completely skipped...and the stories of the fairy tale world (besides the Snow/Charming story) are hardly even mentioned at all, which is a crying (no, screaming) shame.

For the parts that I haven't seen yet, I was a little confused because the author mainly represents David (Prince Charming) as a total...well, joke. Very un-Prince Charming. But I guess we all have our mistakes/faults...and, then, I haven't seen that part of the show so I don't know whether it's realistic or not. However, I did regain my earlier excitement towards the end when I was waiting eagerly for (SPOILER ALERT) Emma to break the curse.

In the end, Reawakened wasn't a bad read, so if you like Once Upon a Time and you want something to pass the time, give it a try. Now if only Ms. Beane could write a book for Season #2 - and make sure to include a good amount of Gold POV this time...

Alyianna's rating: 7.5 out of 10
Audience: I would say it's a little mature for children (one chapter and the rest, children may not really find too enjoyable)