Thursday, May 29, 2014

Throwback Thursday: A Girl's Best Friend - Review of "The Princess and the Hound"

**Originally Posted on August 4, 2011 on cj's bookshelf**

Title: The Princess and the Hound
Author:  Mette Ivie Harrison
Publisher: Eos
Publication Date:  May 1, 2007
Reading Level: 12 and up

Synopsis: (from Goodreads) –
He is a prince, heir to a kingdom threatened on all sides, possessor of the animal magic, which is forbidden by death in the land he'll rule.

She is a princess from a rival kingdom, the daughter her father never wanted, isolated from true human friendship but inseparable from her hound.

Though they think they have little in common, each possesses a secret that must be hidden at all costs. Proud, stubborn, bound to marry for the good of their kingdoms, this prince and princess will steal your heart, but will they fall in love?

My Review:
I picked this book up at a local independent bookstore and I hadn’t heard of it until I saw it there.  It looked interesting – also the synopsis proclaimed it as a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast,” which is one of my favorite fairy tales.

It was a little jarring to find that this book is not told from the Princess’ point of view, despite having her name in the title and a princess on the cover.  Now, it doesn’t always happen, but I figure that the character featured in the title would make an appearance in the first five chapters or so.  Not this time – this book is told from Prince George’s point of view.  The main plot of this story is that George was born with the forbidden animal magic, which just means that he can talk to animals in their own language (think Eliza from “The Wild Thornberrys”).  Having this power is akin to being a leper in this land, so the prince has been forced to keep this ability of his a secret his entire life.  His mother had the animal magic and she was “sent away” when George was a young boy (much the way your favorite pet dog was “sent away” while you were at school one day).

George eventually meets Princess Beatrice and becomes engaged to her as a matter of political advantage.  Beatrice does not go anywhere without her hound, Marit, and the girl has an odd relationship with Marit which reveals itself throughout the story (and had the synopsis not spoiled the plot, I would have been more surprised by that development).

I enjoyed this book a lot – until the story ended about fifteen chapters early.  I thought the main plot had resolved itself, but then was treated to another chunk of story about the political ins and outs of running this fairy tale country where animal magic people are discriminated against.  The developments themselves don’t bother me.  What bothered me is that this story. Takes. So. Long. To. End. I hoped that most of that was appendices or some other thing like that – nope, there was another ninety pages to slog through before the story reached its final conclusion.  And I was annoyed.  Not as much as when I read Uglies (because at least this conclusion made some sense), but enough.  There are two more books after this one and I may pick them up, but I’m not in any hurry to do so.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

I Will Go Down With This Gif: Jack/Audrey 5Eva!

Review/Recap of 24: Live Another Day, Episode 6, 3:00 pm-4:00 pm - SPOILERS!

This is the weirdest thing. I have very little to say about this episode. HOWEVER - I do have plenty of gifs with which to react to this episode. Without further ado, I present my First Ever All Gif Post of... anything, really. Fitting that it came in 24 - here is the Gif Review/Recap of 24: Live Another Day, Episode 6!

Jack is basically sidelined in this episode, which is like -

But that's okay because Agent Kate Morgan is on the case! And the fandom rejoiced! ("the fandom" here being a term meaning "me").

In case you forgot, Kate Morgan kicks more ass than anybody (apart from Jack, of course). And if her heroics in the previous episode weren't enough, Kate gets in touch with Chloe in order to get the hacker code from Tanner's key link thingy. Seeing Kate and Chloe working together is like -

(Wait... something as awesome as Kate and Chloe working together deserves more gif joy than that!)

(That's better).

Between Chloe and the CIA, they figure out that Cersei Stark is an Actual Terrorist and she is Actually Going to Kill People. The CIA then informs President Heller that there is indeed going to be an attack on London. Somewhere, I imagine Jack thinking -

Back at Not-Winterfell, Simone is less a couple of fingers and Hubby Dearest is forced to pilot the drones by his manipulative bitch of a mother-in-law.

Hubby Dearest doesn't want to kill people -

so he does a thing where Cersei's threatening Internet video will be traced back to Not-Winterfell and the authorities will find them and stop them and all will be well.

In theory, anyway.

Back at the US Embassy, President Heller asks to speak to Jack. Mark actually agrees to let this happen. Let's bear in mind - and the "Previously on 24" cold open reminds us - that Mark once swore that Audrey would never again hear the name "Jack Bauer." Except now she's heard it at least twice in the last two hours!

Again, Audrey seems to be okay with reminders that Jack Bauer exists in the world.

The president orders the CIA to go nab Cersei Stark and her band of miscreants. Agent Navarro heads up the team because this is going to be a Big Effing Deal and the Head Cheese in Charge ought to have a direct hand in this. I guess.

However, Kate Morgan - badass Kate who made all this happen - got squealed on by the Marines who are pissed that she stopped them from popping a cap in Jack's ass. Division is pissed that she's still in the field since she's supposed to be heading out of town because of that thing with her husband selling secrets and whatever, so she has to stay behind.

'Tis at this point that President Heller finally informs Prime Minister Stephen Fry of what's happening. Remember - Stephen Fry is in this show.

Some "We're so glad we're political friends" stuff happens, then Stephen Fry disappears until the next crisis occurs.

Meanwhile - Audrey seeks out Jack and they share a Moment.

Thank you, creators, for giving the Jack/Audrey shippers this gift.

Back at Not-Winterfell, it turns out Hubby Dearest got pwned by his co-pilot and they sent the CIA to the wrong house.

Cersei Stark shoots Hubby Dearest, with the (presumed) assent of Simone.

(what? I liked him!)

The CIA continue their approach... only to realize that they're in the wrong house.

The drone flies over and blows everything up.

Aaaaand... the clock turns over to the top of the hour. And we are halfway through Live Another Day.

(Which means we're that much closer to The Time of Hiatus)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

And You Thought Your Upload Time Was Crap

Review/Recap of 24: Live Another Day, Episode 4: 2:00 pm-3:00 pm. Spoilers!

Can I just say that Fox has always had the most creepy-weird shows on their network? Hulu keeps advertising this stupid-looking Gang Related. But they couldn't be arsed to keep Almost Human going for another season. Anyway...

This episode was the "breather" episode (well - as much as you ever get a breather in 24). Jack has made it into the US Embassy by creating mayhem and chaos (to be fair, Jack creates mayhem and chaos when he goes to the corner store for a gallon of milk). His goal? Talk to Lieutenant Tanner, the poor guy that's being framed for sending a drone to attack friends and allies - which is why President Heller is about to be tarred and feathered by Parliament...

Except... Parliament is actually displaying civilized behavior! Which flies in the face of everything that happened last time! What, did Prime Minister Stephen Fry (who, by the way, is still in this show) call out his old Monty Python buddies Hugh Laurie and do a quick side-show to appease the peanut gallery? In any case - Heller's actually doing quite well against the heretofore angry mob of Parliament, so points for that.

Mark Bordreau continues to be an ass. And - while we're on the subject - wasn't Mark trying NOT to alert Audrey to Jack's continued presence in the mortal realm? Wasn't he concerned that the mere mention of Jack's name would send Audrey into a catatonic state? And then he goes and announces in front of Audrey, the president and God that Jack is on the loose and Up To Something? Yeah... I just don't get this guy.

But I am pleased that Audrey does NOT fall into the fabled Land of Catatonia and actually plays the part of the Voice of Reason. HUZZAH! Even Heller, flush from his victory of Winning Over the Cannibals in Parliament, decides to do the magnanimous thing and actually listen to Jack. Because heaven knows Jack's been right before. And when I say he's "been right before," I mean Every. Damn. Time. In 24 Land, the State Department are idiots.

Meanwhile, Jack has procured proof of Tanner's innocence and he just has to get that proof to Chloe's band of renegade hackers. Except the Marines have cut off every avenue of escape. And the only technology available to Jack is a communications room that every programmer is *headdesk*-ing over right now because IT'S THE FREAKING EMBASSY SERVERS AND YOU DON'T HAVE DECENT COMPUTING POWER???? So, this episode becomes You're Still Uploading (the lesser-known and lesser-successful sequel to You've Got Mail). And Jack has to take hostages (who he is very nice and complimentary toward, it must be said) in order to keep the Marines from stopping his twenty minute upload process. Which, in 24 Land, is FOREVER!

So, we cut to the shenanigans happening at Chez Not-Winterfell. Simone and Hubby Dearest are enjoying each other's... ahem... company, but there are bigger matters at hand. Namely that Hubby Dearest isn't a terrorist and he doesn't want to do what Cersei Stark tells him to, but Cersei Stark is going to get what she wants anyway. Simone tattles on Hubby Dearest and loses a finger for her troubles and Hubby Dearest is forced to pilot the drones over old London Towne like Cersei Stark told him to. Such a wonderfully happy family!

(I am so, so sorry).

Back at the Embassy - Kate Morgan is proving herself to be as awesome as Tony and Michelle combined. She believes Jack's story (that she eavesdrops on the phone call between Jack and the president - good girl!) She sneaks into the comm room right as the Marines are about to bust down the door and stop the All Important Upload, convinces Jack to trust her because she trusts him, promises to get the upload to Proper Authorities, takes Jack into custody, swats away a bunch of armed Marines, all without drawing her pistol. If this chick doesn't become a regular on all future 24 miniseries that I'm certain are being green-lit right now if Fox is smart (which, given their history as a network, is dubious) - then I will be severely disappointed. Yvonne Strahovski For All The Things!

(And Navarro sucks at playing the Obi-Wan. Kate needs to take over his job).

So - what now? The CIA is going to piss this opportunity down the hole like a good little incompetent government agency in 24 Land. Audrey is going to do her damnedest to get her dad to listen to Jack. Mark will continue to be an ass. Hubby Dearest is a Dead Man Walking (Simone too - probably). My girl-crush on Kate Morgan will only intensify. Chloe will punch out Adrian just because I'm tired of his face. Jack will save the day, but still won't get lunch after all this is over. Those are my predictions and I'm stickin' to 'em.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Birthday Joy Roundup - Completing the Incompletable

(Is "incompletable" even a word? I'm making it one for today! It's my birthday, dammit!)

Yesterday, right as I was helping close up at work, news hit that Viz Media has obtained the English/North American licensing rights to the original Sailor Moon anime! Which basically means after years and years and YEARS of not having any DVD release (but heaven knows we got all kinds of lip gloss and stationary crap with the Sailor Moon logo slapped on it) - Region 1 is going to have an actual, official, legal DVD/BluRay release on the original anime! AND - the newly remastered subtitled anime will be available on Hulu Plus (as well as some other streaming service that Viz owns, but I have a Hulu subscription, so that's what I'm pretty stoked about). Not only that, they're working on an all-new English dub that will be made available soon! Here's the announcement trailer - (complete with spoilers for all five seasons - but there is a tiny tease of the new English dub they're working on. Usagi sounds really young, but that's in keeping with the original source material, so I'm perfectly okay with that)

(A Word on the '90s Dub - It was all right - hell, it got me hooked on the series in the first place! But as time passed and I found out what the original Japanese series was SUPPOSED to be... yeah, I could see the flaws. And I can see why the original creators weren't too thrilled about the changes that were made and why it's taken so long for these licensing issues to be resolved. Doesn't change the fact that I will always have a soft spot in my heart for that dub - even with it's strange dialogue and weird scripting choices).

This whole thing brings back a lot of good memories. I loved Sailor Moon when I was in middle- and high-school. Sadly, it was always on at a weird time (thanks to Cartoon Networks' total disregard for the fact that people actually DO live in the Mountain Time Zone and might want to watch something fun at 4:00 instead of 2:00), so I only really got to watch it in the summertime because I could never get home from school in time to watch it. Plus, the idea of anime was such a brand new concept and people really didn't know what to think of it, so it was yet-another-weird-thing-that-one- weird-girl-was-into. And my folks... well, I love them dearly, but I have an obnoxious little brother who knows precisely how to push my buttons, and much teasing and tormenting ensued. And my parents were always all "What the hell is that??" (didn't help that the dub characters were... kind of whiny and weird-sounding. I get that now) and I got all kinds of disapproval about my TV viewing habits (nothing overt or mean-spirited, mind you. It's just that it's sometimes easier to hide it than to deal with the comments and strange looks). Plus, I was always a little timid about letting my geek flag fly, especially in the small town I went to middle school in... I never really fit in with anybody and I never wanted to make a big fuss about stuff in front of people (it's a long and very unpleasant story - one I've since gotten over, but it still rears its ugly head from time to time).

Anyway - Sailor Moon is back! And we in North America are getting a full-on release of the ENTIRE thing! Including the fifth season that never got released over here. And we're getting the new Sailor Moon Crystal in a couple of months! (no word on if Crystal is going to be released on Hulu or if we're all still at the mercy of that other streaming site that they've got set up. Viz does have the Region 1 DVD release rights to Crystal as well, so it's not like we're totally out of luck on that level - but it would be cool if they could get that up on Hulu too. Guess we'll see).

I'm not into anime in general - at least, not as much as I used to be - so I really don't know how Viz compares to other anime distributing companies in North America. But from what I've been able to tell, fans are pleased with the choice. Besides, after not letting anyone have the licensing rights for so long, it speaks volumes about Viz that they were the ones finally allowed to do it. And, going from this interview that I found with the Head Cheeses In Charge at Viz, it sounds like they have nothing but love and respect for the original and they want to do it justice. Which, as a fan, I could not be more excited about!

It seems my Things to Rewatch list is growing (good thing most of my shows are on hiatus for the summer!) But Hulu's going to make it easy on me - I love that this is all going to be on something I already pay for - and at two episodes a week, I'll be able to keep pretty good pace. And that's just the Japanese-with-English-subtitles version - once the new English dub hits, I'll be all over the place with that! Seems like not that long ago, if you wanted to see Sailor Moon, you either had to pay hundreds of dollars for a crappy bootleg DVD on eBay or you had to go through less-than-scrupulous downloading methods (but with the licensing issues and stuff, it was kind of that murky gray area where you'd pay for it if you were given that option, but you're not so you don't). And now... eight bucks a month on Hulu - five bucks a month for Crystal on NicoNico (when that starts). Soon to be readily available in stores everywhere! Strange times we're living in, my friends. Strange, but wonderful. My thirteen-year-old self would weep with joy to see this coming to pass.

(And how awesome that the news hit the day before my birthday - which is actually today! Happy Birthday to Me!!)

Here's to true love, friendship, miracles, second chances, kick-ass princess/superheroes beating the bad guys with all kinds of sparkly, girly flair! Tsukini kawatte oshioki-yo!

(It's cuter when Sailor Moon says it...)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Preemptive Critic - "Cinderella"

Soo... I guess Disney is making the live-action remakes of their animated movies a thing now? Well, if Maleficent does well (which, I've avoided passing judgement on until I actually see the movie - it's a risky move that could pay off huge if it does well, but it could also backfire big time if it bombs) - maybe Cinderella will be good too. I'm not opposed to the idea by any means - Cinderella was one of my favorite Disney movies growing up (and the Once Upon a Time episode dealing with that particular story is another one of my favorites - which, I wish they'd revisit those characters. But that's another blog post. Possibly. *spoilers*)

Let me say this - if they can make this something unique and not just a step-by-step retread of the classic animated film, I'm game (homages and in-movie nods are good, though). Plus, Kenneth Branagh's directing, which is never a bad thing.

I preemptively like this movie. And I hope it's a success.

Throwback Thursday: Courage, Integrity and Conviction - Review of "The Boy Who Dared" by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

**Originally Posted on cj's bookshelf on July 29, 2011**

Title: The Boy Who Dared: A Novel Based on the True Story of a Hitler Youth 
Author: Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: February 1, 2008
Reading Level: 13 and up

Synopsis: (from Goodreads) –
Just as the Nazis are rising to power, Helmuth Hübener, a German schoolboy, is caught up in all the swashbuckling bravado of his time. The handsome stormtrooper uniforms, the shiny jackboots and armbands, the rousing patriotism all serve to draw him into this bright new world full of promise and hope. In the beginning his patriotism is unwavering. But every day the rights of people all over Germany are diminishing. Jews are threatened and their businesses are being destroyed. The truth has been censored, and danger lurks everywhere. Anybody can turn on you. The world has turned upside down: Patriotism means denouncing others, love means hate, and speaking out means treason. How much longer can Helmuth keep silent? Told in flashback, Newbery Honor Book author Susan Campbell Bartoletti magnificently explores the life of a heroic German youth who dared to stand up against the Nazi regime.

My Review:

Where has this genre been all my life?

Okay, okay – I need to clarify here.  I read plenty of books about World War II and the Holocaust.  I read The Diary of Anne Frank and Number the Stars in school.  I even went to the Holocaust Memorial Museum on a school trip to Washington DC in 8th grade (which was hands-down the most memorable stop on that trip.  I don’t remember all the quotes from the war memorials or everything from the Smithsonian – but I remember every single minute I was in the Holocaust Museum.  It will haunt you, disgust you and inspire you to be the very best of humanity. Sound weird, but it’s true).  Most of the things I’ve read or heard about the Holocaust come from the Jewish victims with a little flavor of people who helped Jews hide.  But I have rarely read books about Germans in the 1940s who did not agree with the Nazi plan and even risked their lives to oppose Hitler.

Now, however, I've read The Book Thief and The Boy Who Dared – and my heart breaks for those people.

The Book Thief introduced me to the concept that there were Germans who opposed the Nazis (I sort of knew that was the case, but I really hadn’t thought about it very much). Reading The Boy Who Dared drove this point home with me.  Not all Germans were marching in the squares and Heiling Hitler at every turn and corner.  So many of them just wanted to provide for their families and be good people at a time when doing one meant not doing the other.

For most of my life – indeed, for many in my generation, World War II seems like such a distant time in history.  You learn about it the same way you learn about the pilgrims, the American Revolution, the Civil War and the Great Depression.  They are just dates and names in the history book that don’t mean much.  I thought so too – until I realized that my parents were born not even fifteen years after the war was over.  And then I thought that fifteen years really isn’t that long of a time period.  It felt that way when I was a kid, but I’m older now.  And it gives me chills.

I've often wondered how the Holocaust was allowed to happen.  Even after all my study and learning how the yellow Stars of David and mandatory curfews and segregated schools slowly became the concentrations camps, it still baffles me how this could happen.  I'll be honest, it scares me to death. You have a country hurting because of an economy that is completely and totally in the sewers because of losing a war, the entire nation was humiliated and they got desperate enough to let Hitler and his guys come in and hijack a country for their own power and personal gain and call it patriotism.

I just realized this review hasn’t talked much about The Boy Who Dared, but I think that’s because I just finished this book and it’s got me thinking about this.  For me, that is a sign of a magnificent piece of writing – that you don’t necessarily notice the writing style or the characters, but the content of the story.  Helmuth Hubener is a fantastic character.  I hesitate to call him a “character” because he was an actual person and these things really happened, but Bartoletti’s characterization of him is so wonderful and I enjoyed reading his thought processes and how he came to do what he did.  This is a seventeen-year-old kid who is illegally tuning into the BBC radio broadcasts and distributing fliers with news of the war from his radio.  But he didn’t just wake up one morning and think “Gosh, I’d really like to get arrested by the Gestapo, so I’m going to print up anti-Nazi pamphlets and really cheese them off.”  Everything he did was driven by the fact that he was taught to respect others and see people as sons and daughters of God and that patriotism does not mean demonizing an entire group of people just because they’re a convenient scapegoat.

The fact that this was written for the YA set – that you would trust teens enough to understand something like this (well, I would anyway) – speaks volumes to the importance of the topic and the reverence that people like Helmuth Hubener deserve.  Anyone even remotely interested in human history owes it to themselves to read this book.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Only Way Forward: The Manpurse Returns

Review/Recap of - 24: Live Another Day, Episode 3: 1:00 pm -2:00 pm

We're a fourth of the way done with Live Another Day. I don't know how I feel about this. But let's fly the SPOILER WARNING flag and away we go! -

Well, the poop hit the fan pretty darn quick last time, so let's see how many ways it can get spread around. When last we left Our Intrepid Fugitive From Justice, Jack and Chloe were tracking a girl who ditched her blonde wig and Russian accent in favor of this year's "Starks of Winterfell" look (tell me that girl was not a perfect blend of Sansa and Arya). Lieutenant Tanner was in it Thick and Deep with the British government and citizenry. Agent Kate Morgan is one badass mofo and she is hot on Jack's trail. And President Heller is going to be eaten alive by Parliament, but he's going in with a smile on his face and you just can't help but love the guy.

- I've missed the old "Previously on 24" recap segments with the character names. In fact, I think all shows should do something like that. Would make putting characters with actors a whole lot easier (and it also mean that I don't have to called Margot "Lady Stark" anymore. Even if her quaint Yorkshire cottage looks a hell of a lot like Winterfell).

- Of all the weird little things to be happy about, I was ridiculously glad to see Jack's trademark manpurse make a triumphant return. Not as much when he had to ditch it at the end in order to create chaos and mayhem. I'm sure he'll get it back - or one like it. Jack/Manpurse - OTP!

- At first, I thought we were going to get Jack berating Chloe for letting Simone al-Starkzi get away (it's what I'm calling the terrorists from not-Winterfell - get over it). I guess I was better at avoiding spoilers than I thought because I totally thought Chloe and Morris had divorced and Morris had custody of their son. But nope - 24 wants to get in on the Kill Them With The Feels action this Finale Season (damn you Castle!!) and we got the heartbreaking tale of How Chloe Lost Her Family and Was Inspired To Turn To A Life Of Living On The Edge (from soccer mom to a Wikileaks punkass - seriously????) Sheesh - I just got the pieces of my heart back together from the Once Upon a Time finale and now you've just destroyed it! Might as well leave it on the floor until Friday, I guess...

- Mark Bordreau is an ass. First he gives Heller a mental beatdown, then he forges the president's signature on an executive order that will turn Jack over to the Russians (beyond the shades of petty jealousy overshadowing that action - shouldn't that be twelve kinds of illegal??) And he treats Audrey like... well... a fragile keepsake that can't do squat for herself. Yes, I know she's been to hell and back, but still!) A rational person may look at Mark's actions and think "well, yeah, that make sense!" But I am not a rational person. I watch 24 - where morality is Whatever Is Good For Jack and the points don't matter.

- Speaking of donkey's behinds - Adrian Cross takes on a certain south-end-of-a-northbound-horse quality when he gets all huffy about Jack taking things over in Open Cell and proceeds directly to screw up the fake credentials meant to get him into the US Embassy. Though I loved his line - "Has anyone mentioned your rather rude habit of asking for favors accompanied by the threat of a gun?" Dude - that's the Bauer Family Crest. Where have you been?

- We got to spend some quality time at not-Winterfell - a quaint little cottage with a quaint little English garden and a quaint little - surveillance and targeting system locked down on a crapton of London landmarks. With Head Mom In Charge Margot, whose actress once played the honorable and demure Lady Catelyn Stark but is more along the lines of Cersei Lannister in that she's the boss and damn if anyone's going to take that away from her! Even her own children are not immune from her visions of World Conquest because they killed the love(s) of her life (I thought they said she'd been married twice - both times her husband was killed - but I could be wrong. I'll have to double check). Complete with sort-of Doctor Who connection in that Sascha Dhawan plays her son-in-law (he played Waris Hussein in last year's 50th Anniversary special about the genesis of Doctor Who). All we need now is Benedict Cumberbatch (or somebody from Sherlock) to make an appearance and we'd have representative from most of the main UK-based fandoms represented.

- Ladies and gentlemen - Agent Kate Morgan. The only one with the cajones to take a hardened criminal and threaten to turn him over to a rival gang if he doesn't help her find the fugitive that she's looking for. It's a mark of truly great character writing that you not only root for your hero, but also the people who are trying to bring him down. More of her, please and thank you.

- Poor President Heller. He goes in on good faith to address Parliament about what happened with the drones and the MPs go straight for the throat. And damn Prime Minister Stephen Fry for selling him up river like that (oh yeah - remember that Stephen Fry is in this? He hasn't had a whole lot to do just yet, but his time will come. You can't get an actor like him and not use him to the fullest extent possible).

People Jack Needs to Meet and Soon -
- Audrey. Because I need more angst in my life
- Margot. Because she needs a hacksaw to the brain (spying on her daughter and son-in-law doing the nasty?? ew ew ew ew!!)
- Kate Morgan. Because I miss Tony Almeida and Kate is the closest thing I'm going to get (not that I'm complaining! Hell, if we could have a whole season of Tony, Michelle Dessler, Chloe, and Kate being Jack's cavalry/backup band, I would be one happy little fangirl).

With that, Jack kneecaps a few people in the mob and runs directly into the Embassy to... shout down President Heller? Make out with Audrey? (I will go down with this ship!) Free Lieutenant Tanner after proving that he's innocent using nothing more than a pipe cleaner and a roll of Scotch tape? That's next week! 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Sometimes You Reach What's Real By Making Believe

SPOILERS AHEAD for Once Upon a Time Season 3, Episodes 21/22 -  "Snow Drifts"/"There's No Place Like Home" 

The next time I want to give up on a show, smack me and say "Captain Swan, dammit!"

I swear to all that is good and holy, Once Upon a Time was invented and written just for me. Fairy tale characters in modern times - magic existing in our world - a girl who discovers she's in actual fact a fairy tale princess - how could it not be?

Even though... I will be totally, 100% honest - I was ready to throw in the towel on this show about a month ago (the reasons are wide and varied, and I don't need to go into them now). But I am eternally grateful that I did not. Because then I wouldn't have had the immense joy and pleasure of watching this season finale.

The lead-up to this finale was tense. My two most very favorite characters - Emma Swan and Killian "Captain Hook" Jones - were going to go on a fantastic journey back in time to when Emma's parents met. They promised us Back to the Future and Star Wars parallels. The relationship between Emma and Killian had been compared to The Princess Bride and Tangled and, of course, Princess Leia and Han Solo. Hell, I made that connection before I ever saw it on Tumblr. Unofficially, this finale was billed as "The Captain Swan Movie" ("Captain" Hook and Emma "Swan" - get it? No? Then I can't help you...)

I was nervous that I was building my hopes up too high for this. But I didn't need to worry - it lived up to my expectations and then some!

Because this finale contained oodles of payoff for Emma and Killian, I've got to tackle some things on the individual character levels first - First off, Emma Swan. Emma has been left behind by people she's cared about tons of times. She's never had a real home or felt like she belonged anywhere. Clear back in the first episode of the series, she makes a birthday wish that she doesn't have to spend her birthday alone. That has what her entire character arc has been - finding a home. Now, when I first started watching Once, I thought that this little nugget would be dealt with a lot sooner (apparently, the creators go in for the long game - which I'm fine with, now that I know that's what's going on). But this is Season 3 - and Emma still doesn't feel like she's got a place in Storybrooke. The fairy tale people depend on her because her powers keep them safe from really terrible things - and maybe that's all she thinks she is to these people. That's certainly not the case - especially since Emma's parents express dismay that she plans to leave Storybrooke now that the latest Big Bad has been defeated. But she's leaving - because she's never felt like anyone's cared enough about her to chase her down.

Except - there's Killian Jones. Who I've talked about previously. Who's probably had the most character development in this series to date (Regina might have just as much - but it's not exactly a contest). Season 3 has been very, very good to Captain Hook. In Season 2, he was introduced as kind of a minion in the main villain's schemes (Killian was after revenge on Rumpelstiltskin for cutting off his hand and killing the love of his life - complicated story). At the end of that season, Killian had a change of heart (probably because he was in love with Emma from the beginning - even when they were at odds with each other) and allied with the good guys. The first part of Season 3 - for all it's endless tromping through Neverland - provided Killian with some fantastic backstory (in episode 5 "Good Form" - where we learn how he turned from being a respectable lieutenant in His Majesty's Royal Navy to a dirty rotten pirate. And I use that term in the best possible way). Personally, I fell in love with Killian. I loved his character, I loved his personality, I loved the new twist on the Captain Hook persona, I loved the way he looked (Colin O'Donoghue is a fine looking gentleman. I'm a bit shallow - so sue me). The more he was on the show, the more I could overlook the things I had problems with (which ended up not to be that big of a deal, so it all worked out great). And he didn't have a personal history with Emma Swan. Which, to that point, everyone that Emma could have had a decent relationship with was tainted by things that happened in her past (she thought her parents abandoned her, her ex-boyfriend abandoned her, even her son carried bad memories for her - though that wasn't his fault and they seemed to do okay later). Killian does everything in his power to show that he loves Emma - and Emma must love him too. But she can't let go of things in her past and accept that she is worthy to love someone and to be loved and to have a place to call her own.

This is where "Snow Drifts" opens up. Storybrooke is celebrating the downfall of the Wicked Witch and the birth of Snow White and Prince Charming's newborn son. Snow and Charming talk about how they met (think George and Lorraine in Back to the Future - even though that story has been covered before - it's good to have a refresher). Emma is contemplating packing Henry up and heading back to New York. Everyone's kind of upset about this - few moreso than Killian Jones, who goes after Emma to talk to her alone. And wouldn't you know it - the Wicked Witch's heretofore-failed-time-travel portal opens up all on its own and Emma and Killian fall into it.

This story is Back to the Future - plain and simple. Emma screws up her parents first meeting and she has to get them to redo their first meeting all over again. Along the way, she and Killian meet up with Rumpelstiltskin (the look on Emma's face when she meets fairy-tale-Rumple is priceless) and he helps them get the things they need to put this plan into action. Everything's pretty straightforward, like you'd expect an homage to be.

Except - there is one twist in the classic story. Emma gets to see what life in the fairy tale kingdom would have been like for her. She finally gets to be the fairy tale princess (using "Princess Leia" as a pseudonym because why not? I think it's fitting - Disney owns Star Wars now and there is Disney all over Once Upon a Time and Leia should be among the Disney princesses). She even gets her first dance at a royal ball with her very own prince (I squeed the whole time she and Killian were dancing). And even more than that - she sees that she can depend on Killian and that he's not going to leave her behind. He believes in her and he wants her to believe in herself. He encourages her, he makes her laugh, he brings out everything good about her. Sure, he's flirty as hell still and one cheeky bastard - but that's Killian. That's why his one of the best characters on the whole damn show! And Emma is flirty right back! She's having fun, even in the middle of this dangerous mission. She belongs in this world with this pirate and everything is just perfect.

One thing I love about this finale is all the homages to other stories - not just traditional fairy tales, but classic stories from our modern world. I mentioned a few earlier - Back to the Future, Star Wars, Tangled, The Princess Bride (Anastasia was mentioned once or twice this week too). Hell, I half expected Dumbledore or somebody to show up from Harry Potter - it felt like all my favorite stories were being represented! And that's what I love about this show - while it's about true love and believing in happy endings - it's also about the power of stories. It's something that I've clung to all my life - it's why I'm a librarian and why I read so much and, quite honestly, why I do so many of the crazy things that I do. It's because stories are the world's greatest magic. I know it sounds trite and cliche, but I've found that the best cliches are cliches because they are true. So many times I've pulled through a bad spot because I had a good story to cheer me up - to show me that good things could still happen, even though I felt like there was no stinking way.

So what happens next? Snow and Charming do their whole Meet Cute thing (with great peril added in for flavor), Emma realizes that she does belong in Storybrooke, that realization reawakens her lost powers (long story), they get back home (with one more person in tow, but give a minute for that one) - even more, Emma realized that she belongs in Storybrooke with Killian (when he finally tells her how he found her in the first place - oh my poor fangirl heart...) and finally - FINALLY - they kiss!

Now, kissing's important in Once Upon a Time. True Love's Kiss can break all manner of curses and it's usually a pretty epically big deal. Except - this kiss isn't. It's a lot more real and personal and intimate. Which is exactly what Emma and Killian's relationship has been - they've had conversations about each other's pasts and how they both understand each other and they've found out that they're not so different. Doesn't matter than Emma had to make her way on the streets and Killian was a pirate captain with a ship and a crew - at their core, they're both looking for home. And they finally found it with each other. Everything just fits together so well from the start and we got such a great payoff!

Other Things -
- I knew that lady they brought back to Storybrooke with them was Maid Marion. Given the relationship budding between Regina and Robin Hood... uh-oh... (well, we gotta have conflict come in somewhere. And that ship was having too easy of a time of it)
- Killian punching out his past self for making out with Emma (even though Emma was trying to distract past!Hook)... that was hilarious!
- Killian as a prince. Be still my fangirl heart!
- Rumple and Belle's wedding at the end! And Rumple's monologue over Killian and Emma kissing.
- The very, very, very end!  Well... remember this post? I guess we won't be needing that (at least, not quite yet).

I've gotta go watch these episodes again! (not like I won't have watched them twenty zillion times between now and Season 4, though).

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Return of the Jack Bauer Power Hour: This Time It's Personal

I've been humming "Guess Who's Back" all week to myself in anticipation of 24: Live Another Day. And I don't even like Eminem or listen to him very much (pop culture by osmosis, you see). But, boy am I excited for a revisitation of this show. I'm even a bit nostalgic for it - I used to do recaps and reaction posts immediately after the show aired (back when I had TV and could do the whole SQUEE POST after the last countdown clock ticked over). Nowadays, I'm attached to Hulu Plus and I have to wait until the next day (or 3:00 am when insomnia hits big time and I end up staying up to watch a two-hour premiere and don't get up the next morning until 9:30 and am consequently late for work. To which I say: Worth It!).

There are a few differences with Live Another Day - it's basically a mini-series event for FOX - instead of the traditional 24 episodes to deal with the terrorist threat, Jack only has 12. Though the creators have said that the threat will last for 24 hours - they'll just skip a few hours here and there to make it work (which means Jack might actually get a nap or a sandwich inbetween getting shot at. Also - this story takes place in London, which is a drastic departure, but no less entertaining (hey, if it means getting Stephen Fry playing the British Prime Minister, I'm all for it!)

(Let me just repeat that for those not paying attention - STEPHEN FRY is playing the British Prime Minister in 24. Oh, and Michelle "Catelyn Stark" Fairley is in this too).

Let me sound the SPOILER WARNING from here on out - the following takes place between "JACK! CHLOE! YAY!" and "OH NO THEY'RE ALL GONNA DIE!!" and "Huh... did not see that one coming..." (events occur in real time)

I don't remember the original series ever doing a cold open and it took me a minute to get back into the swing of things (to be fair, I'd spent a good amount of the last day fangirling over the events of the most recent Once Upon a Time - that blog post is coming, never fear). These were all new people and new surroundings and, hell, I'd been out of the 24 game since 2010 (unlike Jack, my doings and interests from that time period have been well-chronicled). But there he was - Jack Bauer. Found out by the Feds and... oddly being captured and being brought in for questioning. Wait... Jack doesn't get caught. Not on this side of a season finale, at least. There's somethin' screwy goin' on here...

Enter Kate Morgan (played by Yvonne Strahovski of Chuck fame). Kate is a super-awesome CIA field agent who is the best at what she does - as implied by the head of the CIA in London Steve Navarro (played by Benjamin Bratt - he's definitely got a Tony Almeida feel to him. Which, given how great Tony was and that I still miss both him and Michelle, dammit! - we needed this). Sadly, Kate's husband was caught selling American secrets to the Chinese, which given her position in the CIA, casts suspicion on her immediately - so much so that she is being transferred... somewhere else (I forgot to catch that bit of info). But it's definitely not where someone of her talents would be put to the best use. It's obvious that Kate had nothing to do with what her husband did (well, at this juncture anyway. We used to trust Nina Myers implicitly, remember?) and she is desperate to prove that she belongs where she is. Except she's got this one jealous agent named Erik Ritter who has been promised her job, but he comes off as petty as beauty pageant runner-up who keeps reminding everyone that the girl who actually won made a porn tape or something (seriously - this guy just gets on my last nerve).

From the word "Go" - Kate rocks. She is everything that you want as an ally for Jack inside the government agencies that he inevitably turns to for help (granted, she isn't an ally yet, but all signs point to her being so by the end of Live Another Day). She's reasonable, she listens to her instincts (which are very, very, very good), and while she may hold to Conventional Wisdom that Jack is indeed a criminal and a terrorist and an enemy of the United States - she is willing to think that... you know maaaaaaybe someone ought to wonder why Jack didn't escape when he's obviously very good at it (he's been off the radar for four years - and in this age of Person of Interest (arguably the spiritual successor to 24, that's a feat in and of itself). I've got myself a new girl-crush on 24 and her name is Kate Morgan.

(I'm just gonna hazard a guess that Kate is the reason that Random Jack Bauer Fact #896 is going to work in this half-season-mini-series-special-event-thing of 24).

It turns out that Jack's main objective in getting captured is to save his friend and colleague and my other girl-crush in 24, Chloe O'Brian. Chloe, bless her, is into the whole Wikileaks-Edward-Snowden intelligence information hacking thing and she is all punked-up and tough-stuff. Still, it's the same Chloe that we all know and love - same snark, same heart, same super-genius, same friend to Jack that she was all the way up to the end of Season 8. There wasn't much from Chloe of note in this premiere - there are other things to introduce, with 24 having been gone for so long - but it's still the same Chloe. I'm certain we'll get more from her as time goes on, but for now, I'm just basking in the fact that my dear Chloe is back.

The other side of any 24 season is the political side and Live Another Day has oodles of it! First off all - it was genius to get William Devane to reprise his role as James Heller - even more genius in making him the president. The audience already has a connection to him and we know his background and history with Jack. - Jack was one of his bodyguards when Heller was Secretary of Defense back in Season 4. Which dovetails into my other source of glee (and yet another girl-crush) - his daughter Audrey Heller, who Jack came thisclose to marrying in Season 4 and they were ridiculously adorable all through 4 and 5 and there was Massive Heartbreak at the end of 6 and we never quite recovered from it.

(I just want Jack and Audrey to be happy, guys).

Unfortunately, Audrey is married to Mark Boudreau, who is also President Heller's Chief of Staff. Okay, maybe I shouldn't say "unfortunately" because Mark actually was good for Audrey (the last time we saw Audrey, she was catatonic and unresponsive due to a prolonged exposure to Chinese interrogation techniques). So, he deserves a little credit for that. And... I gotta give him credit for keeping things together for President Heller because, even though Heller gave Jack hell for what happened to Audrey and I was screaming at him for it - I still can't fault him. Even more heartbreaking is that Heller is showing early signs of either dementia or Alzheimer's - the narrative isn't quite clear which. But it is causing him to forget key points of information... which does not bode well when hackers start using U.S. drones to target our own military and allies and frames the government for it.

Oh, did I mention that President Heller is in London to negotiate for British support for furthering the drone program? And that there are Protests Up The Wazoo against it? And that British politicians are assholes? (okay, maybe that's just Mark trying to prepare Heller for the onslaught of speaking before Parliament. But jeez-all-Friday - What The Hell???)

Meanwhile, back in the projects (or as the Brits call them, council estates - which I never made that connection before. I should have, I guess, but who can keep track of social justice wankery when there is a compelling story to be told, interesting characters to follow, and explosions to be had?), there's another hacker group that Chloe's people know about, but they're more about selling secrets and making money off it, rather than simply disseminating information (at least, that's how Chloe's friends frame it. I'm reserving judgement until we see how this all shakes out). Turns out, they're putting stuff together for Michelle Fairley's character, Margot Al-Harazi, to do whatever-the-heck-shady-shit-she's-up-to. And Margot's sent in her daughter to be the hacker's Russian prostitute girlfriend chick (seriously - when you leave the SOOPER SEKRIT hard drive full of state secrets on the sink in the loo, you deserve to get popped). The plot continues to thicken as we march inevitably onward through Jack Bauer's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Really Bad Day.

Other Things I Noticed -

- I could be mistaken, but I think they got Jack shirtless before he even said his first line.

- This whole premiere was one big "Spot the 24 Trope" - Chloe recovering super-fast from her torture, nobody believing Jack, assuming that the one drone guy killed his commanding officer just for revoking his weekend pass (ARE YOU KIDDING ME??)

- It's a little odd to see iPhones on 24. Don't ask me why - they're perfectly normal on Person of Interest and Castle and Agents of SHIELD. Probably because most of 24 was made before smartphones.

- Mark looking at Jack's "List of Kills" like he's perusing his Achievements Unlocked on XBox.

- Jack facing down 10+ terrorists: "You might think I'm at a disadvantage, but I'm not."

- This too:
    Kate: You're not gonna find him [Jack].
    Erik the Beauty Pageant Bitch: Thanks for the confidence...
    Me: Well... when Kate was 120% right about what Jack was doing and all you wanted to do was to haul her off for being better than you at this job. Whatever you're getting, you deserve it.

- Jack: Where'd you get the car?
   Chloe: I hot-wired it.
   Jack: Good job.
   Me: [has to pause and laugh at that one]

- Look, I've watched a LOT of TV shows on Hulu and I just take the commercial breaks as a given. But Hulu's Middle-of-the-Night ham-fisted message-fic ads about getting lawyers for trees is a little bit much. I never thought I'd say that I'd rather see that intelligence-insulting "Tris-cwee" ad for Triscuit - but after watching a bunch of hippie-dippy-losers preach about dolphins and forests inbetween terrorists shooting each other... thank goodness for the mute button!

- 24 is back, y'all!

Like I said - I'm excited for all this. 24 is how I got started in blogging TV shows and waxing lyrical about all my favorite parts and characters - back in my LiveJournal days, it was more about SQUEE posts and humor (and there is still a fair amount of it), but I have gotten better at analysis and such (at least, I'd like to think so). So, buckle up, enjoy the ride because it's gonna be on hell of a summer!

(and with the wait I'm going to have for Doctor Who and Once Upon a Time and everything else after Finale Season, this comes at just the right time to help tide me over).

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Fun Police

This comes from a combination of too many fellow fans whining online and... nope, that's all it was. Too many fellow fans whining online made this thing happen. I got ticked off (moreso that usual) and this song is the result.

A little background - every year, my mom's family plan a big reunion. And nearly every year, one (or more) of the relatives has to bring up some insignificant issue that the ENTIRE WORLD must hear about. Ad nauseum. This carping and complaining leads to precisely NO ONE having any fun and often ruins a perfectly good family outing. After the first two or three instances of this happening, my dad starting calling these family members "The Fun Police" because no matter how hard most of us tried to have fun, one of these individuals would swoop in and make sure that fun was very short lived (we eventually stopped inviting them to things and we enjoy ourselves more now). Dad even went so far as to try to rewrite the lyrics to Cheap Trick's "The Dream Police" (it was a half-hearted attempt at an inside joke, but still quite funny).

With this, I'm taking a page out of my dear old dad's book and writing a tribute (of sorts) to the malcontents of fandom - from the grief they give fellow fans to the utter pains-in-the-ass they are even to those who create the media that they supposedly love. Granted my lyrics are a little clunky in places and it likely won't change anything or do any good, but in the words of Captain Jack Sparrow when he tried shooting the undead monkey, it does me.

The Fun Police
(to the tune of "The Dream Police" by Cheap Trick)

The Fun Police whine on Twitter all night
The Fun Police tell the fans what to like
The Fun Police are coming to nitpick you, oh no

You know their talk is cheap
And their complaints annoy me
If I say what I like
They'll hate it just to be contrary, contrary

'Cause they'll pick it apart
They'll trash it to bits
No fandom is safe
They love to call me crazy
And all showrunners lazy

The Fun Police climb upon soapboxes
The Fun Police mark all the right boxes
The Fun Police, make your show say what they want, oh yes

I won't tell you lies
Better give what they ask for
And if you don't
They'll call you mean names on Tumblr, Tumblr

'Cause they're waiting for you
They're looking for you
To screw everything up
They must really love this show
Only real fans hate on it so

I watch a show, I read a book, they won't let me alone
I love a story, like an actor, they won't let me alone
Until all my fun's gone and dead, they won't let me alone
For all fandom, they're the judge and jury all in one

'Cause they're waiting for me
They're looking for me
To just have some fun
They love to ruin ev'rything
Take out the fun fandom brings

The Fun Police tell us how we're all wrong
The Fun Police order creators around
The Fun Police they're coming to arrest us
The Fun Police (repeat a lot)

(if you actually laughed at this, you know what kind of fan you are)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Throwback Thursday: "What Angel Wakes Me from My Flowery Bed?" - Review of "The Faerie Path"

**Originally Posted on cj's bookshelf on July 23, 2011**

Title: The Faerie Path
Author: Frewin Jones
Publisher: Eos
Publication Date: February 1, 2007
Reading Level: 15 and up

Synopsis: (from Goodreads) –
Swept away into a court of magic and beauty, she discovers she is Tania, the lost princess of Faerie: the youngest daughter of Oberon and Titania. Since Tania's mysterious disappearance on the eve of her wedding five hundred years before, Faerie has been sunk in darkness and gloom. The courtly Lord Gabriel Drake, who Tania was once to marry, has found her and brought her back.

With Tania's return, Faerie comes alive again as a land of winged children, glittering balls, and fantastic delights. But Tania can't forget Anita's world, or the boy she loved there.

Torn between two loves and between two worlds, Tania slowly comes to discover why she disappeared so long ago. She possesses a singular magical ability and she must use it to stop a sinister plan that threatens the entire world of Faerie.

My Review:
I picked this book up after a patron came to the library looking for the second book in the series. I haven’t had much luck with faerie stories in the past, but this one looked good so I thought I’d give it a try. My main complaint about faerie stories is that the faerie characters are often written as these smug, arrogant, perfect people that I really can’t bring myself to like (note that I did not use a certain phrase that starts with “M” and rhymes with “ary Sue” because that term has been thrown around so much that it really doesn’t mean anything anymore). The best I can compare it to is that I was never that fond of Tolkien’s Elves – they just always seemed so uppity and (quite frankly) boring. Give me a battle sequence involving the handsome, rugged, mortal, fallible Men any day of the week. Or even the hobbits – with their cute little hobbit feet and constant questioning of their place in Middle Earth and their meaning to the Bigger Picture. Much more interesting.

Back to faeries - As faerie stories go, this one isn’t too bad. It helps that the main character, Tania (initially Anita), has spent the first sixteen years of her life as a human. She is then pulled into the realm of Faerie where she learns that she is the seventh daughter of King Oberon and Queen Titania (mad props for the use of everyone’s favorite Shakespearean mischief makers – though, they really aren’t that mischievous in this book. Sorry to disappoint you). Because she is the seventh daughter, Tania has the ability to travel back forth between the Mortal World and the Faerie Realm. And there’s some stuff about a prophecy and a reclusive older sister and the queen’s been presumed dead for five hundred years (which, coincidentally is the same amount of time Princess Tania has been missing in the mortal world).

If you’re looking for a light little fantasy story, this could be an option for you. There are six books in this series (and it has been finished). It wasn’t terribly gripping, but it was decent enough (the “thee” and “thou” and “mayhap” royal language the faeries used made my eyes gloss over a little bit and I missed important plot points, but that’s just me). And if you’re a fan of faerie stories, this would be a good one to add to your list.

"If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear."
  - opening of Puck's epilogue, "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

*The title of this post came from Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."  You didn't think I'd pass up the chance to quote from this play in a review, did you?*